- For other mountains named Mitchell, see Mount Mitchell.
Mount Mitchell is the highest peak of the Appalachian Mountains (and all of eastern North America). It is located near Burnsville in Yancey County, North Carolina, in the Appalachian subrange of the Black Mountains , and about 40 kilometres or 25 miles north of Asheville. It is protected by Mount Mitchell State Park.
The mountain was named after Elisha Mitchell , a professor at the University of North Carolina, who determined its height in 1835 and fell to his death at nearby Mitchell Falls in 1857, having returned to verify his earlier measurements.
The ascent of Mount Mitchell is now rather easy, since a road off the historic and scenic Blue Ridge Parkway runs nearby, and a 300-metre or 1000-foot trail leads through a conifer forest to the top. The summit features an observation tower and the tomb of Dr. Mitchell.
The weather on Mount Mitchell is very mild in the summer and very harsh in the winter, more like Maine or southeastern Canada than the southeastern U.S. In 1985, the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state occurred there on January 21 when it fell to -34°F or -37°C, during a severe cold spell that brought freezing temperatures all the way down to Miami. It is also the coldest average* reporting station in the state at 43.8°F or 6.6°C – well below any other station.
Unlike the lower elevations in the surrounding regions, heavy snows often fall from December to March, with 1.5 meters or 5 feet falling in just a day in the Great Blizzard of 1993. The summit is always windy, with the record being 286 km/h or 178 MPH.
The high elevations also expose plant life to high levels of pollution, including acid precipitation – rain, snow, and fog with very low pH. These acids damage the spruce and fir trees particularly badly, in part by releasing natural metals from the soil like aluminum, and by leaching important minerals. This stress also reduces the trees' resistance and immunity to insects, especially to non-native introduced pests like the woolly adelgid (balsam woolly aphid). (See aphid.)
While the mountain is still mostly lush and green in the summer, many dead trunks can be seen due to these serious problems. Repairing the damage is a difficult issue, as the pollutants are often carried in from long distances. Sources can be local or hundreds of miles or kilometres away, requiring cooperation from as far away as the Midwest.
Still, hundreds of tourists visit the peak each spring through autumn, for its incredible views and sunsets. Wildflowers are abundant all summer long. Young fir and spruce trees do well in the subalpine climate, and their pinecones feed the birds along with wild blueberry and cranberry shrubs. For visitors, a snack bar more palatable for humans is also available at the summit parking lot.
*Average of all of the daily highs (maximums) and lows (minimums) for each day from 1971 (January 1) to 2000 (December 31).