Let's take a road trip!
My wife and I decided to take a road trip, and the best weather in mid-April looked to be in North Carolina. We're both huge fans of the movie Cold Mountain with Jude Law and Nicole Kidman, and as we were watching the movie, we decided the movie's namesake would be our virgin foray into mountain hiking. We had recently finished hemorrhaging enough cash to purchase all our backpacks, tent, tiny toothbrushes, and a myriad of other objects we didn't know if we would actually need or not, and it was time to put these items to work. So we left Indianapolis on a Thursday night and drove through to Knoxville, TN for the night, ready (or so we thought) to tackle Cold Mountain, Mount Mitchell (NC highpoint), Sassafras Mountain (SC highpoint), and Clingman's Dome (TN highpoint).
We left early Friday morning from Knoxville, and stopped along the Blue Ridge Parkway to take some pictures of the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains. We reached the Pisgah National Forest in Brevard, NC, and spoke with the ranger I had been talking to earlier in the week, who tried to persuade us to try something easier for our first time hiking and camping. Being from flat Indiana, we were too stupid to take him up on his generous advice. We hit the Cold Mountain trailhead at the Daniel Boone Scout Camp at 12:30 pm, a late start on an 80 degree day. The trail was about a 3000 ft elevation gain over 5.2 miles, and since we were camping on the mountain, I had roughly 25lbs on my back and my wife sported about 15 lbs. As we gained in elevation and mileage and the beautiful NC sun turned into some sort of harbinger of death, we realized an important lesson at roughly the 4 mile mark. IF YOU'RE NOT CAMPING AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN, THERE'S NO REAL NEED TO PACK ALL YOUR GEAR UP TO THE TOP LIKE A MORON!
Five hours later....the Summit
After about 5 hours, we made it to the summit. I had a nice scare near the top when I heard some rustling in the thickets, and smelled some "doody" that, after some careful research, realized was not my own. I started clapping my hands and singing, bravely scaring away the black bears that were surely there to make this my first...and last, mountaintop. At 5:30 pm, we reached the summit, and I felt like I had just won the lottery. The views aren't fantastic, but I'll never forget how I felt when I hit the top.
Cold Mountain summit
Cold Mountain summit
We raced back down the mountain, barely setting up camp before sunset, and fell asleep to a wonderful North Carolina rainstorm.
Now, on to some highpoints
After camping lower on the mountain, we were up early the next morning to "conquer" Sassafras Mountain, the high point of South Carolina. We drove to the town of Rocky Bottom (fantastic directions from summitpost), and drove to the top on an extremely foggy morning and saw absolutely nothing from the top of SC.
This was about all there was to see on Sassafras that day.
Next stop, Mt Mitchell, the highest point of North Carolina and the highest point east of the Mississippi river. Our drive to Mt Mitchell was 65 degrees and sunny, but as we reached the ranger station about a 2 mile hike from the summit it turned to 35 degrees and snowing.
What happened to our sunny day?
We hit the gorgeous Beirut-style construction zone that is currently the summit of Mt Mitchell, met 3 other highpointers from Baltimore and New Jersey, who took our picture of the fabulous vista of, well....fog and mist and snow.
The top of TN
The last stop on our trek was Clingman's Dome, and b/c we were short on time, we just drove to the top like every other tourist around and then hiked the short hike to the top. Although since we now had our "mountain legs" going and were experienced mountaineers, we blew by a trio of older women from New Jersey hacking up their smoker's coughs like they were standing still. They were standing still, and never made it to the top, but you get the idea.
[img:399575:aligncenter:medium:The top of TN]
All in all, after 1300 miles of driving and several Clif Bars and trail mix packets, it was a fantastic trip, and if anyone has never been to North Carolina, I rank it as one of the most underrated states in the union. Later this summer, off to the NE to hit the highpoints of ME, NH, and VT!!