July 24, 2016
The Black Mountain Crest Trail rises from North Carolina as one of the best hiking destinations on the eastern seaboard. It’s rough, it’s unforgiving, it’s strenuous, and it’s one my favorite trails.
From Mt. Mitchell to Celo Knob there are 7 peaks over 6000 feet, forming a spine across the surrounding landscape. Even though I’ve traversed Cattail Peak and Balsam Cone many times, upon research, I discovered that I have never reached the true summits.
In the valley and in Asheville it was over 90 degrees, but in the alpine air of Mitchell it was a nice 69. You are unlikely to encounter many people on the trail, except from Mitchell to Craig, where there is a nice view of the surrounding valley.
The trail from Craig dips slightly, before a slight climb to Big Tom, which is not part of the South Beyond 6000.
Going down Big Tom is where the trail gets interesting: ropes, slick rocks and steep descents. I leveled out after Tom, and began a tougher climb to Balsam Cone. I’ve always thought the summit of Balsam Cone was the view on the right hand side of the trail, but it’s actually just across the view on the left side. There is a collection of trees on a mound, which is the highest point (pictured below).
The trail descends moderately from Balsam, before climbing up to Cattail Peak. This is where it took some work to find the summit. The most common destination is a sign on the right hand side of the trail stating itself as the Cattail Peak summit (pictured below). This is not true.
The true summit takes a little bit of investigation to find. From the sign, I counted out 160 feet (not an actual measurement, but using my feet). After 160 feet there is a slight manway on the right side of the trail (pictured below). If you start to turn left and descend, you have gone too far. The manway is not too hard of a bushwhack. .1-.2 miles up the ridge you come to a stick rising from the ground with a blue ribbon. Just below that is the geological marker for the summit.
After the summit, I made my way back to the parking lot. The Crest is a great area to escape the hottest of summer days, and the views never disappoint.
Total mileage is 6 miles.