This is a fun little triangle hike if you’re at Clingman’s Dome and don’t want to spend the entire time on the wide paved path with however many other people are currently visiting Clingman’s Dome. At the base of the paved path across from the gift store, stairs go down to the Dome Bypass Trail. Take these, turn right in 0.1 miles at the trail junction and head towards the A.T.
It’s about a half mile on a relatively gentle incline. The trail is rocky and has difficult footing but there are some good views down on the NC side of the park.
Once you reach the Appalachian Trail, you can head to the right (northbound) towards Clingman’s Dome. We took a short detour the other direction here to reach the summit of Mount Buckley. Mount Buckley isn’t much to write home about (or a blog entry) but it is a peak, there’s a small grove of stunted spruce trees at the summit and depending on the season, there may be good views into Tennessee. On our visit, the entire AT was in the clouds, mist and intermittent rain so it mostly looked like this.
We ended our hike with a trip up the architecturally bizarre lookout tower. If it isn’t strange enough normally, in the clouds it really looks like some alien space craft. There was absolutely nothing to see up here except the tower itself. Total distance for the triangle is right about 2.0 miles.
The Middle Prong Wilderness is the less-visited half of the Balsams. Shining Rock – just across 215 gets far more hikers. We’ve climbed Mt. Hardy in the past but from the other direction (Blue Ridge Parkway). This time we approached from NC 215.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail winds up to the ridge north of Mt. Hardy. This is actually a fairly confusing area as the long trail to Green Knob and Sunburst branches off as well as several short trails to lookouts and campgrounds. There are no blazes due to the status as a Wilderness Area so it’s pretty easy to get turned around. The ridges towards Green Knob have spectacular views of the Balsam Mountains just to the east.
We’ve been lax about posting our hikes here lately, so even though this is a short one we’ll include it so we don’t appear to be dead or abducted by aliens.
The Black Mountain Crest trail is notoriously difficult. While we’ve hiked south from Mt. Mitchell back as far as the Blue Ridge Parkway, we hadn’t gone north on the BMCT yet. Our original intent was to travel several miles out. Upon leaving Mt. Mitchell the trail immediately drops several hundred feet. It then runs along a ridge before ascending up to Mt. Craig – the second highest peak in the Eastern US. This is where a rather sudden thunderstorm caught us. This picture is of the trail itself. Not a creek bed.
A 6000 foot ridge with sheer cliffs on either side is no place to be in a thunderstorm. With no better option we spent half an hour or more crouched in a grove of spruce trees. When the storm passed we were drenched. Worse than that, the already difficult trail was now slickrock with water streaming down it. We decided we should at least finish summiting Mt. Craig. It turns out that just 100 feet up the trail or so was a huge rock overhand that would be useful in future pop-up storms.
The view from Mt. Craig is worth the difficult, if short (1 mile each way) hike. From the top you can see… well, we could see cloud. Eventually the clouds cleared long enough for us to snap a few pictures and see the daunting line of thunderstorms across the western horizon making their way towards us. Reluctantly we decided that it just wasn’t a good day to be hiking on the highest ridge around and we headed back to Mt. Mitchell. We actually reached the car just seconds before driving rain started again, followed shortly by hail so perhaps that was a good decision.
Grassy Ridge is the oft-overlooked third peak over 6000 feet in the Roan Highlands area.
Climbing up from Carver’s Gap one first has to summit Round Bald and Jane Bald. The day before this hike it had been 65 degrees in Asheville, but it was spitting snow by the time we finished the hike. The snow on the west side of the conifers atop the balds was proof that it had been snowing recently as well. That is Grassy Ridge in the background of the first picture.
The views along this entire hike are spectacular. The Black Mountains including Mt. Mitchell are clearly visible on the NC side. The city of Roan Mountain, TN and surrounding area including Strawberry Mountain are visible to the west. From Grassy Ridge the ski areas around Boone and Grandfather Mountain are visible (including the horrendous bit of construction atop Sugar Mountain). Here are Melanie and Trout resting atop Jane Bald. We had intended to have a bit of a picnic atop Grassy Ridge originally, but once we got there the wind was so intense that we had to hide in the lee of rocks near the summit just to have a conversation. Three layers of clothing were apparently not enough.
One thing about hiking in the highlands north of Roan is that it isn’t hard to follow the trail. Here it can be seen stretching a mile or more towards Jane Bald (foreground), Round Bald (middle ground), and Roan High Knob (background, and an entirely different hike). We’d recommend this hike on a slightly warmer day.
With mom recovering from back problems, naturally we dragged her up a reasonably large mountain. Actually, we’d never been up Craggy Pinnacle before but it was reportedly an easy hike with a good view. Unfortunately the rhododendrons were not blooming yet. The hike is about 3/4 of a mile, fairly steep. I’m told that if you’re recovering from back problems it is quite challenging.
The summit of Craggy Pinnacle has several observation decks with good views in all directions along the Blue Ridge Parkway and back towards Asheville. The Craggy Mountains are a small sub-range of the Blue Ridge which feature Craggy Pinnacle (we’re standing on it in this picture), Craggy Dome (that’s it across the parking lot from here), and Craggy Mountain (behind us). Besides being creatively named, these peaks are all near 6000 ft although only Craggy Dome (the lump out there) is over 6000 ft. We hiked it previously for the South Beyond 6000. It looks gentle from here but there’s no real trail to the top so it involves foraging through blackberries and rhododendrons. The summit does not have much of a view. In fact, it looked vaguely like this up there when we previously visited:
There are several ways up Roan Mountain by trail and one by road. The AT ascends to Toll House Gap from both north and south. From the north (near the town of Buladean) is a rugged 2000 ft climb over about 3 miles. The AT intersects the road in Toll House Gap which was once the site of the Cloudland Hotel. Now it’s just a nice grassy bald with great views into both Tennessee and North Carolina.
From here there is a spur trail that leads along the ridge, parallel to the road out to Roan High Bluff. This is a particularly worthwhile hike in shoulder seasons (like March) because the road up isn’t open yet so the top of Roan is almost certainly going to be deserted. The view from Roan High Bluff is also fantastic.
From Toll House Gap to the north along the AT is a more popular hike down to Carvers Gap which has a large parking area. Along the way is the highest shelter on the AT at a slight side trail to Roan High Knob.
At 6285 and 6267, both Roan High Knob and Roan High Bluff qualify among the 40 peaks that make up the South Beyond 6000 challenge sponsered by the Carolina and Tennnessee Eastman Hiking Clubs. In fact, these are two of the easier peaks to get to (no bushwhacking). The Knob is marked by a USGS benchmark and is a basically a rock outcrop just past the shelter.