The Piedmont may just be transitioning from summer to fall by mid-October, but high in the Black Mountains, the highest mountain chain east of South Dakota's Black Hills, the transition to winter is nigh. At least, at the upper reaches of this 13-mile range, a good deal of which is above 6,000 feet. And that's the allure of this trip: we'll have color and cool temperatures at base camp, but there will be a definite nip in the air atop the ridge.
On this Classic weekend, we will camp at the Briar Bottom Group Campground, a grassy expanse along the South Toe River at about 3,000 feet. Daytime temperatures will likely be in the low 70s, bring a light fleece for evening. As for the hiking:
Saturday: We will hike from camp up the Green Knob Trail, a nearly 4-mile trail that gains more than 2,000 feet in elevation climbing Lost Cove Ridge. The payoff: the Green Knob fire tower at 5,080 feet. Built in 1931, the top cabin is closed, but you can still climb the stairs to get great views of the Hickory Nut and Swannanoa mountains to the south, Graybeard Mountain and Pinnacle to the west, and the Black Mountains dominating the northwest horizon.
Total distance: 8 miles. Difficulty: Moderately strenuous.
That evening, after a shower (at the adjoining Black Mountain Campground) we'll have a taco bar with all the classic fixin's.
Sunday: We will make the 11-mile drive up to Mount Mitchell State Park. There, we'll do the obligatory short hike to the summit of 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, then hike a mile and a half on the Black Mountain Crest Trail out to Mount Craig (6,648 feet) and Big Tom (6,581 feet). Don't be deceived by the distance: this is some challenging (but fun!) hiking over rock outcrop. Memorable no matter what the weather.
Total distance: 4 miles. Difficulty: Moderately difficult.
Cost: $105. It includes:
— camping Friday and Saturday nights
— eguide including custom trail maps for both days, distances, elevation profiles
— swag bag including nutrition for the hikes and gear
— Taco dinner Saturday night