Route: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=3507114 (not including hike up to the falls)
My housemate hadn't been backpacking in quite a long time, so he borrowed some of Jess' gear (tarp, stove, pot, compass). Last time I was in that area I got pretty wet, and predicted weather was 50's so we packed pretty warmly (I packed as normal). We threw together food Thursday night and food Friday night.
The drive went quite fast actually. On the way I stopped and picked up a couple of 2-liter soda bottles (with soda in them, drank one, poured one out). We drove past the Big Sur campground and stopped a nice (though a bit pricey) place: Nepenthe. It was beautiful, and only a bit over normal prices for the quality of food ($14 or so for a chicken sandwich). The Iced tea was way overpriced though. We could see the ocean, a hawk soaring over, and a hairy woodpecker hammering on a tree outside.
We went to the campground, and the person there didn't actually know what we should do about overnight camping. So, we drove over to the ranger station just down the road. They told us to park in their back lot. So we did. It cost $5.00. After a bit of futzing and repacking, filling bottles (I left with 4 liters, my housemate with 5, 1 being gatorade), we got on the road. We were obviously way overpacked for water (especially with it raining on us at and all)...
So, we got on the trail around 1:00. We started by walking back up the road, into the campground, and up to the falls. Falls trail was closed, but there's a way around. Oak grove trail was closed as well. So after coming down from the falls we ended up walking through the campground to go back up. We then took the trail up to Mount Mitchell.
The trail quickly climbs out of the park, then levels off a bit to a slow horse-graded trail. The trail quality slowly drops off with occasional washouts. It's all side-hill on rather steep hills. It's basically all on the south-side of the hill, so the hill drops off to the right.
It being the wet season we passed a couple of streams. It had, in fact, been raining on us since the falls. As a result we'd seen only a couple of people in the park, and a couple more as we came up the trail out of the park. For a short section just after it levels off a bit we could hear and see the river far below (probably 1000 feet by this point). The river was brown and had overrun it's banks.
We stopped at a stream and refilled water, the rain had been spotty, and was off again. We ate a granola bar each and continued on. The trail got a bit monotonous here, the hill-hugging side-hilling on narrow trail started to get to our hips and knees. Eventually though it works it's way very slowly up and onto a ridge. The views at this point are getting quite impressive (see my photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/smalladventures/sets/72157623530592248/).
While sitting and nibbling etc. we saw a very large bird. It looked like a Turkey Vulcher, but was too large. It had large white patches under the wings. After we got back we looked it up and discovered it was in fact a Condor! The size and the white markings were pretty unmistakable. It was quite nearby as well! There are only 348 condors living, only 187 of those are in the wild.
We stopped for a while to put on warmer clothes, eat something, drink, and just take in the view on top of the mountain. The sun was low by now, but we figured we *might* still have enough time to push down about a 1000 feet and about 2 miles to a known good campsite. Just barely after the top of the mountain the trail got quite confusing, we spent a bit of time futzing around finding it again. The sun was setting at this point, we noticed that the ground was pretty flat. Going just a bit further we found a spot in a lower-spot on the ridge that looked well protected by trees, it was flat, and on kindof soft ground on not-too-lumpy hummocks of grass.
We we're getting quite chilled, so we both put on even more clothing in bteween pitching the tarp, and cooking dinner. I'd forgotten to get spices for the couscous, so all we had were some freeze-dried vegies, and the extra salt we could shake out of our gorp. It was still food, and good enough. We had some pudding with us, but didn't make it. It was a full moon (it would've been a good night to push on had we wanted to), but instead we walked back to the mountaintop and enjoyed the night view out over the ocean.
I was super lazy come morning. I'd had to pee once or twice in the night. We were kind of wet from the rain, wet socks, wet shoes, etc. I didn't really feel like getting up until it warmed up. My housemate got up at dawn and walked up to the mountaintop to watch the fog rise up off the water and roll in from the ocean. I slept, YAY! We got moving before too late though. We'd ALSO neglected to bring any sweetener for the cream of wheat we had for breakfast, but we DID have freeze-dried strawberries (mmmm!) so it was okay. We got moving quickly and after not far at all stripped off the bulk of our clothing. The sun was coming out and the sky was blue.
We hiked down VERY fast that and without particular event (except amazing views). We were off the trail by 11:30 or so.