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Back from the Blacks – trip report

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I spent last weekend backpacking in the Black Mountains within a portion of the Pisgah National Forest, hiking a number of miles up and then along the ridge-line of Mt Mitchell, the highest peak in the east.

I’ve learned, and was reminded again, to not take North Carolina’s wilderness lightly. The Colbert Ridge trail, which was our pathway into the forest, took us up 3,000 feet in just over three miles. It was dense, tangled with blowdown from a series of recent storms and lacking water. My decision to go light on water turned out to be a bad one. One liter to camp didn’t cut it. Thankfully, we found a decent source about a half-mile below Deep Gap, our first night’s settlement.

There are more than enough reasons for anyone in the southeast to make the trip to this section of the Blue Ridge. We experienced mist-blanketed valley views, rodo-tunnels dense enough to require a daytime headlamp and an epic distant lightening show from our last night’s perch on Maple Camp Bald.

A few disappointing aspects included other hikers’ general lack of concern for where they leave trash (I found one Teva, a stroller {yes, a stroller} and too many plastic bottles to count) and even more unfortunately, how they handle their scatological output. We debated even bothering with the bear hang after discovering the, uh, mess, about ten yards down the trail from our camp. Not only was it not buried properly, it was directly on the trail. With toilet paper.

Our hope was that any visiting bruins would simply recognize the idiocy of the offending hiker and give us a break. “Look guys, I’ve had enough peanut butter for a while, and, well, frankly, I’m little turned off by humans right now. I’ll go find some blueberries.”

In summation, our route was up the Colbert Ridge Trail; camp at Deep Gap; head south on Black Mountain Crest Trail; camp on Maple Camp Bald; and then tracked out on the Buncombe Horse Range Trail. For those thinking about heading on this route, understand that you should leave a good deal of time for Colbert and that the first mile on Buncombe from Maple Camp Bald is super dense and gets tricky in a couple of sections. Most horse trails are well-maintained but it’s clear the horsepackers haven’t been spending much time on this section of the route. It’s a nice trail otherwise.

It was good to see my buddy Jake for the trip, who I met last fall in Wyoming on a NOLS Outdoor Educator Course. And stay tuned for more backpacking tips and advice that will stem from things I was reminded about on this trip. Every time out helps you become more comfortable in the field. So get out there.

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