Hike back to when Black Mountain was Grey Eagle

Asheville Citizen Times

Black Mountain was known as Grey Eagle until 1893 when the town officially incorporated and changed its name.

On Saturday, June 17, find out one possible source of the town’s original name on the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s annual Grey Eagle Rock Hike, the sixth hike in its Rim Hike Explorer Series.

This difficult 3.5-mile hike takes its name from symbolic rock formation that legend says resembles “Grey Eagle,” an Indian chieftain or brave who protected the Valley of the Swannanoa from his lofty perch along the heights of the Swannanoa Rim.

This prominent stretch of fir-clad ridgeline is one of the wildest, highest and most rugged on the entire length of the Rim. Along the way, hikers will witness the trackless, scenic “rhododendron hells” notorious to the “south face” of Potato Knob. All in all, it’s a celebrated piece of ground that once separated the warring tribes of the Cherokee and Catawba.

The hike begins at Black Mountain Gap off the Blue Ridge Parkway near the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park. At approximately 5,200 feet, Black Mountain Gap is one of the highest gaps on the entire Blue Ridge Range. During the trek, hikers will cross the summit of Potato Knob (6,400 feet).

The most difficult part of the trip will be the steep ascent up the historic south face of Potato Knob.

Potato Knob is the highest point in Buncombe County (Mount Mitchell’s peak – the highest in eastern North America - at 6,684 feet sits just over the border in Yancey County.)

To summit Potato Knob, hikers will ascend more than 1,200 feet in a mile. Because of the grade of the slope, hikers at times are level with the boots of the person in front of them.

In addition to being the roughest section of the Swannanoa Rim, Potato Knob features the highest elevation, most spectacular environment, and the most incredible vistas.

“We traverse three major climatic zones and go through forests that are usually found as far north as Ontario, Canada,” Wendell Begley, who typically leads the hike, said. Hikers typically see a variety of flora including beech, spruce, balsam, rhododendron blossoms, blueberries, and Purple Fringed Orchids.

Besides the prominent Grey Eagle Rock, hikers will also pass many historic sites on the way. Much of the time hikers will be looking down on the Swannanoa Valley and its many extraordinary geographical features. Some of the trek will be along traces of the celebrated 1840 Mitchell Trail used by tourists a century ago to access Mitchell’s peak from the North Fork Valley.

The final mile follows the historic roadbed that was initially built to the summit of Clingman’s Peak about 75 years ago. The hike ends at Stepps Gap, the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park.

Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike #6

Hike: Grey Eagle Rock

When: 8 a.m. June 17

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.

Difficulty: Strenuous, 3.5 miles

Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566