Greybeard, Graybeard - hike seeks to settle the question


In the mid-1800s, the North Fork Valley was the main way people got to Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains.

Adventurers in and visitors to the Swannanoa Valley would ascend the North Fork Valley to stay at the upper “Mountain House” high up on the ridge, just below Potato Knob, said Joe Standaert, who is leading a hike encompassing superlative views of the valley on May 21. From there, they would climb into the higher mountains.

“This is also the route Dr. Elisha Mitchell took in 1857,” Standaert said, “when he ultimately fell to his death at what is now known as Mitchell Falls.”

Standaert is leading the Pinnacle of the Blue Ridge hike, the fifth segment of the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s Swannanoa Valley Rim Explorer Hiking Series. The 8.3-mile strenuous hike runs from Toe River Gap to the summit of Greybeard Mountain and returns via the historic Mount Mitchell Scenic Auto Road.

The Swannanoa Valley Rim encompasses the ridgelines of the upper Swannanoa Valley that surround Black Mountain. This exclusive hike by the museum offers experienced hikers the opportunity to explore remote and little traveled territory while learning much about the history, geography, hydrology and environment of the Swannanoa Valley.

Over the course of a year the Swannanoa Valley Rim Explorer Hiking Series hikes, offered the third Saturday of each month and repeated annually, cover the entirety of the 30-plus-mile circumference of the Swannanoa Rim.

This hike will start at the Blue Ridge Parkway, one mile north of Black Mountain Gap, the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park. Hikers will begin by climbing the first summit and the hike’s namesake, Blue Ridge Pinnacle, made famous by F.M. Burnett in his book, “This Was My Valley.” At 5,665 feet, the summit sits squarely on the intersection of Buncombe, Yancey and McDowell counties. It is also the geographical point of departure from the valley for the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. From this point the Blue Ridge continues south and east towards Black Mountain.

The views from Blue Ridge Pinnacle show the relationships of Mount Mitchell, Clingman’s Peak, Potato Knob and the Black Mountain range. Also visible are the Craggies and the west rim of the Swannanoa Valley, forming the western border of the North Fork Valley and the Asheville Watershed.

The North Fork Valley is one of the most historic areas in our region.

“This area one of the earliest areas settled in Black Mountain,” Standaert said. “It was also one of the most controversial, as much of the North Fork Valley was taken over by the city of Asheville by the 1920s for the watershed. The displacement of the earliest residents is documented by Burnett’s book.”

The hike descends from Blue Ridge Pinnacle to the historic road bed of the Mount Mitchell Railroad (1912-1921) and the Mount Mitchell Scenic Auto Toll Road (1922-1939). It then follows the Swannanoa Rim to the summit of Rocky Knob, elevation 5,240 feet, for more superlative views of the North Fork Valley.

“Rocky Knob was originally acquired in 1900 by Dr. Isaac J. Archer, a Montreat resident,” Standaert said. “Dr. Archer operated the Royal League Tuberculosis Sanatorium on North Fork Road at the present location of Camp Dorothy Walls.” The Montreat Cottagers, Inc. acquired the property in 1997 through a grassroots fundraising campaign. The 200-acre tract is now in a conservation easement administered by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

From Rocky Knob, hikers continue to follow the rim to ascend to the summit of Greybeard Mountain, elevation 5,408 feet, the northern apex of Montreat (Greybeard has been variously spelled “Graybeard” and even “Grey Beard”).

Swannanoa Valley Rim Explorer Hike No. 5

Hike: Pinnacle of the Blue Ridge

When: 8 a.m. Saturday, May 21

Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain

Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers

Register:, 669-9566