I took the day off from work and Noelle gave me permission to go off and do something on my own. I opted to head towards the Blue Ridge Parkway and Craggy Gardens. My objective was to ascend two of the Southern 6,000 foot peaks: Craggy Dome and Blackstock Knob.
The drive through the mountains was uneventful. I stopped in Weaverville for a breakfast to go and headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. There were still some low clouds and fog in some areas, but it would all burn off before too long. My objective was Balsam Gap where I would park and then walk to Craggy Dome. Then I would turn around, walk past my car and hike up to Blackstock Knob before turning around again to return to my car.
I hit the trail just as the last of the fog started to burn off. Sunlight coursed through the fog and gave each ray of sunlight the look of a beam of illuminated cloud.
The day had turned out to be much more pleasant than I had expected. I had packed my hat and gloves but I never needed them. In fact, I was able to hike the whole time in nothing but short sleeves.
Soon enough the trail headed towards the parkway for a road crossing. this is where I would depart the Mountains to Sea Trail for a bit. I would be bushwacking up Craggy Dome. I wasn't sure what to expect as far as bushwacking conditions. At first there wasn't any type of defined user trail. I started to mentally prepare myself for the possibility of thrashing through rhododendron and blackberry. However, I soon found a user trail, or "manway" as they call it in this region of the United States. The unofficial trail was almost as well defined as some of the official trails in the area. It did get a little overgrown near the summit, but I was easily able to find the pipe that marks the summit. There was even a wooden sign on the ground at the bottom of the pipe.
I took a photo at the summit and then backtracked a short way to a rock that made a convenient place to eat a snack. When I stood on the rock it offered great views of the surrounding mountains.
After my snack I began my descent back to the MST for the return hike to the car. The hiking went pretty fast at first as it was mostly downhill. As I approached Bullhead Mountain I decided to try for the summit. It was a really rough bushwack up to a small, relatively flat summit area. There were two summits up there and i walked around as close to the tops of both of them as I could before I decided to head down. This is where my day got interesting. I started heading down in the direction that I thought would lead me back to the MST. I descended down, down, down through some really thick underbrush. Finally, when I got a clear view, I realized i was heading back towards Craggy Dome and not towards the Black Range like I should be. I was headed in the wrong direction!
I bashed my way back to the summit area, but I still wasn't confident about my orientation. I sat down and looked at the map for a bit and was able to successfully use surrounding landmarks to orient myself. Then I headed down the thickly vegetated slope. I was relieved to see the MST just below me. I got back on trail and picked up the pace again. This little detour of mine had cost me more time and energy than I had expected. I began to reconsider my original goal of ascending Blackstock Knob.
The hiking went relatively quickly and the views from the open areas were amazing.