“The highest, most airy ridge traverse in the east and a destination run not to be taken lightly.”
— Eric Heistand
Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
The Black Mountain Range has a small footprint but packs a mighty big punch. If tallest-peak-in-the-east Mount Mitchell
is the crowning jewel of the range, then the 11.5 mile Black Mountain Crest Trail is the strand of pearls. Five of the top ten highest peaks in the east adorn this lofty ridge. Do a quick web search and one finds that the Black Mountain Crest Trail always comes with superlatives. Most describe pain and difficulty. Think critically about your water strategy and take lightning storms seriously. The trail is most aesthetically done as a one way, starting at Bowlen's Creek and ending at the summit of Mt. Mitchell.
Need to Know
For the full climbing experience, start at Bowlen's Creek Trailhead. Your destination is the summit of Mt. Mitchell. Stash a car or arrange for a ride from the summit parking area of Mt Mitchell. Locate Bowlen's Creek Trailhead by finding Water Shed Drive (marked "PVT" on the street sign). Unless you have high clearance 4x4, use the two-car pull off on the right not far from the main road. The trailhead and several primitive camping spots are another 300-400 yards up the rough road.
Expect 11 miles of spectacular wilderness running that require excellent stamina, self sufficiency, and backcountry smarts, especially in bad weather. 5000 ft gains if you do this from Bowlen's Creek and it's all runnable with a strong level of fitness. Carry plenty of water and make sure you don't pass up the spring at Deep Gap to refill.
The initial climb from Bowlen's Creek to Celo Knob is the physical crux. Expect a 3000 ft gain with lots of heavy breathing. Your reward after 4 miles of climbing is a beautiful meadow with see-forever views in every direction. For bonus points, you can scramble on a side track to the bushy summit of Celo Knob. Good luck finding the Geological Survey Marker on the summit.
Mile eight is Deep Gap and it is significant for two reasons. First, it is the only legitimate camping spot on the trail. Second, and most importantly, it is the only spot to replenish your water supply. Don't expect a gusher in most seasons. To locate the water spring, take the Colbert Ridge Trail
(which intersects the BMC trail at Deep Gap) for a short distance, probably less than 100 meters. A small rock/cave is where the spring is located. Your next water source is the Mount Mitchell
Summit, assuming the bathrooms are open.
From Deep Gap, it's onward and upward to Potato Hill. Don't let the lowly name fool you. It's a crusher of a climb. The next four, 6,000+ ft peaks on the ridge start passing more easily. Enjoy the black fir forests filled with weathered stone and leafy ferns. A sense of the ancient abounds here.
An easier trail section and picnic tables are the sure sign that your wilderness run is almost over. Mt Mitchell and the inevitable tourists who have driven up in their cars await you. Take the short ramp to the summit and try not to gloat.
Flora & Fauna
Black fir forests and black bears.