Black Mountain Crest Backpack Trip Report, July 9-11 1999
Day 1 - Fog
After a false start and a mild encounter with a local landowner, we were on our way. We had left work early to get a head start on our weekend trip. We left the car behind at 4:30, with 5 uphill miles ahead of us. As we climbed, we left the heat and humidity of the valley for a sudden rainstorm. As the rain passed, we arrived on the ridge crest in a thick fog. Visibility fell to a few feet, and the trail disappeared in an overgrown meadow. As we wondered along the crest, the fog thinned out long enough to provide a view of waves of blue mountains.
Weather forecast - party cloudy, 20% chance of rain.
Reality - it rained about 20% of the time, which isn't quite the same thing.
Night 1 - Wind
A fierce wind picked up as we sought a campsite. Sheltered campsites were impossible to find on the bare ridge crest. We selected a site in a grassy meadow, with a few scrubby fir trees to shed some wind. We arrived at 8:30, which gave us just enough time to set up and cook before dark. However, Bob had stopped for water and was still missing. We found each other just before sunset. He had taken the wrong trail going for water and taken a nasty spill. Fortunately, he didn't panic and found his way to our campsite. As we returned to camp, we enjoyed a beautiful red sunset. How does that saying go? "Red sky at night, sailor's delight, red sky at morning, sailor take warning."
Day 2, part 1 - Water in the Sky
Unfortunately, we're backpackers, not sailors. I guess that old saying doesn't apply to mountain tops. Early Saturday morning, the sound of the tent flapping in the wind was joined by that of driving rain. We broke camp amidst a charming combination of thick fog, high winds, and horizontal rain. Although we weren't sailors, a boat would have been handy as we slogged down the trail. The path was an adventurous route, as it climbed over numerous rock outcrops. On another day, views would have been spectacular, as the ridge crest was only a few feet wide. Occasionally the path would drop off the cliffs into overgrown meadows. By mid morning, we arrived in a beautiful grove of spruce and fir. After a well-deserved break, we rock climbed up through a chute to reach the summit of Winter Star mountain. By lunch, we found ourselves resting in a small meadow in Deep Gap, which marked the first time all day we had dropped below 6000' in elevation. It had taken us over 4 hours to go the 3 miles from our campsite near Horse Rock to Deep Gap. We brought out the stove to make hot drinks at lunch. I never would have guessed that I could enjoy hot chocolate so much in the middle of July.
Day 2, part 2 - Sun
On the way down from Winter Star Mountain, we decided that we would bail out a day early if the weather didn't improve. As we relaxed in Deep Gap, the fog thinned, the rain stopped, and the sun began to peak through. It was a sign from the Heavens! Continue on! Things were looking up as views opened up to the east. We then tackled the most difficult climb of the day on Tater Hill. From there we rolled across several more peaks before dropping down to Big Tom Gap. We had planned a rendezvous with Dave here at 2:00. It was almost 5:00 as we stumbled into the gap. Our patient friend was still there. We explained that we never expected it to take us 8 hours to cover 6 miles. Now united, we descended a steep trail. We then hiked out toward Maple Camp Bald in search of a campsite. As we reached the bald, the wind picked up once again, and clouds began to accumulate around the high peaks above us. We abandoned the bald and spent almost an hour searching for a sheltered site. Finally, we settled on tenting along a flat stretch of the trail. Although the spot was less than ideal, it did protect us from the wind. Dark was falling by the time we finished cooking. It had been a monster day, after having started at 8:30 that morning. As we began to eat, rain began to fall once again. Now THAT is a sign from the heavens.
Weather forecast - partly cloudy, 40% of afternoon rain or thunderstorms
Reality - rain all morning and night. The afternoon was actually pretty nice.
Night 2 - Dark
Actually, I don't remember anything about that night. The day's 11 hour hike might have had something to do with that.
Day 3 - Rain
We awoke to the hammering of raindrops on the tent fly. We took advantage of the opportunity to sleep in - until almost 10:00. We finally got up when it became apparent that the rain wasn't stopping. The inside of the tent was also getting wet, which helped to move us on our way. As we packed, we discovered that a small river was flowing directly beneath our tent. Without further delay, we headed down another rough, wet, overgrown trail. We debated the merits of rafting back to the car on our sleeping pads, but decided that the idea was impractical. We eventually reached the relative shelter of the woods, but the rain continued. Near the bottom we spooked a white tailed deer, which was the only other creature that was out this day.
Day 3, part 2 - Flood
With a mile to go, the trail forded Middle Creek. The last 3 days of rain had turned the creek into a torrent of whitewater. With nasty rapids and a fallen tree just downstream, we were hesitant to cross. Bob went first, and had to windmill his arms for balance in mid stream. Luckily he made it across without incident. The dog then tried to swim it, but was immediately swept up onto a rock at the head of the rapids. Fortunately, she was able to swim back across to the near side without being swept downstream. We decided that the risks were too great, and headed out a different way. We had to walk up the road a mile to get to the car, but arrived back safely.
Weather forecast - party cloudy
Reality - rain, showers, occasional sprinkles, and a couple of downpours. A fair amount of flooding.
Solitude - hiking rough trails in nasty weather is a good way to find solitude. We only saw 3 small groups over 3 days.
Most useful gear item - My Gore Tex jacket, which was worth every penny.
Most useful gear item I didn't bring - gaiters, which might have kept some of the water out of my boots.
The hike - This would be a spectacular trip in nice weather. Unfortunately, the sun shines on the Black Mountains only 2 days out of 10. These trails are very rugged and are ideal for someone in search of an adventure. Thanks to Bob, Laura, Dave, Christy, and Saucony for sharing this trip with me.
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