Ascent of Cattail Peak on 2013-06-01

Climber: Tom Layton

Date:Saturday, June 1, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Cattail Peak
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:6600 ft / 2011 m

Ascent Trip Report

This hike was tougher than it looked on the map. Even my trusty GPS had a hard time putting it in perspective: It measured 4.6 miles for a hike that the park map and signs say is 6 miles. I assume the GPS only tracks horizontal movement, so it would not account for the 2,000 feet of climbing and descending.

Between the exhausting climbs and uneven footing, the round trip to Cattail Peak took me nearly 6 hours.

The orange-blazed trail is known by two names--the Deep Gap Trail and the Black Mountain Crest Trail. The first half-mile is well-built, very walkable and all downhill. After that, you need to be sure-footed, agile, and careful. Bring extra water--there's none on the trail.

I'll list mileage first from my GPS and then from park maps and signs:

0.0/0.0 (el 6560) The trailhead is in the picnic area at the lower end of the Mount Mitchell summit parking area. Head down a gravel trail with stone steps to a gap at 6320 and then climb the rocky backbone of Mount Craig.

0.8/1.0 (6663) Top of Mount Craig. BM Craig 1993 (placed by the NC Geologic Survey) is on the highest boulder. Just a few feet beyond is a plaque that says, "Mount Craig. Altitude 6663 Feet. Named for Locke Craig (1860-1924) who as governor or North Carolina (1913-17) was largely responsible for the establishment of the Mount Mitchell State Park." Say thanks to the Guv for the wide-open views to the south, west, and north as you proceed across the summit.

1.0/1.4 (6580) Top of Big Tom, technically an unranked subpeak of Mount Craig, but a worthy summit in several ways. Plaque explains: "Big Tom. Altitude 6,580 Feet. Named for Thomas David 'Big Tom' Wilson (1825-1909), famous guide and bear hunter of the Black Mountains who found the body of Dr. Elisha Mitchell July 7, 1857." Nice to see my name on NC's 7th highest peak. Descending north from Big Tom there are a couple of steep sections that have ropes in place to help you keep from glissading down the rocks.

1.5/2.0 (6200) Big Tom Gap. Here, the Big Tom Trail (191A) leads east down toward toward the Buncombe Horse Trail, an old logging railroad grade that contours along the east side of the Black Mountains at about 5800 feet. Continue to follow the orange-blazed Deep Gap Trail along the ridgeline.

1.8/2.4 (6600) Trail passes over the summit of Balsam Cone (contrary to the topo, which shows the trail bypassing the summit). Great views to the east.

2.3/3.0 (6580) Trail reaches a clearing with a sign that says "Cattail Peak. Summit elev. 6583." Looking back to the SW, it's obvious that there is a outcropping about 20 feet higher. However, the true summit is further north, and I have to admit that I missed it and need to return to claim it. Once you get to the sign, continue north until the trail leaves the ridge and starts around the left (west) flank of the mountain. From this point, it is supposed to be a 300-yard bushwhack to the summit, which has a benchmark.

After getting back to my car and chugging a cold Gatorade at the state park concession stand (open till 6pm on summer weekends), I made the short obligatory walk up Mt Mitchell.

In conjunction with the longer hike, I think this ascent of Mt Mitchell qualifies for South Beyond 6000. Mount Craig, Balsam Cone, and Cattail* are also on the SB6K list. I now have qualifying ascents on 20 of the 40 SB6K peaks.

*Cattail replaced adjacent Potato Hill on the official SB6K list in 2011, though this change is not yet reflected on the Peakbagger listing. See the CMC SB6K website.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2000 ft / 608 m
    Extra Gain:980 ft / 298 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6 mi / 9.7 km
    Route:Black Mtn Crest trail
    Trailhead:Mt Mitchell picnic area  6560 ft / 1999 m
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
Ascent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 

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