THE BIG REVEAL: Historic Hike Series, Part Two

The historic “Cane to Cattail” hike from Cane River to Cattail peak continues in the second of our 3-part series. Today, we go deeper into the hike that begins at highway 197 in Pensacola Community, Yancey County, NC.  Along with State Parks and US Forest Service, this area brings promise for conservation, sustainability, tourism and jobs for the area.  There are few places on earth so beautiful that have grown from former mining and timbering activity. With continued care using the disciplines of forestry, biology, botany and wildlife management, this area has a place of national prominence.



Storytelling is integral to mountain heritage and culture. Part of understanding the magnitude of this hike is understanding how the surrounding area came to be. It starts with a man named Elisah Mitchell, a geologist,  who observed a peak in the Black Mountains he thought was higher than Grandfather Mountain. He was trying to prove that this peak, soon-to-be called Mount Mitchell, had a higher elevation.

The story goes that Elisah Mitchell didn’t care for the woods at night. Unfortunately, he stayed out too late measuring Mt. Mitchell and in walking back in the dark, he fell to his death down Mitchell Falls. A man by the name of “Big Tom Wilson” was sent to find him and tracked his steps, finding ones that got shorter and shorter signifying Mitchell’s inability to see in front of him. Big Tom Wilson found his body at the foot of the falls.

Although the project claimed his life, Mitchell proved the height of Mt. Mitchell was even taller than Mount Washington in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.


Our Journey

Fraser Firs once towered over these Black Mountains and died within a single generation, leaving only a few rare red spruce.  The dead firs make some of the area virtually unpassable with dead trees strewn about like pick up sticks.  The great news is that the fir regeneration is fantastic and so thick some areas are impassable.  One wonders being here if this could be a west coast rain forest.  It looks and feels the same.

It has been a long time since Cattail Peak and Cane River had one owner. Now, Conservationist of the Year Tim Sweeney owns the contiguous land to protect wildlife corridors. This means for the first time ever that we know of, we are the only ones to march from the river to the peak. Our hike was divided into 3 parts:

  • Cane River to Bear Wallow Knob
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Sadie the wonder dog kept all the bears away.  Bottom to top Joe, Mike Tim
  • Bear Wallow to Ogle Rock
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Epic Games founder and Conservationist Tim Sweeney ponders the magnificence of his own land as a part of the conservation efforts in the Black Mountains.
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Mike, Tim, Joe on Ogle Rock above Ogle Gap. Beginning of last leg to Cattail Peak. View is north up through Cane River Valley towards Burnsville NC.


  • Ogle Rock to Cattail Peak
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We made it! This last leg is the Ogle Rock to Mount Mitchell State Park Boundary with a solid wire marking the line, thought to have been strung during the CCC days.  Fortunately it was well brushed and recently marked with survey markers.  We have made the trip through the dense regrowth of Fraser Firs, it was rough.

Next: The Summit, The Legacy


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