Old Black is the eleventh highest of the forty recognized Southern sixers. It's one of the easier peaks in one of the more remote areas in the eastern United States (the northern Smokies). And it's a tough day hike from Cosby campground. We didn't see anyone on the Snake Den Ridge trail, but saw several hikers once we reached the AT. Apparently most of the hiker traffic in this area really is on the AT.
The summit is marked by a small cairn (with a bolt reading 696) in the middle of a balsam forest. We were surprised, but there were still some blueberries on the bushes in mid-September.
This mountain is really pretty remote (about 7 miles from the nearest road). The shortest route starts from the Cosby campground (the Snake Den Ridge trail), but the mountain can be climbed quite easily by AT through hikers (it's 13 miles from Davenport Gap and 17 miles from Newfound Gap). It's also accessible from Pin Oak Gap on the Balsam Mountain Road via an 11 mile hike on the Balsam Mountain Trail and the AT. And from the Indian Camp Creek and Madron Bald trails which join the Snake Den Ridge trail after a 7 1/2 mile hike(this make for about a 9 1/2 mile hike to get to the top of the mountain).
The next time we're in this area we will try to do the Madron Bald hike. It passes next to a stand of virgin forest: the Albright Grove. This is named for Horace Albright, an early superintendent of the NPS; he was the one who prevented a road from being built along the Smokies crest.
We hiked via the Snake Den Ridge trail. The Cosby campground and the start of the trail is located on Tennesee 32 about 1/2 hour south of Newport, Tennessee or 1/2 hour east of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Park at the amphitheatre parking lot and walk the B loop. The trail starts at a gate near campsite B50. It follows a gravel road, passing a still-in-use cemetery and relentlessly climbs up Snake Den Mountain. We enjoyed the flora along the trail
but that didn't make the hike any easier.
At about 4 1/2 miles, the Madron Bald trail joined from the right and in another 3/4 mile, we reached the AT. (We didn't realize it at the time, but it's only a hop, skip and jump to the top of Inadu Knob from this junction). We turned right onto the AT here. The AT generally follows the Smokies crest (although the mountain doesn't really stand out on the crest, it's a very long way down) and walked for about a mile to a cairn marking the start of the bushwhack to the top; it's where the AT reaches an obvious high point crossing the Pinnacle Lead ridge. That was a fairly level mile and we were rewarded with some picture postcard views of the Balsam Mountain crest.
From the cairn, it's about 1/4 mile to the summit. There was a ribbon trail from the cairn, but it's been obscured by blowdown.
Follow the ribbon trail to the blowdown and then keep bearing left and up at the numerous cane fields. The summit is definitely the highest point around.
After we summitted and turned around, the storm which had been intemittently thundering all day finally broke over the Balsam mountain ridge.
Btw, we counted 19 switchbacks from where the Snake Den Ridge trail really begins until it reaches the AT. Some of those may be dubious, tho. The trail itself is not extremely steep, but it is unrelenting in its climb up the mountain (4,000 feet in 4 1/2 miles).
But no dogs are allowed in any of the Smokies backcountry.
CampingCosby campground. There are some other private campgrounds around as well.
And plenty of motels in Cosby, Newport and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
South Beyond 6000