conquering mt. mitchell

a quick word to the wise: never hike a mountain after doing a 20-minute all-out bike TT that morning. especially not the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard. and if you are like me, and stupid enough to attempt such a feat, pack extra powerbars (seriously, take what you think you need. and then triple it) and be sure to eat a really big breakfast/early lunch. otherwise you are going to find yourself disoriented on the trail and stumbling the 5.5 miles back to your car. i'm not sure what happened exactly but i still have half a dozen bruises on my body a week later. typical.

okay, rewind: on the final friday of my trip, i visited some friends who had recently hiked mt. mitchell. they mentioned that you could drive to the top, but that the hike was so much more rewarding. i gave in and thought i had convinced them to join me on the expedition but, as typical with 20-somethings, they ended up flaking the next morning. so i hitched up my fleece running tights, threw on my mom's hiking boots and headed east. the mountain itself is not that far from being in the backyard of the new house but with typical mountain/country roads, it ended up being a 90-minute drive to the base.

i think mitchell is the western-most peak here but i really don't know. ominous:

driving up to the base, i starting second guessing whether this was really a good idea: it was cold, they were forecasting snow... i was alone... bears... i honestly didn't know what the conditions would be like. i starting getting the chills as i saw the peak, like i was driving up to the eiger or another equally daunting peak and not some 6,684ft molehill.

but i was here, so why the heck not. i slapped on the backpack, scratched my head in front of the trailhead sign for about 20-minutes trying to figure out the route and then set off. the first few miles weren't bad. the total round trip was about 12-miles and, mentally, you could break it into sections: the first four miles meant mild weather and pleasant hiking conditions, the second four miles were a tad-chilly and mountainous with the occasional stream crossing and then the last four were HOLY-EFF-I CAN'T FEEL MY FINGERS AND I'M ABOUT TO FALL OFF A CLIFF!! (ed. note: if you've been to mt. mitchell and think this is overly dramatic for the hike, i'm going to blame it on the lack of nutrition and the cold. seriously, it was like a 5-hour bonk.)

this was pretty typical of section II: a little rugged but, hey, a staircase!

this is when things started to get a little ominous. as i moved through section II, some hikers were coming down from the top. first, a crazy trail runner in shorts and a lightweight red fleece top. his entire body was a bright red, while he was decked out in a fuzzy beard and snow cap—he looked kind of like an emaciated santa claus.  "i just came from the top," he yelled to me as he skipped over the rocks, "the wind chill was, like, totally negative 40."

i looked down at my running top and tights and started getting a little bit nervous. while i had a ski coat and cap in my backpack, i already was having trouble feeling my fingers in my gloves. a few minutes later, as i was trying not to slip on the frozen-over trail, some guys with hiking poles who looked ready to summit everest were on their way down. slightly more realistic, but no more reassuring than the runner, they told me that they had a temp. gauge and that it really was -10* at the top. brrrrrrrrr.....

right then, i pulled on the ski cap and jacket and pulled the fleece headband/ear warmer i had been wearing over my face like some kind of face muff—better start stoking the fire. three more miles to the top and i made it! the views were spectacular but i was shivering so much i didn't stay up there long, instead i snapped some photos and then booked it back on my way down.

the top!

as far as the eye can see...

tried to orient myself to where i was looking...

but then started to see the snow rolling in and got a little worried (in fact, it ended up flurrying some on the way down):

took one last shot of the A-M-A-Z-I-N-G view...

and then headed back down to warm up (coffee and omelet stop at a waffle house)!

upon reaching the bottom, even though i was more bonked than i've ever been, i realized that i had been hiking basically non-stop for 6+ hours. seriously, i probably didn't stop for more than 30-seconds to adjust layers on the way up/down and then couldn't have stayed for long at the cold-cold top. although it's a totally different terrain (literally), i feel like my training has been paying off, and i can't wait to kick ass at my first 70.3 this summer.

lastly, if anyone is in western north carolina, has 6-7 hours to kill and plenty of powerbars to get you through an amazing hike, i highly recommend mt. mitchell. so much fun and such a beautiful view (though rumor has it you can just drive up to the top in the summer for the easy-way-out). just pack those powerbars. seriously. and maybe a picnic.