As the mini(my mini van) slides down the driveway in the snow I began to question if I should continue to set off on this adventure. My friends Thomas and Christian were meeting me around the Curtis Creek Camp but due to my late start It is now 8pm and dumping down snow. My original thought was that by heading East I would move out of the worst of the storm but I soon found myself cautiously driving down I-40 at 25 mph and realizing that I wouldn't be making it down the mountain. I called Shona(my wife) to talk out strategy as I approached the Black Mountain Exit. My options 1) take the next exit and attempt to make it home, 2) park in the Ingles parking lot and spend the night in the mini, 3) park at Ingles and begin my adventure. Option 3 it was. I suited up, clicked on my lights and began my journey through downtown Black Mountain to Mill Creek.
I passed several people who had abandoned their vehicle on the side of the road and were now walking towards town. I also pass a fellow mountain goat who gave me a shout out as he continued his run through the snow. Descending Mill Creek was a blur of snow flying at my face that reminded me of the Millennium Falcon jumping to warp speed. I reached the town of Old Fort where I decided to stop and give Shona a call to let her know I made it down the mountain. She seemed a bit nervous when we last spoke. I continued to head toward Curtis Creek where I would be the only person still out in the storm. Thomas's car was parked at the gate as I passed by his now snow covered tracks. The snow was now about 6 inches deep and still pouring down. Luckily the Curtis Creek Campground has a lot up map posted on the grounds. After quickly looking the map over to find Snooks Nose trail I continued up the road. The “you are here” arrow was grossly misplaced which lead me to search for a trail for several miles that I had already passed. I finally turned around and returned to the map in the campground to find out that I was 50 feet from the trail. Snooks Nose was steep and covered with a heavy blanket of snow and fallen trees. Pushing up the trail for half a mile I found Thomas in his tent with his husky Gypsy and Christian in his bivy. I called out to make sure it was them and made my way down to set up camp. They laughed as they heard the endeavor that I had taken on to arrive by 1am to set up in my bivy. The bivy wasn't the most glamorous way to camp in the current condition. It was a bit of a challenge to get out of my wet gear and tucked into the bivy. My 15 degree bag, silk liner, 2 down jackets and my fleece vest wrapped around my legs were all necessary to provide warmth and safety under the conditions.
I woke up reluctant to begin the process of getting out of the bivy and back into the cold. The temperature was in the single digits and my hands definitely felt it as I repacked my gear. We all continued to joke about how ridiculous it was to be out here as we prepped for what would be a long day in the cold. Thomas, Gypsy and Christian would be hiking around 3 miles up 3000 feet of elevation gain to reach the parkway. The plan was to meet them at Green Knob and then try to camp in the fire tower just a little higher up. They had brought their skis so that they could then free ride the fresh powder back down the following day. My route up which was the route they would be taking down was 12 miles long and a 3000 foot descent. We set off our separate ways to take on our respective adventures. Due to the depth of the snow my bike ride became a hike a bike for 7miles up Curtis Creek Road to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Fortunately the park ranger for Mt. Mitchell State Park had plowed off this section of the parkway and I was able to start pedaling again. 5 more miles of climbing with an occasional section of snow to reach Green Knob Overlook elevation 4760. The parking area at the overlook was still covered in snow and no sign of Thomas, Gypsy or Christian. I decided to make use of this time to hand my damp bivy, sleeping bag and jackets on the overlook sign to air out as I waited for the others to crest the tail. Over an hour had gone by and they had still not made it to the overlook. It seemed odd that it had now been 6 hours since I had seen them last and they still had not completed their 3 mile trek. I made the call to give them until 4:30pm to reach the overlook before I would head to Old Toll trail in order to get inside of the tree line before night fall when the temps would fall well below 0. At 4:30 I laid out sticks in the snow to spell out “Old Toll” to let them know where I had gone when they arrived, then I took off again.
I reached the trailhead for Old Toll around 5:30pm where again I would be hiking my bike through now knee deep snow. This adventure was a training ride for me so instead of setting up camp at 6pm to stay inside of my bivy for 14hrs when it would be warm and safe enough to set out the following morning I decided to push to make it back to Black Mountain to finish the adventure a day early. It was a beautiful sunset as I hiked for the next 3 hours with an occasional section that was rideable. Finally I reached Appalachian way, a road that snaked its way down the mountain into Montreat College. When I finally reached Ingles the areas of my body that weren’t numb felt like they were in contact with broken glass. I packed the bike back in the mini and grab some food and hydration essentials to meal down on as I sat in the mini waiting for the windows and my body to unthaw before heading home.
The following day I sent a message out to Thomas inquiring who had been the big spoon the night before. After a quick conversation with Thomas I found out how they had had one of the coldest nights of their lives at around -15 degrees F. Often the best ending to a long night of suffering in the cold is a good laugh.