Taking on the Smoky Mountains

My brother was in town back in May, fleeing the great plagued North (this trip was preplanned and he’d self-quarantined prior to his escape for those concerned). The only definite of his trip was that he wanted to climb Mt. Mitchell, so we penciled that in for first thing Saturday morning. The internet said the stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway we’d need to take was open, so we followed my GPS there. As it’s wont to do, the internet lied, so we backtracked, got off the parkway, and attempted an alternative route. This time we were thwarted by a volunteer firefighter standing in the road telling us we had to turn around. I’ll admit I was the asshole who demanded to know why. Downed power line. As soon as he said it, that electric burn was all I could smell. The GPS ended up rerouting us right back to North Asheville. At that point, we’d eaten up an hour and a half of our time, still would have an hour and a half drive to Mt Mitchell, and so would start at 11:00 rather than the planned nine. We thought that might be too late for such a big hike, so decided to move on to a plan B.

I’d had a list of other potential hikes drawn up, and we sort of arbitrarily picked Charlie’s Bunion because it was roughly the same length drive, but at 8 miles and much less elevation gain than Mt. Mitchell, seemed more friendly to this particular late-start Saturday. It also would mean my brother could tell people he did both the Smokies and Blue Ridge Mountains on his trip south. It ended up being a really good choice.

It was an easy and scenic drive along sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway I’ve never been on yet. Charlie’s Bunion starts from the Newfoundland Gap parking area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was newly opened and packed (not a mask on, nor care in sight!).

The hike starts at the Appalachian Trail trailhead just above the bathrooms. This was another of my favorite types of hikes: you’re starting out at a high altitude already, so while there’s certainly elevation gain, you don’t spend a bulk of the hike climbing to the good views. They follow you the entire 8 miles out and back. Most of the hike was essentially ridge walking, but there wasn’t anywhere overtly exposed with large drops, which is ideal for someone as scared of heights as I am. 

You know what was terrifying? The “bunion” itself, a cliff sided portion of rock jutting out from the trail that affords almost 360-degree views of the National Park We went out briefly but didn’t sit and have our lunches as planned, mainly because of how crowded it was. Even in pandemicless times, I don’t think crowds people should gather on narrow trails with multiple sheer drops. 

I’ll definitely  be back to Charlie’s Bunion, especially as there’s a whole network of trail options shooting off from this section of the Appalachian Trail to help diversify my hiking portfolio (and by extension, my IG grid).

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