Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mount Mitchell State Park

Bees on a Wild Purple Celery Flower
Summiting the highest peak east of the Mississippi and south of Canada makes me feel like a boss. The only drawback? The parking lot for the summit of Mt Mitchell is only about seventy five feet below the actual summit... disappointing really. Fortunately I knew this beforehand and therefore parked at a more remote parking lot and walked in on the Old Mitchell Trail to make my ascent of Mt Mitchell more rewarding. What follow is my summary of Mount Mitchell State Park and my experiences summiting Mt Mitchell as well as Mt Craig.

Restaurant with Mt Mitchell in background.
The visitors' center, the first building on the road when entering the park, is a clean little building. It was staffed by a friendly ranger willing to show me a map of the park and explain a few things. I took the legal size black and white print out map and folded it up to take with me (free). The map they have is quite detailed and very accurate so don't worry about needing to buy a fancy $10 map. I set off up the road to the next parking lot (I didn't feel like walking the Old Mitchell Trail from the ranger station). There's a nice little restaurant here (pricy!). I didn't try any of the food at the Mount Mitchell State Park restaurant since it was more than I wanted to pay for any of their food. A fish dinner special was priced at $16.

From here, I was able to set out on the Old Mitchell Trail heading towards Mount Mitchell, the highest peak on the east coast of America. From the restaurant the Old Mitchell Trail begins rather tamely and by increments becomes more and more sloppy and boulder strewn. There are commonly several foot drops from one boulder to the next along the trail, followed quite directly by or in combination with, large muddy pools directly in the trial. Judging by the summer weather in the North Carolina mountains, I would guess that the Old Mitchell trail is most likely always in this sloppy state. All of the boulders tend to be slippery with mud.

Trailside maps.
Two miles later, the Old Mitchell trail comes out at Mt. Mitchell having only crossed another trail one time and merging with the Mountains to Sea Trail. The trails are very well blazed and the map signs on the trails are color coded so it's quite impossible to get lost. The Old Mitchell Trail is not for the very out of shape. Do not attempt this trail if you're afraid to get muddy, scraped, or sweaty. The Old Mitchell Trail emerges onto the side of the paved path leading up Mount Mitchell from the parking lot. Here you will find a gift shop, concessions stand, and a lot of park visitors.

Summit marker.
Mount Mitchell's summit is capped with a low turret of concrete upon which is inset the USGS summit marker and a silhouette of North Carolina. It is disappointing in a way that the summit is defiled by the construction, but I find that I don't mind it too much. It makes it easier for the handicapped and feeble to make it to the top of the world. From the summit I headed into the gift shop and bought a few tourist pieces to take home as gifts.

Across the parking lot is the Deep Gap Trail which heads roughly north towards the second highest peak in North Carolina (and the east coast), Mount Craig. This trail is very well maintained with a crushed rock footbed for maybe a quarter mile. The Deep Gap Trail never becomes as bad as the Old Mitchell Trail between Mt Mitchell and Mt Craig, however it does become more wild as it progresses northward. Mt Craig offers some beautiful stony outcroppings at the summit and another of my now addicting finds: USGS summit markers. It really is amazing how fun it is to summit mountains and find those little copper plates in the rock.

Since Mount Mitchell State Park is a state park, camping and fires are only allowed in designated areas. This park contains several of the highest peaks on the east coast, maybe more. A weekend peakbagging trip would be well worth the time. Just be aware of getting overnight parking permits and backcountry camping permits, etc. Enjoy the highest points on the east coast, friends!

Happy Trails!

Look for Park Hours here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Men's Pearl Izumi Peak XC Light Trail Running Shoe Review

I was privileged enough to receive a pair of Pearl Izumi's Peak XC Trail Running shoes this spring while living back in Michigan. I used them almost every time I ran, covering 5K distances right out of the box, comfortably. The first time I put them on, I could notice the incredible shock absorption and cushion, not just in the heel, but also on the balls of my feet. While my running schedule has been shot to pieces since taking my summer camp counselor job, I still love the shoes.

Pearl Izumi Peak XC on top of Cold Mtn, NC
The body of the shoe is made from extremely porous mesh of several layers. Even in a light rain, water easily splashes through to my socks from the smallest rain droplets. The mesh on my left shoe tore a little the other day as I was hiking the Cold Mountain Trail in NC and accidentally kicked a stick with the side of the shoe. The stick caught in the mesh material and tore a small hole in the outer layer. The hole has not widened or been a problem in any way, however.

The shoe has a lot of reflective material. Pearl Izumi made this shoe show up in the headlights, that's for sure. The PI logos show up pretty well in the light and a lot of the stitching and shoelace loop webbing is reflective. Even the fabric on the tongue of the shoe shines pretty brightly. Also the silver rubber piece that travels up the middle of the toe of the Peak XC shoe is reflective. There's a reflective PI on the heel of the shoe, as well.

My favorite part about the Pearl Izumi Peak XC Trail Runner? The tread on the shoe. The front half of the Peak XC has aggressive rear-facing teething that really bites into any surface. It makes these shoes great for running, trail running, or hiking. I use them for backpacking religiously down here in North Carolina. I can always rely on the Peak XC to grab whatever terrain I decide to plant my foot on.

One of the best parts about this shoe is that if (and when) it gets wet, you only need remove the insole and let dry. I have gotten this shoe soaked through from mountain biking, backpacking, and work. Every time I've removed the laces, opened up the shoe, removed the insole and let dry. It only takes 24 hours or less to be thoroughly air dried. Then I brush out whatever mud or dirt might be left dried in the shoe, lace it back up, and go. The Pearl Izumi Peak XC shoes are also very lightweight. Most of the time I don't even remember I've got them on. I love the lightweight mesh body because these shoes are still comfortable even on 90ºF mountain days when the humidity must be over 100%.

The Pearl Izumi Peak XC shoes receive a 5/5 stars from me. They are very supportive, lightweight, breathable, have great traction, comfortable, and look sweet. Look for a Pearl Izumi Iso Seek IV WRX review soon, also.

Happy Trails, friends!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Diamond Brand and Frugal Backpacker Stores

As a poor college student and summer camp councilor, I often find myself obsessing over prices of outdoor gear. In a market where profit margins must reach into the 500% range, outdoor gear is not cheap to invest in. I often find it mind blowing that the simplest of outdoor clothing: a breathable T-shirt, often run upwards of $50, advertising the newest wicking and quick dry technology. It's a tricky market to navigate and often the only way to become aware of what prices really are reasonable for what you're buying into is experience it yourself. I spend a lot of time in the stores, poking around online stores like, reviewing and reading reviews, and talking to others in the outdoor industry. I have developed a pretty intrinsic sense of what's about right price-wise for most pieces of gear. If you don't know your way around the outdoor market, though, you're in luck. The Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker (sister stores) in Fletcher, NC have got you covered.

I've visited North Carolina many times throughout my life (most of which I've lived in Michigan). Each time I come down to do some backpacking in Pisgah National Forest, I make a foray in to Fletcher to stock up on gear at the Diamond Brand and Frugal Backpacker. The staff at both stores are always very helpful. I've been living in Hendersonville, NC for the summer, working as a camp councilor for Kanuga Conferences and thoroughly enjoying the benefits of staff discounts.

Diamond Brand carries a full line of backpacking, climbing, and kayaking gear and clothing. They have a great selection of footwear, dozens of varieties of Keens, Chacos, and Vibram Five Fingers. Webbing by the foot at reasonable prices. Staff are always happy to swap outdoor stories and will spend hours helping you try on every pack in the store until you find the one that fits you properly. They really know how to fit a pack, as well so it's easy to trust their opinions and choices. You can usually find some discounts weekly in the Diamond Brand store, but if you want really discounted gear you need to visit the Frugal Backpacker.

Literally located next door to Diamond Brand Outdoors is the Frugal Backpacker, a store specializing in (you guessed it) backpacking gear. They carry a lot of Deuter packs, Mountain Hardwear, and Osprey. You'll find the occasional Gregory, Mountainsmith, and Kelty pack as well. The backpacks at Frugal really are cheap. Often you'll find a pack with prices slashed twenty, forty, fifty dollars. Frugal Backpacker also carries footwear at low prices, usually overstock and last season's models left over from Diamond Brand's stock. You'll find cheap prices on sleeping bags, pads, and clothing. The selection here is a little more limited when looking for pads and tents, don't expect to find a Neo Air for $50. I recommend Frugal for backpacks and clothing, both of which they have in abundance and at low prices.

So far this season I've bought a pair of 5.10 rock shoes, some Keens, Suncloud sunglasses, a Snow Peak wind screen, a MHW 18L pack and some clothes. Using up that camp councilor discount while I've got it!

Pay them a visit at Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker whenever you're in the area. Perfect staging area for any adventure into Western North Carolina.

Happy Trails and check out the YouTube Channel, new Cold Mountain video going up soon! Like us on Facebook!

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