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With a crumpled set of directions being deciphered by a sleep deprived Joel and a GPS unit on the fritz, it looked as if our trip to Mt. Mitchell would be doomed by the inability of our group to gather our wits enough to find an alternate route around the closed Blue Ridge Parkway entrance.
This was our first trip to summit any peak, and boy did we underestimate the pants off this one. We finally arrived mid afternoon to the Black Mountain campground located near the trail-head for the 5.6 Mount Mitchell trail. I was responsible for the groups gear list, transportation, and schedule. I planned for us to stay one night on Commissary Ridge, then leave at 2 A.M. to reach the summit right before sun rise.
I required everyone to at least have a few critical items because I was well aware ahead of time about trail and weather condition for our hike, but here we are at the last minute and I am having to argue on why it’s important to have trekking poles and some yaktrax.
The climb was underestimated by everyone in the group and we quickly understood that this was something that we all had to work together on. We made camp at commissary ridge for some much needed sleep after driving all night. The hike up to the ridge was strenuous but it wasn’t too bothersome. We had imagined that the rest of the trip up would be the same with a little snow and hopefully we would have plenty of time to stop and rest, maybe cook on the way to the summit.
We were wrong…
The next four hours after leaving camp consisted of ice, packed snow which would break at spots and drop us to the hip in it, running out of water because someone assumed that my recommendation of a few 32oz bottles of water meant bring two 15-ounce protein shakes, pole tips disappearing, headlamps dying, and equipment retardation.
We finally make the summit like planned, except I was an hour off…
We waited an hour on top of the Mt. Mitchell deck until the sun finally peaked up from the ground. It was breath-taking but fuck cold due to allowing my hands to sweat and cool down before switching out my gloves. We waited and took pictures, descended, and limped back to Tennessee.
Things I learned and hopefully will be useful if planning a trip in February to Mt. Mitchell:
• Check the weather reports before you leave. No one in our group had cell reception and our GPS was also not working correctly. You really need to know this because it makes a difference on what you should bring.
• Make sure your gear fits, and is comfortable
o AKA, don’t wear brand new snow boots on this.
o If you’re like me and did, tape your heels early.
o If you’re like me and didn’t tape early, then use tape, moleskin, and then more tape.
• Don’t be stupid like me and underestimate the hike.
o We were the ONLY people hiking to the summit that had crampons and trekking poles. Everyone that we passed on our descent had planned to make it to the top, and we warned every one of the ice and snow. Everyone shrugged off the advice as if we were just being overly cautious and was told by a group of college students from Michigan that they are "used to it." This group was equipped with sweatshirts, shorts, and five-finger shoes. As we were packing up camp, some of the group we warned earlier in that day was finally making their way down. No summit and not even a glance in our direction.
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