Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Highpoint: North Carolina. Mt. Mitchell (6684 ft). June 15, 2010

We were looking forward to spending an evening or two at the top of the East Coast's highest mountain: Mt. Mitchell. Unfortunately, though we did reach North Carolina's highpoint, we were unable to sleep there.

The afternoon started well enough. The drive from Kentucky went smoothly and we reached the (free) auto road up Mt. Mitchell by 6pm. Then the fun started. We heard thunder far off in the distance...neither of my girls enjoys being outside in a thunderstorm, and neither wants to experience lightning at 6684 feet. I convinced them we would be fine in the car, and that if the storm was headed our way, we wouldn't camp where we had planned (at the campsite less than a mile from the summit).

The drive up was gorgeous, there were plenty of views -- unfortunately, a daddylongleg had hitched a ride with us from either Kentucky or showed up unexpectedly in the backseat and repeatedly ran over the girls. There was much fuss and screeching for most of the way up...the couple of times I managed to pull over, the critter disappeared, only to reappear as soon as we started driving back up the road. This atmosphere was not ideal for picture taking...or driving, for that matter. I consider it a miracle we didn't fall off the mountain.

We reached the summit parking lot and hopped out. I looked for the daddylongleg, hoping to set it free, but alas, it had yet again disappeared. We haven't seen it since -- I've a bad feeling it will turn up one of these days, sadly smushed at the bottom of our car.

Back to Mt. Mitchell...the footpath from the parking lot to the summit is paved and only a tenth of a mile in length.

We reached the top quickly. In spite of the girls' cheerful posing, they were quite concerned about the increasingly loud thunder.

I agreed we'd stay at the top for only a few minutes. Sage took the following pictures...

...then we headed back down to the parking lot. The wind was starting to pick up, so the girls dove into the car while I took a couple of pictures from our parking space...

We drove to the campsite -- it looked great, but it was rather exposed and the girls were adamant that we NOT stay there with the thunderstorm on the way. This bummed me out considerably, since I wanted to spend the next day roaming about the peak. I asked if the girls wanted to wait out the storm in the nearby restaurant.

After an hour and a half, the sky still looked like this (that storm cloud is directly over the campsite):

The hour was getting late and the rangers would close the park gate soon. We had to make a decision...lightning was striking all around the restaurant...the girls predictably (and wisely) decided NOT to camp here for the evening.

We ran like mad to the car, then I drove like cautious hell all the way down the auto road. It was not a fun experience -- lightning struck all around us and the rain made it difficult to see. We reached the Blue Ridge Highway, then I experienced another hour of high altitude dodge-the-lightning driving before we reached the local Motel Cheapo, where we crashed for the evening.

Next stop: South Carolina.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Highpoint: Kentucky. Black Mountain (4139 ft). June 15, 2010

After spending a lovely couple of days at Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, it was time to pack up and tag Kentucky.

The highpoint of Kentucky is the peak of Black Mountain, and is on privately owned land. A waiver is required to drive/walk up the road; I made sure to download it from the web and mail it in before we left on our trip. I also carried a copy on my person, just in case.

Here's the sign one needs to look for when trying to find the way up...FAA En Route Radar..., right between the Welcome to Virginia and the Welcome to Kentucky signs along Route 160.

The road is narrow, luckily there were no other cars/trucks coming down at the time of our ascent.

We arrive at the summit...

Views at the top...

The marker is under the tower somewhere...

...perhaps under the fallen concrete...?

Though there aren't any nice views from the peak, the drive along Route 160 is nice...Alex took this picture not far from the "FAA En Route..." sign.

Next stop: North Carolina.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Highpoint: Virginia. Mt. Rogers (5729 ft). June 14, 2010

Rhododendron Trail, Appalachian Trail, Mt.Rogers Spur Trail. About 8.5 miles roundtrip, 1500 elevation gain.

When planning this highpointing bonanza a few weeks ago, I hesitated over four particular states. Virginia was one of them (I'll mention the others in later weeks, as we get to them). The hike up Mt. Rogers is a little over 8.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1500 feet. I knew Alex could handle the trek with no problems, but I was concerned about Sage. Sage has done 8 flat miles a couple of times, and she's done 1500 feet elevation in 5 miles, but she's never done 8 miles WITH 1500 feet elevation. Highpointing rules allow me to carry her if necessary...but since I'd be carrying a gigantic pack filled with the usual precautions for a serious hike, I didn't know if I'd be physically able to carry Sage for more than half a mile.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Sage took on this mountain with gusto. It helped that we ascended in a cloud, which kept the temperatures cool. Also...there were wild ponies all over the trail! These beautiful creatures motivated Sage, she kept wanting to continue in case there were more "just over there" (there usually were).

The trails wound through grassy highlands, rocky outcroppings, and one dense "fairy forest." I think my pictures and videos do a decent job of describing our day, so I'll hush up and let them do the talking...

Next stop: Kentucky.