This trail is hard. It’s pretty unanimously agreed upon that this is the second hardest trail in North Carolina, and after completing it I can see why.
The first four miles of the trail have a combine 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Over the course of 12 miles you’ll summit seven different mountains, and the rollercoaster of constant inclines and declines will leave you fatigued.
If you’re looking for an easy hike, this isn’t it. If you’re looking to push yourself, you’ve come to the right place.
I feel that it’s important to note that I completed this hike with a group of likeminded hikers, and I’m honestly not sure I would have made it all the way through or enjoyed it nearly as much without them by my side.
The Black Crest Mountain Trail is an point-to-point hike, meaning you need to have a car at the finish or a way to get back to where you started to pick up your vehicle.
Everyone met up at 7:00 am sharp in the Mt. Mitchell parking lot where the seven of us piled into two cars and headed to Bowlen’s creek.
By 9:00 we were at the trail head and clipping our packs into place for the adventure.
The plan was to hike six miles to a clearing, camp out overnight, and then hike the next six miles out in the morning.
Walking through what was essentially a cloud forest we took turns making our way over a questionable bridge before the incline began.
As stated above, the first four miles of this trek have a total of a little over 3,000 ft of elevation gain.
What this means is that for four straight miles you’re going to hit long-stretched switchbacks of unrelenting incline.
By mile three our group had broken off into two groups to hike at paces that made sense for each of us.
Mile three of this particular stretch brought us out of the clouds and into a trail that was full of magic.
I was able to take my gloves and vest of comfortably for the first time since starting our adventure as sun streamed through the latticed branches above us.
When we finally hit our first summit just past mile four the view was incredible, and we had a view of the next six mountains we would be summiting that day!
Settling in for lunch I looked out at the expanse of mountains ahead of me and tried to comprehend that over the next 24 hours I would have crossed through so many of them
While not as famous as Mt Washington for it, Mt Mitchell does make its own weather. Because of this someone in our group decided to check for weather updates.
It was just passed 11:30 and the sun was shining brilliantly.
The weather forecast came back stating that the night would bring winds of 30mph leaving us sleeping in 36-degree weather; and freezing rain was on deck for the morning.
At this point we were forced to decide if we were going to tough it out and take our chances with the weather or push through knock out all 12 miles in one day instead.
Despise is not a strong enough word for how much I dislike being cold. For me personally, I didn’t want to risk ruining a great trip by a horrible night of sleep.
Nights where you feel like you’re freezing really affect the trip as a whole!
Because of this, we decided as a whole to push through and condense our weekend trip into a day hike.
After lunch we put our packs back on, grabbed our trekking poles and headed out.
One of our group members had referred to the trail up ahead as “the roller coaster” and throughout the rest of the day I would realize why.
While pieces of the trail do wind along the side of the mountains, in order to get through them there is a non-stop up and down rhythm.
From miles 4-9 we climbed up and down the trail. Every time I started to feel a bit of fatigue we would hit our next summit and all of the feelings of wanting a break would disintegrate as I looked out at our new views.
Mile 9 is where I really started to slow down. By this point we have split off into two groups of three and I was starting to fatigue hard.
Part of the reason I felt like I couldn’t stop was because I didn’t want to get caught hiking this trail at night.
There are a lot of technical bits to the hike, and some of the descent required me to put my trekking poles away so that I could hold on to the rocks themselves.
The idea of having to do all of that in the dark was motivation enough to keep pushing.
I haven’t hiked with a group larger than then three or in general in months. Walking with others is such a different experience from moving by yourself.
Reflecting on it now, I’m not sure if would have made it out of there as quickly as we did had I trekked this path myself. I also don’t believe I would have relished in the accomplishment nearly as much when we finally did complete it.
The final two miles I was physically exhausted.
Lifting up my legs felt unfathomably difficult, and all I wanted to do was rest.
Every time I would slow down I found my hiking partner waiting a few minutes up ahead.
The sentiment of what had been a total stranger waiting patiently for me seven hours later hit me hard, and I found myself feeling continuously grateful that I had the opportunity to experience this with others.
The final mile of our hike was a mix a beautiful and soul crushing.
Wandering through the sun saturated moss-covered expanse of forest felt like we had been transported to a completely different reality.
Through this though the final stretch is all stairs. Uneven slabs of worn rock, a staircase of misery.
We completed our hike at around 6:30. Nine hours of tracked moving time, 12 miles covered, seven mountains summited.
I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do this hike. Before we started I was worried that I was a faker and not a good enough back packer.
Completing this trail left me feeling an amalgamation of broken and whole in a way I’ve only experienced through hiking.
If you’re looking for a casual day hike this isn’t the trail for you.
But- if you’re looking to feel like a hiker, or to better comprehend the reality of how capable you really are, I suggest trying to tackle the BCMT!
Question: What’s the hardest trail you’ve ever completed?