July 27, 2002, around 5:00 pm
Can you say busy? Touristy? Wow! I haven’t seen this many people near a state high point yet. There must have been anywhere from 300 to 700 people spread out from the parking area to the tower on the summit. I had no idea this place was going to be as busy as it was.
I was coming from Sassafrass Mountain, SC, and the drive in was a little harrowing. The road is pretty high and often follows ridges that drop sharply on either side. If I hadn’t already been awake for 15 hours, I might not have minded, but the caffeine was making me a little jittery and my vision would occasionally skip. I wouldn’t recommend driving this road when you’re tired. It winds all over the place and is barely big enough for two cars, let alone all of the campers and buses that I passed.
Anyway, I finally reached the parking, which, next to Brasstown Bald, was the biggest parking area I had seen for a highpoint. And, in contrast to Brasstown Bald, it was nearly full. There were people everywhere. I passed people biking up and down the road, young kids, older people, you name it, they were on the summit.
I grabbed my photo stuff and headed up. I definitely looked out of place. I looked like a serious hiker when compared with all of the people wearing swimwear and sandals that were up on the tower. I was wearing cargo shorts and hiking boots. I just didn’t fit in. On top of that, I had a tripod. What was I thinking? Anyway, I hiked the two-tenths of a mile to the tower, climbed it and snapped some shots. The place was so busy, it wasn’t a matter of getting a good shot but just finding a place to set up a tripod where it wouldn’t get kicked over.
After snapping some shots from the tower, I dropped down to the sign marking the summit and set up the tripod again. A couple in their early twenties had just snapped some pictures and they seemed to be watching me. I think they were confused by what they saw. They were probably going to offer to take a picture for me, but then they saw that I was using the timer function on my camera (no more remote, it doesn’t work that well) and even commented that I knew what I was doing. I snapped a few more pictures and took off.
I’m not sure this could be considered my least favorite highpoint, Panorama Point has that honor for other reasons. But, this highpoint just didn’t give one a sense of accomplishment. The place looked trampled to death. If there are that many people there every day, I can understand why. The tower was pretty beat up and dirty. The place just didn’t look like it was cared for very well (except the roads, they were nice). Whether or not it is cared for may not be the problem, it may just be that it is overrun with people. Anyway, I would go back to Clingman’s Dome, but I wouldn’t really care to come back to Mount Mitchell. I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it, but it wouldn’t be worth a second visit.
Here’s a map from Charlotte, NC: