4.5 miles that includes the summits of Mt. Craig, Big Tom and Balsam Cove – all above 6000 feet that qualify for the Carolina Hiking Club “Southern 20”. This particular hike, in early April was a week after a heavy mountain snowfall. At the trailhead there was approximately 3-4 inches of snow. Temperature throughout the hike ranged from just below 40F to near 50F causing muddy, sloppy conditions on the trail.
The trail is known as the Deep Gap trail or as the Black Mountain trail, depending on who you talk to. The first part of the trail from the Mt Mitchell State Park parking lot is improved and well maintained – at least for the first half mile or so. Then as the trail ascends to Mt. Craig the trail becomes much more strenuous and rocky. With the mud and snow made the hike even more challenging.
Coming down off of Mt Craig the trail flattens for a short distance and then a steady climb up to Big Tom peak. Again, the trail is quite steep and rocky – slick conditions made for several breaks. It’s a steep drop off of Big Tom even to the point that rangers have installed ropes on short section of trail to assist with the decent.
Over the next 2 miles is a constant up and down trail that winds around Potato Hill enroute to Balsam Cove. Again – with slick muddy conditions breaks were often and there were several wet falls from each member of the team.
At Balsam Cove is a steep climb to a ragged summit – a quick down hill, 1000 feet in about a half mile to the camp clearing at Deep Gap. Total trail time: Approximately 7 hours. One-way decent: 1650 feet One-way accent: 770 feet