History of the Mount Mitchell Challenge

The Black Mountain News gives an excellent history of the Mount Mitchell Challenge race.

The Mt. Mitchell Challenge and the Black Mountain Marathon have grown in popularity since they were created seven years ago, from an rekindled idea for a cross country ski race that was sparked by Wendell Begley and Bob Antozzi.

During the 1900s Mt. Mitchell, the highest point in eastern America, was touted as one of the top 10 tourist destinations. As early as 1913, Fred A. Perry and W.H. Crockett began using their logging train to carry sightseers between Black Mountain and Mt. Mitchell. In 1922 much of the railroad bed was converted to a “toll road” for automobiles, and the Black Mountain area began to change its economic focus from logging to tourism.

Of course, a run to the peak and back can not be discussed without mentioning a 1928 automobile race up the Mount Mitchell Motor Road, along the dirt toll road. Appropriately named, Cannonball Baker completed the nearly 20-mile climb in a breakneck speed of 39 minutes and 35 seconds.

Although not quite as fast as Cannonball Baker’s drive, the runners complete this dangerous run in barely believable times. Last year, Will Harlan, of Asheville, finished the 40-mile challenge in five hour and four minutes. That’s running a mountain mile in approximately seven and half minutes for the entire race. Annette Bednosky, of Boone, completed the course in six hours and seven minutes.

For the Black Mountain Marathon, Matt Stanek, of Columbia, S.C., completed the course in three hours and 24 minutes, and Heather Hamilton, of Winston-Salem, completed the 26 miles in three hours and 56 minutes.

As always, the biggest challenge will come from the weather. The mean temperate along the crest of the Black Mountain averages 12 degrees colder than the Swannanoa Valley, and the ridgeline receives 36 inches more annual precipitation. In the winter months the precipitation translates over to snowfall, which averages almost nine more feet of snow along the Black Mountain range than in the Valley.

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