Black Mountains Backpacking
|Me, Trevor (aka Zero/Zero), Dennis (kneeling), Jake, Susan, Mike, Ryan, & Mitch|
I always find it challenging to get a total mileage count at the end of a hike, but I think this 3 1/2 day trip added up to about 26 miles and I got to summit Big Butt, Little Butt, Point Misery, Blackstock, Mt. Mitchell, Mt. Craig, and Big Tom. The group was a mixed assembly of members of the North Carolin High Peaks Trail Association and at our height we had 9 people and 6 dogs (the first night), but for most of the trip we had 7 people plus 4 dogs. The trip was a bit last minute for me, and there are very few people on this planet that I’d say “sure” to when asked if I’d like to go on a 3-night backpacking trip without looking at a topo first. But Dennis and Jake could walk these mountain blind, so when they said they knew where our water sources were and where we’d camp, I said “count me in!” It also helped that everyone rallied to arrange shuttles and rides, as a few of us had to come off the trail 1/2 day early due to obligations (myself included). I couldn’t have gone without everyone’s help and that’s just one more reason I love these guys!
|Standing on the hook of the J looking toward home and the highest section of the Blacks where we’d end up. We hiked to the “right” of this photo and around the curve, then “left” along the ridgeline shown here.|
I know the Black Mountains fairly well, but I don’t know the eastern hook of the J of this chain of mountains well at all. Although I knew where I stood in relation to home and my northern end of the Blacks each day, every inch of this trail was new to me–and very exciting!
As it turns out, my analogy about being able to “walk these mountains blind” proved interestingly true for one man…On day 2 we crossed paths with Trevor Thomas (aka Zero/Zero), the blind hiker.
Trevor went blind in his thirties and has been backpacking ever since. With help from technology, strangers, a support team, and, now, his fearless guide dog Tennille, he has over 15,000 trail miles under his belt. We met him along the Blue Ridge Parkway when our route intersected with the Mountains to Sea Trail (video of Trevor’s journey here). He’s hiking that, which starts at Clingman’s and goes all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, over the course of about 90 days. We met him on day 13 and he was very glad for the company. After sharing the trails and camp with him for 2 days, we were all very glad for his company, too, as he’s quite an inspiration.
Other cool things about this trip included scouting out the remains of a 1960’s airplane crash at Rainbow Gap. Nearby, we also found an old cabin and the sweetest spring and water supply in backpacking history. They way this particular spring had been rigged up by some trail angels, it took about 40 seconds to get half a gallon of water. Unbelieveable!
Another highlight for me was the first night’s camping spot just before the summit of Big Butt at Flat Spring Knob. This is in the middle of a gigantic patch of wild ramps (like nature’s hybrid of leeks and scallions). We could even smell onions through our sleeping that night, and this patch is only a fraction of what we saw. You could hike 1/4 mile either direction from here and find ramps as far as the eye could see.
Although I’m not used to creature comforts in the backcountry and prefer to hike without them, as well as without a phone or watch, the NC High Peaks crew is largely made up of well-outfitted 50+ retired folks who like to hike with resupplies, iPhones, and…frothy beer mugs. I’ll keep my comments about hiking with phones (or turning them on while hiking, at least) to myself…but I will say this was the first time I’d backpacked with wine, Irish whiskey, or beer and I certainly didn’t mind a sip at the end of a long day.