Sunday, September 4, 2016

Celo Knob: Mount Mitchell's bookend

Looking north at Celo Knob along the gorgeous but hard-to-reach Black Mountain Crest Trail.
     Tourists who climb the quarter-mile sidewalk to the lookout tower on Mount Mitchell see a row of 6,000-foot peaks lined up like dark-green dominoes toward the northern horizon: Mount Craig, Big Tom, Balsam Cone, Cattail Peak, Potato Hill, Winter Star Mountain, Gibbs Mountain, and finally Celo Knob, about eight miles away.
     The hike along that ridgeline is sometimes known as the "death march," because of the punishing ups and downs. It is even harder starting from the other end, because there is no road up Celo Knob and you must start by climbing 3,000 feet. 
     Three years ago, I hiked to the four peaks immediately north of Mount Mitchell, which was an exhausting but spectacular six-mile round trip. This time (Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016the day after Hurricane Hermine passed), I started on the other end and made the big climb to Celo Knob and its neighbor, Gibbs Mountain. This was a 10.5-mile round trip that took me eight hours. It was the longest hike I've done in a couple of years, and it was worth it to see Mount Mitchell from the other side. 
Looking south toward Mount Mitchell from Celo Knob: Percy's Peak (6,200 feet), Gibbs Mountain (6,224), and Long Ridge (6,180) dominate the near horizon. Winter Star (6,203) is dwafted by those beyond, which stairstep left-to-right from Potato Hill (6,475) to Balsam Cone (6,611) to Cattail Peak (6,600) to Mount Craig (6,648) to Mount Mitchell (6,684). Balsam Cone is actually further away than Cattail, which is why it appears lower from this perspective. The ridge further right is Mount Gibbes (6,562, not to be confused with Gibbs Mountain) and Clingman's Peak (6,520), where you can barely see the radio towers for WNCW and WMIT if you click the photo to enlarge it.
     I've had my eyes on Celo and Gibbs ever since I became interested in South Beyond 6,000 (SB6K), a program sponsored by the Carolina Mountain Club that challenges hikers to reach 40 Southeastern peaks over 6,000 feet. By bagging Celo and Gibbs, I have climbed 24 of the 40. In the Black Mountains, the only one I still lack is Winter Star, which will require either the death march or another 3,000-foot climb.
Like climbing this—4 times.
     This was also a training hike for a 15-miler I want to do later this month in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to climb two more SB6K peaks, Mount Guyot and Old Black. Guyot (pronounced GEE-yo) is one of the last six county high points I have not yet climbed in North Carolina.
     Celo (rhymes with Guyot) gets is name from seeloo, the Cherokee word for corn. At 6,327 feet, Celo Knob is the 13th highest mountain in the eastern United States--39 feet higher than New Hampshire's Mount Washington and 327 feet shorter than Mount Mitchell. 
     Celo was the first peak climbed by Dr. Elisha Mitchell during his 1835 exploration of the Black Mountains that led him to declare these mountains as the highest in the United States.
     What's it like to climb 3,000 feet? Imagine four trips up and down the staircases of the tallest building in Charlotte, the 60-story Bank of America tower (which is occasionally visible from Celo Knob, 90 miles away). 
     If you are interested in following in my footsteps up Celo Knob, you can find details of my hike on my Peakbagger page. And even if you don't feel up to the climb, you can now "walk" the trail on video, thanks to Google Trekker.
     Here are some glimpses:
Take this sign seriously. I couldn't see the bottom line (Park Here) and I had 4WD, so I proceeded with caution and made it safely up to the Bowlens Creek trailhead, which does indeed have room to turn and park. But you only gain a couple of hundred yards--not worth the risk to your oil-pan. 
If Mary knew how rocky it was, she would wisely forbidden this.
An interesting old tree along the Crest Trail.
Pink Turtlehead blooming at an iron-tinged spring about 500 feet below the summit. Thanks, Rick Shortt, for identifying the flower.

As you approach the summit, this is the view that greets you. (Not sure why the video is so grainy—trust me, the original is spectacular.)

Celo Knob's summit isn't that impressive, but ...
The eastward panorama from a clifftop just below the summit is worth the climb. If you know where to look on the horizon, you can see Elk Knob and Grandfather Mountain on the left and blade-shaped Table Rock toward the right. At 6,327 feet, Celo Knob is 357 feet shorter than Mount Mitchell, but from Elk Knob it appears to be higher. The white blotches are feldspar mines near Spruce Pine, N.C. Click on the photo to enlarge it.
Mountain ash decked out in reddish-orange berries for the Clemson-Auburn game.
I'm always thankful for the volunteers who blaze the way.
The N.C. High Peaks Trail Association has done a
tremendous job with the Black Mountain Crest Trail.

1 comment:

  1. Tom, the pink flowers are pink turtlehead and they tend to grow in the higher elevations.