OverviewCelo Knob is the northernmost sixer along the crest of the Black Mountains, the highest range in the eastern USA. It's a distinctive peak with one side falling away in a series of cliff faces, with easier access from the western slopes.
Celo (pronounced SEE-low) Knob is one of the most remote of our Southern sixers. No matter how you get to the summit, you must either make a climb in excess of 3,000 feet, and/or a long and arduous trek along miles of the most rugged trails in the East.
This peak is one of the toughest I've hiked. Not for the extreme topography of the mountain, but because of the difficult approach, among the toughest of which I've heard, and easily the toughest I've attempted. Not even the mile-high climb of LeConte from Gatlinburg approaches the extremes involved in tackling this, one of the East's most isolated 6000-foot summits.
Whatever you've heard about the toughness of the Black Mountain Crest Trail and its associated connector trails, they are likely true. This mountain should not be taken lightly; nor should any of the sixers along the Crest Trail be taken lightly. I've been hiking and backpacking the Southern Appalachians for over thirty years, and the trail systems that are used to reach these peaks, principally the Black Mountain Crest Trail, are the most rugged I have so far encountered.
Getting ThereThere are a number of routes or loop combinations that can get you to the summit. The shortest would be the Woody Ridge Trail, but involves one of the single toughest climbs in the Black Mountains. One rock climber I spoke to referred to the Woody Ridge Trail as "4.99"--about as close to technical as you're going to find on a hiking trail. The Woody Ridge Trail begins in a parking area along Road 1156.
Another "shorter" route to the summit would be via the Black Mountain Crest Trail, aka Bolens Creek Trail from the trailhead along Road 1109 at Bolens Creek. This involves a steady climb of well over 3000 feet in a distance of about 4.6 thigh-slamming miles.
One could also come down the Black Mountain Crest Trail from the Mount Mitchell Picnic Area, or along the Crest Trail via the Buncombe Horse Trail or the Colberts Ridge Trail. Each of these options would involve gains in elevation of thousands of feet and round trips in excess of twelve miles.
In short, though, every route to the summit of Celo Knob involves some of the most difficult hiking east of the Rockies.
Red TapeNo permits at all. No fees involved in this area. Part of the National Forest, the only rules I have seen posted on these peaks are a request not to camp on the peaks or ridges. This request seems to be largely ignored outside of Mount Mitchell State Park.
When To ClimbAll year. Winters in the Black Mountains can receive very serious weather, with sub-zero temperatures, hurricane-force gusts, and heavy snow and icing. If negotiating any of these trails during the winter, be prepared for the worst conditions.
In summer, thunderstorms often rake the peaks and ridges. Take care to seek lower ground if a thunderstorm approaches.
THERE IS NO WATER ON THE BLACK MOUNTAIN CREST TRAIL! TAKE PLENTY OF WATER! THE ONLY RELIABLE WATER SOURCES ARE SPRINGS EAST OF DEEP GAP ALONG THE COLBERT RIDGE TRAIL, AND ON THE WINTER STAR JEEP ROAD WEST OF DEEP GAP. BOTH INVOLVE STEEP DROPS TO THE SPRINGS.
CampingCamping is allowed in the National Forest boundaries. There is a request not to pitch camps on the summit areas of the Black Mountains, but I know of no encforcement of this. There is an official backcountry camping area in Deep Gap. There are developed and semi-developed campgrounds at:
Mount Mitchell State Park
Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area
Black Mountains Campground
Mountain ConditionsCheck the Mount Mitchell State Park online weather station here.
- Mount Mitchell State Park.
The official website for the Mount Mitchell State Park.
Celo Knob Nature Conservancy Site. Official Nature Conservancy website for protected portion of Celo Knob.