Ever so slowly I am progressing through the 40 'official' peaks on the Carolina Mountain Club's South Beyond 6,000 list. Problem is, these peaks aren't getting any easier to bag the closer I get to completing the challenge. For starters, I have the entire north half of the Black Mountain Range yet to complete. Bagging all of them in a day (unless I'm looking for a 15-mile round-tripper) requires coordinating a car-shuttle which I've been unable to do accomplish as yet. The other major collection of peaks yet eluding me is in the eastern Smoky Mountains where a multi-day backpacking and bushwhacking excursion is staring me down. Only one peak that I had yet to climb could still be included in the 'easy' day hike category...Blackstock Knob. Blackstock, at 6,320-feet, is located at the far southern tail-end of the Black Mountains where the range makes a sharp western dog-leg towards the neighboring Craggy Mountains. A rather nondescript peak from a distance, Blackstock's summit is simply a high bump along a four-mile-long 6,000+ foot high ridge. Oh, and it's completely wooded. Seeing the reason yet why I've waited so long to climb it? Luckily for a prospective SB6K completer like myself the famous Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes right over its summit. No bushwhacking required. To reach Blackstock via the MST you then have two choices...you can either approach from the east or the west. From the east (starting at NC-128, otherwise known as the Mt. Mitchell State Park Road) its a long 3.5 climb up the rugged ridge to the summit. From the west, the MST leaves the Blue Ridge Parkway from Balsam Gap at Milepost 599.8 and climbs steeply to Blackstock in around 1.5 miles.
To follow official CMC rules for 'bagging' 6,000-footers I had to make this at least a five mile hike. An out-and-back, then, from Balsam Gap wouldn't qualify. The 7-mile out-and-back from NC-128 certainly would but...as some of you might already know...I like to avoid out-and-back hikes if at all possible, especially one of that length. Therefore, I decided to think outside the box a bit and came up with a third option...why not make it a loop and enjoy a leisurely walk along the Blue Ridge Parkway for part of the hike? So...that's what I did. Starting from the small parking area at Balsam Gap I would ascend via the MST up and over Blackstock Knob, following it to its junction with NC-128. I'd then hook up with the Blue Ridge Parkway for a much smoother and less vertically challenging return walk to the car. Easy, right?
Without much of a hitch that's pretty much how it played out. Escaping the 90-degree heat plaguing the valley's I headed up for a refreshing afternoon in the Black's. Like I stated before this hike wasn't as visually stimulating as some but it did have its moments. If you would, then, please feel free to join me as I complete the last of my 'easy' Southern 6'ers and as always...ENJOY!!!
Mileage Hiked: 10.1 miles Hike Duration: 4:20
Trailhead Temp: 65'F Trail Traffic: None! (excluding the Parkway walk)
Min. Elevation: 5,160' Max. Elevation: 6,320'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,840' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 184'