We would be on the Mountains to Sea trail all the way until we got up to Commissary Ridge where we would break away for just under 4 miles to the summit and back. The temperature was at freezing in Marion at the start, and it was only going to get colder, much colder. Matt dubbed this run as the Mt. Mitchell Challenge V 2.0. I even think it has a Hellgatish feel to it with the midnight winter start. After snapping a few photos we were off into the woods. It was dark, and after climbing we could see the lights of Marion and one side, and what appeared to be the lights of Old Fort on the other side. I followed Matt for the first few hours up to Woods Mountain, and then up and down several other peaks before reaching Hwy 80. Just follow the white dot.
I was wearing several layers as I expected it to get much colder as we climbed in elevation, and it did. We were probably in the low teens when we got past the Blue Ridge Parkway. I unzipped my vest to reach for some food and Hawaiian shaved ice was everywhere! My perspiration down below in Marion froze into shaved ice up above. My water bottle froze, and I wasn’t able to take in any water. Me and Matt were together for the most part until we reached the South Toe at the Black Mountain Campgrounds. It was here I went ahead and he filled up his bottles. A few miles later Matt flew by and passed me as I stumbled up the mountain sleep hiking. The lack of sleep was getting to me.
The florescent orange and red rays began to illuminate the mountains, and a new year was born. The colors were amazing. I was still however sleep hiking, and frozen with all my clothes on. I finally got to commissary ridge, and I knew I would be up on top of the Mitchell by 8:45am at this pace. I started to hike up what I thought was commissary ridge, but then noticed 15 minutes later I was just hiking up a dried up creek bed which resembled a trail. No problem, I knew I was very close to the trial, so I decided to bushwack to the left and try to hook up with the trial, no sense in hiking down and starting over again and losing time. I bushwacked thru a thin forest, so it was easy to navigate upward. It kept getting thicker, and the longer it took, the more worried I was going off trail. I reached the top of a false summit with an elevation of 6,650 feet on my altimeter when I glanced at the true summit at least a mile away. The new tower was visible from where I was. I was not happy with my decision. Should I run down and skip out on the summit because of this mistake? I was already behind Matt, and didn’t want to delay my return to Marion, I could not afford to spend another night out in the bitter cold with no sleep (Memories of Coyote Two Moon pop up here). I ran back down to the ridge and noticed where I made a mistake. At that point I made the decision to hike back up to the summit.
I reached the top of Mitchell at 9:50am, cold and hungry. I knew I was tight on time but decided to spend 8 minutes and pulled out a Turkey bagel. The view was the best I had seen it up there. Clear skies, and calm. It was windier at the campgrounds than it was at the summit which was a treat. It was probably in the single digest, so I was happy about not having too much wind.
I started my decent, and I ran down commissary ridge in 20 min, I wanted to make up as much time as I could. I filled up my bottles of water here, and continued to run down. I got turned around again where several new down trees littered the trail. This upset me because I had already gone off trail earlier, I couldn’t afford to lose more time, or add more mileage. Finally I reached the campgrounds at 12:00 noon. It was here that I knew I wouldn’t make it back before dark to Marion. I had another 6+ miles to go just to get to Hwy 80, and then another 14 miles to get to Marion, with plenty of elevation gain. I was sleep deprived, dehydrated, and exhausted at this point.
I decided to take the one mile shorter route, turn left at the road out of the campgrounds to Hwy 80 and then turn right up to the parkway which then intersects the Mountains to Sea trail. So I added a little bit of asphalt to the run. After shuffling for 2+ miles before reaching Hwy 80 I hitched a ride to the trail. The local thought I was insane running in the freezing cold, and gave me a 2.5 mile ride to the trailhead. I was determined to finish before dark.
I hiked up and ran down the last 14 miles and thought it would never end. I was happy to see Matt and Lilly at the end. It took me 17:20 to finish this 53 mile monster, and my altimeter clocked 13,060 feet of elevation gain. I was hammered.
The next day Matt made some sweet curry omelets which fueled day two of 2009. We decided to do a short loop on the Black Mountain Crest trail. We parked the batmobile at the Colberts Ridge trailhead, and ran north of Hwy 80. After a few miles we got a ride to what we thought was the trailhead up Woody Ridge, we finally found our way and began a steep ascent. The trail disappeared and I was bushwhacking again trying to find my way up to the summit of Horse Rock (6200 feet). It had snowed a few hours before we started, and the temperature dropped which turned the precipitation into light freezing rain. Finally after ducking and climbing up trees me and Matt made our way thru the slush to the summit. Where was the trail? I knew to follow the sound of the howling wind as it was almost always windier on the West side of the ridge. We found the trail, and headed South towards Colberts Ridge. After hiking up a few steep ascents we made it to the Colberts Ridge trails, and turned left descending to where we had parked our car. All in all it was a great day two with about 14 miles of running, hiking, climbing and bushwhacking.