SOUTH BEYOND 6000 in the BLACK MOUNTAINS
Ten of the peaks over 6000 feet in the region are located in the Black Mountains. For hiking convenience they may be divided into three groups: A. Blackstock Knob, B. Mt. Mitchell along with two peaks to the south, Mt. Hallback and Mt. Gibbes, C. Six peaks north of Mt. Mitchell: Mt. Craig, Balsam Cone, Cattail Peak, Winterstar Mountain, Gibbs Mountain, and Celo Knob. The principal way to get oriented in the Black Mountains is by the Mt. Mitchell Parking Lot, located about 30 miles north of Asheville, NC, via the Blue Ridge Parkway and NC 128.
A. Blackstock Knob (6320 feet)
Blackstock Knob is located on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail just north of Balsam Gap, milestone 359.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. From Balsam Gap one ascends on the trail about 1.5 miles to the summit, which will be evident as the highest point on the trail. To return to the trailhead is only 3 miles and therefore does not qualify for the program, which requires a 5 mile minimum hike.
Most Commonly Used/Accepted Routes:
- Mountains-to-Sea, Blackstock Knob and Beyond; Beginning at Balsam Gap on the Parkway this route climbs to the summit of Blackstock Knob. From there it descends gradually to NC 128, taking in the outstanding rock work the CMC crew did on this section of the Mountains-to-Sea. This one-way trip is 5 miles.
Blackstock Knob, 6359
Hike Descriptions: Blackstock Knob
B. Mt. Mitchell (6684 feet) and Two Peaks to the South: Mt. Hallback (6320 feet) and Mt. Gibbes (6560 feet)
Mt. Mitchell (6684 feet) is the highest peak in the East of the United States and is accessed by a walkway from the Mt. Mitchell Parking Area at the end of NC 128. At the summit one will find the grave of Dr. Elisha Mitchell, for whom the mountain was named, and a tower with outstanding 360-degree views. For the Beyond 6000 program, climbing Mt. Mitchell must be combined with other routes that are at least 5 miles and a 500 foot ascent.
Mt. Hallback (6320 feet) is located a little more than a mile south of Mt. Mitchell on the Old Mitchell Trail, which begins just above the Parking Area and restaurant toward Mt. Mitchell. The trail meanders through a campground and a parking lot, after which Mt. Hallback becomes prominent to the left. Where the trail curves sharply to the left and before it curves back to the right, the hiker will find a logical place to bushwhack to the summit. No view; but a sign identifying the summit.
Mt. Gibbes (6560 feet) is a joint mountain with Clingman’s Peak, which is distinguished by towers and a chain fence around its summit. Since access is prohibited to Clingman’s Peak, Mt. Gibbes, which is actually higher, is included in the Beyond 6000 program. It is best accessed from Stepps Gap, where there is a park office on NC 128. A gravel road and a trail both ascend steeply to the South. The benchmark for Mt. Gibbes is located on the trail about a mile from Stepps Gap. The road runs between Clingman’s Peak and Mt. Gibbes. The trail may be found just north of maintenance buildings.
Most Commonly Used/Accepted Routes:
- Black Mountains Circuit; Beginning at Mt. Mitchell Parking Lot, this hike proceeds south along Old Mitchell Trail via Mt. Hallback, with a short bushwhack to Mt. Gibbes. The return is via Camp Alice and Commissary Ridge Trails. After climbing Mt. Mitchell, hikers will go north to Mt. Craig (6647 feet) and return. An 8-mile hike.
- Mt. Mitchell from Black Mountain Campground; This strenuous trip features a large stand of virgin hardwood forest, a well-constructed, enjoyable trail, and good views from the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The 3684 feet climb ensures a first-class workout.
- Mt. Gibbes and Hallback via Potato Knob and return via Mountains-to-Sea Trail; This hike follows an old trail that parallels NC 128 in the Mt. Mitchell State Park and ends at Clingman’s Peak. From there, cross Mt. Gibbes and Hallback on the Old Mitchell Trail, descend Commissary Ridge Trail, and then the Mountains-to-Sea back to NC 128. About 11 miles.
Mt. Mitchell, 6684
Hike Descriptions: Mt. Mitchell
Mt. Hallback, 6320
Hike Descriptions: Mt. Hallback
Mt. Gibbes, 6571
Hike Descriptions: Mt. Gibbes
C. Peaks North of Mt. Mitchell: Mt. Craig (6647 feet), Balsam Cone (6611 feet), Potato Hill (6475 feet), Winter Star Mountain (6212 feet), Gibbs Mountain (6224 feet), Celo Knob (6327 feet)
All of these peaks are in a sequence on the Black Mountain Crest Trail, which begins at the Mt. Mitchell Parking Area, and ends with Celo Knob, the terminus, at 6.7 miles. A number of other peaks are also along the trail, though they are considered spurs of these six. Potato Hill, for example, is part of three summits, so the hiker should be careful to touch the legitimate summits of the six mountains in the program.
Mt. Craig (6647 feet) is one of the highest mountains in Western North Carolina. It is less than a mile from the parking lot and is reached by a steep descent and then ascent. From rocky ledges on the summit the hiker will enjoy spectacular views. A nearby spur, also on the trail, is Big Tom (6581 feet).
Balsam Cone (6611 feet) is somewhat over a mile north and beyond Mt. Craig. After a descent and ascent, Balsam Cone is located on the trail.
Cattail Peak (6620 feet) is reached by bushwhacking on the ridgeline shortly beyond (north) of the northern boundary of Mt. Mitchell State Park. In this gap, an old wooden sign erroneously claims a point beside the trail to be the summit of Cattail Peak. The sign is wrong, and has fooled peakbaggers for decades. The true summit requires a 0.2 mi. bushwhack leaving the trail where it veers off of the ridgeline to the left (if going north), less than 100 yards north of the wooden sign. Follow the ridgeline off-trail through an open balsam forest to the summit of Cattail Peak and a small summit clearing with an exposed rock outcropping. A benchmark, engraved "Cattail Peak," can be found easily at the highest point of the rock and marks the summit. Note that Cattail Peak has now replaced Potato Hill as the summit necessary to reach on the SB6K list. As for July 2013, hikers must reach Cattail Peak instead of Potato Hill.
Winter Star Mountain (6212 feet) is north of Potato Hill. The hiker descends steeply into Deep Gap and then ascends about 0.6 miles to rocky Winterstar Mountain. The summit, just off the trail, is evident and marked by a USGS benchmark.
Gibbs Mountain (6224 feet) is north of Winterstar Mountain. The Black Mountain Crest Trail enters a beautiful upland meadow with spectacular views. Gibbs Mountain is located in this field and can be reached by a short bushwhack. Do not confuse with the lower Horse Rock (Percy’s Peak , which is between Gibbs Mountain and Celo Knob.
Celo Knob (6327 feet) is the most northern peak in the Blacks, about 3 miles north of Deep Gap. For hikers coming from the South, along the Black Mountain Crest Trail, Celo Knob is easily accessible by a side trail that climbs the crest to the summit.
Most Commonly Used/Accepted Routes:
- Celo Knob from Mt. Mitchell Parking Lot and return: This is a 14-mile hike which is very strenuous because of the steep ups-and-downs, but in good weather one of the most spectacular vistas in the region. It includes all 6 peaks north of Mt. Mitchell and can be incorporated with Mt. Mitchell to total 7 peaks.
- The Blacks Beyond 6000: This strenuous hike, 13 miles, ascends to the Blacks via the Bohlens Creek Trail, an initial climb of 3100 ft. It then includes climbing all 6 of the peaks from Celo Knob to the Mt. Mitchell Parking Area. A difficult hike with much up-and-down, but with exceptional views.
- Mt. Mitchell Parking Lot to Deep Gap and Return; This 7-8 mile hike includes Mt. Craig, Balsam Cone, and Potato Hill, and can incorporate Mt. Mitchell. From the Parking Lot hikers will follow the Black Mountain Crest Trail to Deep Gap and return.
- Winter Star via Deep Gap and Colbert Ridge Trail; A strenuous hike with an ascent of over 3000 feet to 6212 Winter Star Mountain and return. From rock outcroppings we will enjoy outstanding views of the Blacks, Toe River Valley, the Roans, and Grandfather Mountain.
Mt. Craig, 6647
Hike Descriptions: Mt. Craig
Balsam Cone, 6611
Hike Descriptions: Balsam Cone
Cattail Peak, 6620
Hike Descriptions: Potato Hill
Winter Star Mountain, 6212
Hike Descriptions: Winter Star Mountain
Gibbs Mountain, 6224
Hike Descriptions: Gibbs Mountain
Celo Knob, 6327
Hike Descriptions: Celo Knob