Celo Knob, Gibbs Mountain

October 2, 2016

My friend Andy and I ventured out on the Sunday afternoon to summit two peaks on the South Beyond 6000 challenge: Celo Knob and Gibbs Mountain. Both are on the northern end of what is considered the Black Mountain Crest. The trailhead to Bowlens Creek is difficult to find. The most simplistic instructions are to plug Water Shed Road Burnsville, NC into your GPS. There is a small parking area at the “end” of Water Shed. For those with 4-wheel drive, the road progresses to trailhead for the Black Mountain Crest Trail; however it is chock-full of stones and potholes and would be difficult for a smaller car.

I’ve always loved the area at the base of Bowlen’s: Tolkien-like in feel, the moss and moisture from the creek coupled with the green foliage of the hardwoods. The trail itself immediately rockets upward for 3,500 ft. over the next five miles. While steady, it is fairly vertical. The service type road ends near Celo Knob and those willing to push themselves up the ridge are blessed with one of the best views in the southwest: to the east a view of the valley and Slickrock Mountain and to the south the mighty Crest Trail. Beneath your feet is the heath grass on the forest floor.

The trail to Celo Knob starts at a junction with a trail marker for the Crest. We headed under a canopy of evergreens with an idyllic camping spot and turned left. The trail continues a fairly easy manway north to the summit, an obvious spot with a rock cairn. As a special treat on the way up is a rock outcropping with glorious views of the Roans, Spruce Pine, Table Rock Mountain and the Linville Gorge.

Gibbs Mountain is trickier to locate. We continued south on the crest trail and passed Horse Rock on the left. Soon we saw a sign for Woody Ridge Trail. A 1/3 of a mile after Woody there were two large conifers on the right hand ride of the trail (if heading south). We looked immediately left and saw a faint man-way up the ridge. This was the toughest hike of the day, steep and filled with underbrush. After a 5 minute bushwhack we located two large stones, each separated by a spruce fir. This was the highest point and it certainly had a beauteous view of the area.

After a snack and a quick rest, we started back down the crest trail to Bowlen’s. 2.5 miles from the car we spotted a shiny rock pile on the left-hand side of the trail. Looking down, a small rock cairn was next to a faint trail. The pile was a huge collection of mica, but even more surprising was the hidden, cavernous mine cut out of the mountain.

Mica is considered a sheet of silicate minerals with semi-translucent properties. In pioneering days, it was used for windows, in lieu of glass. [1] During the 20th Century the uses for mica, feldspar and kaolin grew to include “scouring powder, china, pottery, glass, bathroom fixtures, wallpaper, automobile tires, rooking, electrical devices, plasters and paints.” [2] Mica flourishes in Western North Carolina and for a short time period, it was mined extensively and profitably in the area.

Known as the Stanley mine, Stanley Presnell and is family mined this area in the 1950’s. [3] According to his nephew, “one day, Amos [uncle] and Dad were working at the back of the Stanley Mine. The quantity of mica had slowed to a trickle. Stanley came in, looked the situation, told them to stop what they were doing and follow him.” They went to an area at the front of the mine (pictured below). “They drilled and shot. After the smoke cleared they went back in expecting to only find a mess to clean up. Instead it looked like someone had backed in a truck loaded with mica and dumped it.” [4]

As the price of mica fell, the mining eventually teetered into non-existence. All that is left today are the remnants in southern Appalachia that one stumbles upon, often by chance.

GPS link: https://www.movescount.com/moves/move125614142

Total mileage is 15.14 miles.

[1] Lowell Presnell, Mines, Miners and Minerals of Western North Carolina (Parkway Publishers, 1999), 37.
[2] Lowell, Mines, Miners and Minerals, 38.
[3] Lowell, Mines, Miners and Minerals, 132.
[4] Lowell, Mines, Miners and Minerals, 133.

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