I arrived at the Mt. Mitchell trailhead (Black Mountain Campground, elevation about 3000 ft.) at 7:45 am. Fortunately all of the rain I had driven trough on the 3-hour drive from Concord NC was now over. Wow, pretty mild as I started hiking right at 8:00… the temperature was about 40 F., mostly cloudy, but I could already here the distant rumble of some serious wind up on the ridges as the NW flow snow machine was gearing up for business! Definitely there was some good rain overnight as the trail was wet and streaming in places.
After about 40 minutes, I started seeing the first tiny snowflakes at around 3700 ft. The rumble of the wind was getting closer as well. One hour in, at about 4200 ft, I made the turn to the right to continue up the blue-blazed Mitchell Trail (continuing straight would put you on the Higgins Bald trail which meanders lower on the ridge before climbing back to join the Mitchell trail at Setrock Creek). Now the snow was getting a little heavier, the winds faster, and the temperature dropping.
Two hours in, I took my 2nd break at around 5400 ft… added another layer on top and put the balaclava on too, as the temp was now hovering just above 20 F. with all of the standing water from the previous nights rains now flash freezing. Now up through the power-line switchbacks and I joined with the Buncombe Horse trail at around 5700 ft. In this exposed area, it was really starting to rev up with still higher winds and more snow!
After a short distance I made the right turn and started up through the fir and spruce forest for the final 1.5 miles and last 900 ft to the 6684 ft. summit. This heavily wooded forest kept me mostly sheltered from the freight-train sounding winds all the way to the top. It was really rocking and rolling for sure at the top too! 30+mph sustained winds with gusts over 50 mph. and the temperature now standing at just 15 F. at noontime. I know it was wrong, but I couldn’t resist, so I went on up to the closed summit to check on the progress of the new tower (I stayed off of the tower and also did not get close to any of the construction materials). It looks like maybe half finished… oh well maybe by next summer they’ll have it ready.Check Out the Video!
I then spent a little time romping around in the blowing snow in the parking lot.Check Out the Video!
and then just below the summit on the auto road...Check Out the Video!
But even with double-lined gloves, I noticed my fingers going numb so I started down taking a new route… the Old Mitchell Trail to the Camp Alice Trail and back down to the old road, which becomes the Buncombe Horse Trail. Right at this spot back down right at 5600 ft and right under the Mitchell summit was where I encountered the fiercest conditions! 40 mph sustained winds rushing down the slope from the summit gusting to easily 60 mph and the temperature holding steady at 15 F. I went to the 4th layer on top (hooded shell) and pulled out the goggles as the snow was stinging my eyes.
Check Out the Video!
The ¾-mile trip on the Horse Trail/road back to the Mitchell trail junction to complete my summit loop was definitely the most fun as there were times the wind was almost picking me up! Then on back down the 4 miles of the Mitchell Trail to the trailhead with conditions steadily improving all the way to just snow flurries with no accumulation when I got back to the car (though the temperature was now standing at 28 F with some gusty winds even here).
3 hours, 38 minutes total time hiking up and 3 hours down (due to the longer route I took)... about 11.5 miles total distance. Early on as I was going up met some hikers that were coming down (from an obvious wet previous night of camping!), but never saw another soul above 5400 ft. All in all, a great day!