North Carolina – Mount Mitchell

Spanky On Top of Mitchell - Another 6,000 Plus Footer In The Background

We were getting quite comfortable spending a few weeks dilly dallying around the US and Canada but…………..there was work to be done, mountains to be conquered! And……..we saved the highest in the east as our last victim – actually it just worked out that way. Our plan, if you can call it that, has been and always will be made up on the fly, full of last minute adjustments, refinements, fine tuning, and just plain ass changing our mind.

I don’t think I’ve included any of my ranting about tolls in the northeast yet. If I did, too bad, you’ll have to listen to it again – or just skip over it if you wish. I’ve driven across every damn state in this great country of ours and it has been my experience that the New York to Washington, DC corridor is about the worst place to pass through – from a financial standpoint.

We get to the southern end of the NJ Turnpike, pay the toll, immediately cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge, pay the toll, I’m getting pissed so my memory may be clouded, I know we paid a hefty toll entering Maryland but I think we also paid one for the distinct privilege of passing through all of 20 miles of Delaware. Within somewhere around twenty minutes, I had shelled out in excess of $20!!! Remember that I’m towing a trailer – we get charged bonus tolls for that.

Does it really cost that much to maintain such a short stretch of highway? I don’t think so. And……….the volume of traffic is huge. I’ll bet the tolls alone could balance the national budget. What an untapped source of revenue for the private sector. I’m gonna predict that someday highways will be privatized. We’ll see roads with names like the Exxon Turnpike, IBM Parkway, Microsoft Highway, etc. You’ll have to get pre approved credit just to drive to the convenience store.

Somehow we made it through northeast road tax hell and managed to make it to Waterford, Virginia (home of avid Spanky and Rein supporters Anu and Peeter, their kids and 5 dogs) by late afternoon. Me and Spanks settled down at the pool. Spanky is not used to pools. He has grown up swimming in the Gulf of Mexico where he can wade in, just splash around or go out for a swim at his leisure. Pools are different, no place for a critter of his stature to wade in, he must take a plunge into depths over his head immediately. A little coaxing and Spanks was swimming around like Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan The Ape Man.

A sad note to the story. Peeter and Anu’s dog, Karu (150 or so lb Landseer) passed away the day after our visit. I actually met Karu in 1995 in Estonia when he was just a little ball of fluff, slipping and sliding on the tile floor, colliding with furniture, being a little uncoordinated, lovable pup. Karu seemed fine……Peeter, Spanks, Karu and I went for a walk in the evening. He had sort of a majestic prance to his walk – kinda like the Clydesdale of the dog world. Apparently Karu got ill the following morning and didn’t make it – exact cause unknown. RIP Karu! We are honored to have known you!
Spanky and Karu

I don’t recall a summer as rainy as this one. Maybe the rain is just following us around. It rained like hell in New Hampshire, then upstate NY for four days straight, and…….yep, you guessed it was pouring in North Carolina in honor of our arrival. We had left several days open for our next conquest just to allow for the weather but…….as fate would have it, one day did not look any better than the rest.

On Wednesday, July 25th, 2007, despite a 60% chance of rain, Spanky and I set sail for the peak of Mount Mitchell, North Carolina, with an elevation of 6,684 feet above sea level, the highest point in the United States of America east of the Mississippi River.

Mount Mitchell is fairly close to Asheville in the Black Mountains (technically part of the Appalachians) of North Carolina. The Blacks are a relatively small range of mountains, running only 15 or so miles north to south. But…………they have the distinction of being the highest mountains in the east – 18 peaks above 6,300 feet. I, like many other people I’ve talked to, always assumed that Mt Washington, NH was the grand daddy of the east – but no, at 6,288 ft it gets bested by quite a few of the good ‘ol southern boys.

Our course to Mount Mitchell took us along 30 plus miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you want to get a good look at what is arguably the best scenery in the eastern US – go for an extended drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It runs 469 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains (again – technically part of the Appalachians), soars up to 6,047 ft in NC, twists and turns through dense forest and awesome mountain scenery for it’s entire length, is dotted with scores of scenic overlooks, provides access to tons of splendid picnicking, camping, and hiking opportunities, it’s just a way cool road!

As I mentioned, the weather was not all that great. Typical rainy summer weather, rain chance increasing throughout the day, usually culminating in torrential afternoon thunderboomers (another one of my copyrighted made up words). But…….there is a good side to the crappy weather. Less people of course (I like people but not crowds) and……clouds and fog add a whole other dimension to the already spectacular scenery.

Our early morning drive into the Black Mountains was quite a feast for the eyes. There was clouds and fog roiling around the craggy mountaintops. We’d get a glimpse of a peak, a valley, and then it would disappear, occasional wisps of sunshine peaked through, visibility dropped to near nothing only to open up to a wide mountain vista around the next corner. I’m pretty sure Zeus was up there just screwing around with us, laughing at us mere mortals treading on his turf.

You may remember that we tried to get to Mount Mitchell back in Aril. But……..this section of Blue Ridge Parkway was closed. Well the Parkway opened up but we have read that the actual summit area is closed due to construction of a new summit tower (I say BS to that). Me and Spanks figured what the hell, let’s just go see for ourselves.

We arrive at the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park right around the opening bell. Having learned from my prior blunders, I had studied various trail maps, read up on the place on the net, etc. Due to the weather and the uncertainty of what is actually going on at the summit we opt for the approx 5 mile round trip route comprised of Old Mitchell Trail Up, Old Mitchell to Camp Alice to Commissary Trial down.

Me and the boy wonder make our way up through dense Red Spruce and Fraser Fir forest over a well maintained but nevertheless rocky trail. Spanks and I never tire of walking through the woods……. It strikes me that there is a huge distinction between the northern high peaks and these even higher southern monsters. Up north (New England), the trees stopped at around 4,000 ft. Here we are at over 6,000 feet and the trees are doing just fine – well most of them. It’s the weather – the arctic blasts that stunt tree growth in New England just don’t consistently make it this far south.

We get to within a quarter mile of the summit and start to see a significant number of standing, but dead trees. Air pollution my friends. The same “New Deal” public works effort from which the Blue Ridge Parkway was born also fathered a bunches of coal fired power plants in the Midwest that spew pollutants into the air which find their way to Mitchell via the prevailing winds. The double edged sword thing again. The public works projects gave us access to this natural beauty, provided countless jobs and helped us pull out of a depression, but………..are polluting the air and killing off the stuff that we want to preserve and enjoy.

Mount Mitchell is in the clouds at least 60% of the time. The clouds at this altitude, because of pollution, are actually acidic, and have the effect of giving the trees an “acid bath” – not exactly good for their longevity. Once again, almost all of us are consumers of electricity, drivers of cars, etc and thus contributors to air pollution (I, by no means am even close to living a “Green” lifestyle). Hopefully advances in technology, alternative energy, etc will, with time allow us humans to balance our greedy little wants with the needs of nature.

Almost immediately after we start seeing the dead trees, me and Spanks come upon a “Trail Closed, Use Road Detour” sign. “What the hell?” I feel like we are on freaking interstate and have encountered yet another highway construction area. I make a mental note. “This just ain’t right!” “How the heck can a trail in the woods have a detour sign on it”?

Believe it or not, I actually comply with the detour. Spanks and I go to the road (Mitchell is one of those mountains that has a road all the way to the top – a concept that I’m not entirely in agreement with) and hoof it on pavement for the last quarter mile. Much to our chagrin, as advertised, the summit area is sealed off, “Verbotten”, enter and you face stiff penalties – death even. Even though we aren’t quite at the top and it’s pretty cloudy, the views are quite awe inspiring. And……………there is a place up there that sells coffee for 62 cents a cup – that’s the least I’ve paid in maybe 30 years – apparently the snack bar doo dad is owned by the state and they don’t want to gouge visitors – what a concept.

We chew the fat with the kid at the shop…….he’s a student studying environmental type stuff – learned a lot about the pollution problem from him. The kid is a realist, not some eco nazi that wants to ban cars from the face of the earth. It gives me hope that some people still have their head on their shoulders as opposed to extremists (in any direction) preaching doomsday, the sky is falling, etc.

Spanks and I head back down, a little disappointed, so………we get back to the Trail Detour sign, the bad boy in me rears up it’s ugly head, I look at Spanky, he gives me a wag and a nod and we proceed (with caution) up the closed trail. It feels so good to do stuff you aren’t supposed to do. The trail takes us to within maybe 30 or 40 feet of the summit tower. A patch of trees lies between us and the summit tower. We can here the voices of construction workers so we dare not go any further. Me and Spanks quickly make tracks back down the trail, fleeing for our lives lest we get nailed by the summit police.

We were so close but yet so far. So judge us as you will. We are gonna count this one anyhow (actually we’ll probably be back again at some point). Mount Mitchell, North Carolina, summit number 24, Spanky and Rein are just about half way there!

On our jaunt back down we met up with a family (husband, wife, 2 daughters) that had read the Spanky and Rein sign on the old truck. Nice folks. They appeared to be genuinely interested in what we are doing. Spanks, of course is buttering up the kids while I give the Adventures of Spanky and Rein sales pitch and hand them a Spanky and Rein carte de visite. Maybe they’ll actually look at the web site?

This round of summits, folks, is coming to an end but not before we managed to do some more freeloading. Our friends Kaie and Steve and their dog Max have a summer home just west of Asheville. How convenient for the traveling gypsies! Spanky loved it (so did I). Ten acres, lots of woods, grass, and……….a pond where Max and Spanky played swim out and fetch the stick endlessly. The afternoon of doggy mayhem (see Kaie and Steve’s for some really great pics) was culminated by an excellent, typical Estonian home cooked meal (pork, sauerkraut, potatoes, and lot’s of gravy) followed up with coffee and sitting around on the front porch, watching the sunset over the Great Smoky Mountains! Thanks!

Spanks Stares Longingly at The Summit - Just a Few Feet Above

On The Way Up

Clouds Stuck In The Valleys Below

Are You Serious?

Peak of Mount Mitchell From Below

Summit Tower Under Construction

On The Summit Trail

The Effects of Air Pollution

Chillin By A Mountain Stream

Mountain Top View

The Sun Is Trying To Break Through

Batteries not included!


Anonymous said...

A most exalotamiss story, I most enjoyed the detour part, wouldnt you know it second time there, and the ole stick in the rear, oh well as far as I am concerned, if you can spit on the top, you were at the top. AS Always glad you and the Spanks are home safe and sound, Thanks for stories,Rick

Wane Samples said...

Heay Spanks and Rein, way to go guys, Spanky, you're going to be famous one day, hope you remember us, the Samples family(Enota campcround), keep on climbing

Spanky and Rein said...


I agree, either spittin or p*****ng distance. Thanks for your support!

Spanky and Rein said...


Good to hear from you. Enota is one of our fondest memories. Hope the family is doing well.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff Rein. Keep us posted on your travels. How come the Spankster never takes any pictures of you? - Eerik

Spanky and Rein said...


Thanks! We are working on a dog friendly camera for Spanky to use.

Ken said...

I say you guys nailed it! Chalk this one up as accomplished, conquered, finished....and a cheap cup of coffee was icing on the cake. RIP Karu; what a beautiful animal!

Spanky and Rein said...


We'll take the credit but I'm thinking that we'll have to go back someday just to nail the actual tippy top.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe they’ll actually look at the web site?"

Yep--we did actually look at your web site. The kids thought it was really cool to see Spanky on the trail and again on the web. And I can vouch for your description of the weather on the day you ascended Mt. Mitchell. On the way back down we could see these huge cloud banks rolling up the side of the mountain. Absolutely gorgeous and just a little bit frightening.

Best of luck on your continued travels. We'll check in from time to time on your site to watch your progress.

Jim & Sherry and the kids

Spanky and Rein said...

Dear Jim, Sherry,and the Kids,

Thank you so much for checking out our website. We love it when people dial us up and give us their comments. It was a pleasure to meet you guys - albeit briefly. We wish you all happy family hiking experiences in the future.

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