Black Balsam Knob via Flat Laurel Creek (1-27-15)
Hiking my beloved Great Balsam Mountains in the winter can be problematic. The most convenient access to their peaks is off the Blue Ridge Parkway, which typically is closed to traffic from December through March. So when the snow flies it gets a bit harder to experience this wonderful range, but I suppose that's the way it should be. My favorite winter-time jumping off point is no doubt the Flat Laurel Creek Trailhead off NC-215, which was where I was headed this day.
My initial plan was to make the 3-or-so mile trek up to Sam Knob but not soon after I headed out I realized that another option might be just as appealing. With the range socked in frozen clouds with no break in sight, and no views likely to be had, I'd be just as well off heading up to Black Balsam Knob instead. I had visited Black Balsam in pretty much every season and in every type of weather up to this point...except in a good ol' winter storm. You may think me crazy but once in a while I really enjoy getting out in the Southern Mountains when they're misbehaving...its a way to test myself a bit more and experience them in conditions unique from what most visit them in...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.308036, -82.908910
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: HARD (EXTREME in conditions shown here)
Hike Length: 7.0 miles Hike Duration: 2:30
Trailhead Temp: 25'F Trail Traffic: NONE!!!
Min. Elevation: 5,020' Max. Elevation: 6,214'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,200' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 343'
Trails Used (Blaze Color): Flat Laurel Creek (orange), Sam Knob (blue), Ivestor Gap (none), Art Loeb Connector (none), Art Loeb (white)