Climbing Mt. Mitchell was likely the most physically grueling trip I’ve ever embarked on. My two friends, Jeremy and Justin, and I decided it would be a really cool trip, which it was, but holy crap did we underestimate what it would take to get up and down that mountain. It’s known as the highest peak east of the Mississippi River and, having experienced it myself, I’ll say it – the proof is in the pudding.
For reference, here is a picture of me from when we just started the hike:
I was so happy starting out, just look at that big ole smile. It was fun and euphoric for the first 10 minutes then everything kind of started to deteriorate from there on out. We started the hike from Colbert Ridge, which for those who are unaware, here is a link to the actual trail we hiked: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/north-carolina/colbert-ridge-to-mount-mitchell-to-maple-camp-ridge-loop. Note that the trail I’ve linked says that the distance was 18.1 miles in total. However, when we tracked it ourselves, through all our exploring we hiked just over 22 miles. We weren’t able to keep good track of our elevation gain throughout the trip, but the 5,144 feet cited on the All Trails site was spot on. We restrained from doing any additional climbing than what was necessary to get up the mountain.
The hike started out with a good 10 degree inclined slope and it didn’t seem to level off for about 1.5 miles. Didn’t seem too bad. But, at the 2 mile mark, the trail got really steep. Steep enough that I had a legitimate fear that I wouldn’t be able to make it up the mountain with the full weight of my pack. I think it weighed nearly 45-50 lbs. I made the mistake of carrying way more than what was necessary. I had a decent sized first-aid kit, a cast iron skillet (big mistake), a carbon-steel collapsible shovel/axe (another big mistake), a machete (not necessary when you can bring a small hatchet), a bottle of scotch (didn’t drink it at all, would have been too dehydrated to walk if I did), a Kammok tent/hammock, a North Face sleeping bag, sunscreen, bug spray/lotion, my GoPro, some dehydrated food, a waterproof speaker, some utility rope, and a bunch of other miscellaneous things. Looking back I probably would have brought less than half of the stuff I listed. It was just added pain. Word of advice – pack as light as possible.
The hike up to the mountain was brutally long. We also started quite late in the day, our starting point was an hour away from our hotel in Asheville, NC. We stayed up late and didn’t get a full nights rest, which was very stupid, but I don’t regret it. We got to try out Wicked Weed Brewing Company while in Asheville and that was awesome! Fast forward to our summit – we reached the peak just before sunset. It was nearly 7:30PM by the time we hiked up the mountain. We started at around 11:00AM. For a moment when we reached the top, it was a sudden feeling of euphoria, short-lived, but well-worth the work we put in to get up there. Here are a few pictures from the top of our summit:
I wasn’t smiling like that on the way up though. I was huffing, puffing, and doing my best to focus on proper breathing. The heat and humidity was so intense that for a majority of the hike, my shirt was so drenched it was dripping sweat to the ground.
Getting to the top of the summit was surreal. For one, the view is spectacular, even more so when you experience just how much persistence it takes to climb up the mountain from the valleys below. And second, we likely would have had an awful time atop the mountain if it were not for an incredibly kind couple from Tennessee that willingly offered us food and fresh water. We had been bottling the mountain spring water and disinfecting it with Potable Aqua tablets and so the fresh water was a treat. Before meeting them, we were on our last reserves of food too. We had two cans of tuna and two dehydrated vegetarian chilli meals to last us the night and getting down the mountain. We hadn’t even eaten dinner at that time. I still can’t get over how generous they were to us – they gave us a whole bag of jerky, a big bag of salad, raisins, keto bars, trail mix, brownie bites, and each an organic apple picked from a local apple farm. Those two people made our trip magnitudes more enjoyable and I can only hope that they know just what their generosity meant to us. Surely, I’ll be doing the same as they did for the next group of hikers I come across.
All in all, I truly enjoyed the experience. I felt like a quasi-pioneer traversing the Appalachia in search of a greater view of the horizon ahead. I don’t imagine I’ll ever do the same hike again, but if I am to ever set foot on another mountain, even one half the height of Mt. Mitchell, I’ll be sure to pack at least half the weight I packed on my recent trip. Last but not least, once we got down the mountain, we treated ourselves to a couple amazing beers at Sierra Nevada’s gigantic brewery just south of Asheville. We finished our trip with a Spruce Tree Dunkel beer, idyllic of the terrain we had just trekked.