I started out early (2:30 am) on Thursday with a 3 mile run at home then flew to Ashville, NC. By noon I had made my way to Sassafras Mountain for the very short (100 m) hike up the paved road to the summit. There was no view, but there was a map board and a register to sign. It looks like this is a very popular destination. I added my name to the ledger and headed off. The drive to Georgia was very twisty and featured a lot of ups and downs, it was also slow going due to intermittent downpours. I was worried that it would be pretty nasty at the next mountain, but it turned out fine. I pulled into the parking lot at Brasstown Bald, the highest point in GA, at 3:30 and the sky was threatening but there was no rain, just the distant sound of thunder. I ran up the ½ mile steep paved path to top, climbing about 330’. I checked out the limited view due to closing clouds and checked out the summit buildings. The visitor center was nice and had a ton of information but I didn’t really have time to do too much exploring. It looked like I’d be fighting for day-light if I didn’t keep moving. I did talk a bit with the ranger and asked about a summit benchmark. He took me to a locked stairwell and showed me the rarely (?) seen marker. I then ran down and now had another 120 miles to drive before the final climb of the day. At 6:40 I pulled into the parking lot for Clingman’s Dome which is the highest point in Tennessee. It was drizzling and foggy and there would be no view on this day. Although sunset was an hour away the light was beginning to fade. I passed a couple of hikers as I ran the ½ mile (again on a paved path) to the top. The summit structure looked a bit like a flying saucer with a long ramp to the tip-top. I didn’t see any benchmarks or summit markers but stomped around the top looking for the highest point that wasn’t man made. I bid a hasty retreat as the fog really closed in and the drizzle became a steadier rain. I still had a two hour drive to Ashville and I was definitely feeling beat. On my way out of the parking lot I nearly ran into a bear who was digging for roots (or something) right along the road. I got into Asheville and was in bed by 10:30, after a long day.
The night was short and I was up at 5am and headed for the next peak. The Mt Mitchell park didn’t open until 8am so I had planned on hitting a couple of nearby mountains before the bigger one. All of them were over 6,000’, but I’d be starting at 5,900‘ which meant not a huge amount of climb. I was glad I brought rain gear and a headlamp as it was dark and raining when I hit the trail. I slowly and steadily ran up a dirt road then did a bushwhack in some fairly open woods to the summit of Mt Gibbes then continued on to Clingmans Peak. I was surprised to find the gate to the park open when I got back to the bottom. My original plan was to drive to the summit but there was a nice trail that was only two miles so I opted for that. I did a quick bushwhack to the summit of Mt Hallback then continued up the trail. The top of Mitchell had a structure sort of like the flying saucer of the day before. There was also a marker showing that this was the highest point east of the Mississippi. I took a few pictures then ran back down, this time using the road. I was back in the car by 8:30 am for the long (170m) drive to Kentucky. The drive wasn’t too bad; it was the longest segment on an actual interstate. I did have a couple of navigational difficulties; signage in some areas was not the best. There were a couple of times I was traveling north and the road was not just 23N but was also west, east, and south on various other highways. Add to that the distinction between “alternate” and “business” loops for the same highway and I was lucky to make it where I wanted to go. Fortunately I always bring along fairly detailed maps. I made it to the Kentucky/Virginia state line by noon and was off for a run up the mountain. I confused the dirt road, which was next to the paved summit road, as the correct route to the top. I ended up to the West of where I should have been and then when I corrected and finally rejoined the road I could not decide which way was the correct way to the top. I ended up running nearly a mile in the wrong direction before turning around and bagging the summit. I ended up running more than 3m to climb/descend the 300’ to the top of Kentucky (Black Mountain). That was my final run of the day and I spend the next 3.5 hours driving the 150 miles to laurel Springs, NC where the US 10km championships would be held. There was a nice spaghetti dinner and I met up with a bunch of the elite runners who would be racing the next day. I was in bed by 10:00, but had a restless night sleep.
I was up by 6:30 and got in gear with a few cups of coffee. Mt Washington champion Brandy Erholtz matched me, and may have even drank more, as she got ready to race. I had a little more time than expected, the race organization was excellent and they really didn’t need me to help with anything. I went out and ran the first loop of the course plus another mile and was wishing that I could race. The course was very challenging, there was essentially no flat runner. There was a great mix of every kind of footing but nothing I couldn’t handle (although I would have been tentative on a couple of the drops). I put in a couple of more miles while watching the races, including a run up from the mile to the start finish area with 100km specialist Howard Nippert. That brought to mind the interesting mix of athletes at the race. There were some ultra runners, some mountain experts, and even some road runners doing their first trail race. I enjoyed watching the competition, as much as a runner can enjoy watching other race. After all the action and the award ceremony were completed and my duties as liaison discharged I headed out for the final peak of the trip.
Posted 140 pictures From the race:
After a short 40 mile drive I arrived at Grayson Highlands State Park in the Jefferson National forest. My goal was Mt Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. Howard had mentioned that it was very run-able and I figured I could handle a little more running. The park was very scenic including wild ponies grazing, and it was the best weather I had on the trip. Temperatures in the upper 70’s and sunny skies (mostly). I was surprised by how many people were out hiking on the Appalachian trail at that time of day (2:30 PM), but I hadn’t realized how many nice places there were along the way where camping is allowed. I ended up running the 4.3 miles (1,100’ climb) in 1:03. I only walked a couple of the trickier sections and stopped just a handful of times to take pictures. I found two benchmarks at and near the summit which was tree covered and thus had no view. That wasn’t such a bad thing as there were plenty of views along the way. My plan was to walk the rest of the trail, but after a couple of minutes I decided to just jog slowly. I ended up running about 3 of the 4.3 miles back down (in 1:12), most of it was very run-able and I was feeling pretty good. I know that is probably a bit aggressive (doing 13+ miles) after only starting back running a week ago but it was fun nonetheless. I was a bit tired the last mile but no ill effects the following days.
The drive to Ashville was probably the most tiring task that day. It took nearly 3 hours to cover the 150 miles from Rogers to Ashville. The rental car seemed to be having a lot of trouble on the climbs and for most of the 1,051 mile trip it had a warning light on. I’m not sure what the light was for and I couldn’t find any info in the car so I just beat on the car. At one point heading up to the border between Tennessee and North Carolina (at Sam’s Gap – elevation 3,760) I had the gas to the floor and the rpm’s hit just under 7,000. I believe that is a PR for me! That is pretty close to the red line, but it was the only time that the car (or I) nearly red-lined on the trip.
Totals for the trip:
1,050 miles driven
28 miles run
6 state high points reached
9 county high points visited
Sassafras mountain 3,560’ high point of SC and Pickens County SC
Brasstown Bald 4,784’ high point of GA and county high points of Towns & Union GA
Clingman’s Dome 6,643’ high point of TN and county high points of Sevier (TN) & Swain (NC)
Gibbes Mountain 6,571’
Clingman’s peak 6,520’
Mt Hallback 6,300’
Mt Mitchell 6,684’ high point of NC and Yancey county high point
Black Mountain 4,139’ high point of KY and Harlan county high point
Mt Rogers 5,729’ high point of VA and county high points of Smyth and Grayson counties
17 state high points
75 county high points
High Points pictures: