Middle Black Mountain
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Summary: One of the classic Pisgah rides, this is a great pathway to the more challenging trails in Pisgah. When ridden correctly, without use of 'cheater' lines, there are a number of tight sections that lead into technical features. For many riders, there will be sections going up and downhill that require some work to ride clean, but it is a rewarding ride that is easily accessible from the entrance of the forest.
Difficulty: Pisgah Intermediate - There are several loose and steep sections with drops or features, along with several awkward corners or features that require good line choice to ride correctly. There is one moderate consequence section in the middle that is narrow and rocky, however all sections are easy to identify and see coming.
Length/Elevation Change: Depending on route, done with Clawhammer/Maxwell - 8 miles and ~1300ft of elevation with approx. 5 minutes of hike-a-bike climbing.
Notable features: Pay careful attention to the directions particularly once you reach Clawhammer, it is easy to miss the turn onto Maxwell and end up far away from where you want to be. The first bit of singletrack climbing consists of hike-a-bike, but the majority of the climb is gravel roads that are fairly mellow, with a few steep sections particularly at the start. Going downhill, there are several staircases, sequences of rollable, but potentially awkward drops, and sections that can be awkward if you don't know the lines. All features are rollable and can be taken slow, most are low consequence, but there are many different features that will require some work for new-ish riders. The trail also changes regularly due to erosion, so riding it a few weeks apart may result in a different experience.
Before we start on Middle Black, be aware of the route required to reach the gap where Upper Black meets Middle Black. If you are taking the Maxwell route instead of doing full Black, then you need to be aware to not miss the turnoff onto the road. More in the recommended route section below, but I wanted to point this out here, because many people miss this the first time and it will significantly increase the time/length of your ride if you pass Maxwell.
I'll also add that this walkthrough is probably going to be a bit more detail heavy than some others, since this is such a popular trail and it's starting to border on the more advanced trails in Pisgah.
So getting started, depending on how you got to the middle section of Black Mountain trail, you will either come up the road or down from the upper portion. In either case, you'll see this fire pit, which is where we'll start:
You will ride past the fire pit to the right of this image and start the singletrack climbing portion of the trail. I'd call it a hike a bike, but plenty of people ride it. Personally, I make some of it and not others, maybe I'll get there at some point.
On the climb up, you'll see a lot of rooty bits like you see above. It's fairly steep, but everything can be ridden if you have the legs and climbing skills to do so.
In any case, if you push or climb, you are looking at a roughly 5-10 minute ride/climb until you reach the peak, where it's mostly downhill from that point.
At the peak, you can get some nice views, particularly during the winter:
Once we start the downhill, things start out fairly smooth, with a few mellow roots. You'll run into a small rock garden with a water bar, followed by a steep-ish left hand turn and some loose rocky sections.
When you reach a bit of a washed out gulley turning right, that's where the first notable section of the trail begins:
The gully above is what leads into the technical bit.
I like to break what follows into three parts:
Awkward, off-camber water bar (slippery when wet)
Root ball or rock drop - both rollable
First roll down
Steep, sometimes loose chute
If you look at this section from the bottom, it doesn't really give you as much to work with, so we'll start as though we're walking it from top to bottom. We start just after the right hander above, into this sideways waterbar (shown from the bottom):
This feature isn't much to worry about on it's own, it can be a bit slippery and easy to wash your back tire out on, but it's fairly small.
Where this causes problems is leading into the next section of the trail, it can make setting up for it somewhat difficult.
The section that follows gives you two options for lines:
At the top, you can see the sideways waterbar, followed by the rootball and rock. You can either drop off the rock (it's rollable, but awfully close to that tree) or roll through the roots.
Here is what it looks like from the top. You can make out the drop on the left or the roots on the right.
Neither section should be particularly difficult, but the lineup to it can be challenging especially if the water bar above it kicks you out. In either case, both lines are rollable and lead into the next section:
Again, you can see the rootball/rock section we just walked through, followed by this rolldown. I feel like this photo makes it worse than it actually is, it's a fairly mellow section to roll and you can take it fairly slow. The trick is to not come into this entire section too fast and put yourself in a spot that requires you to grab a handful of brake to stay on top of where you are going.
In either case, I typically roll down the center, but there isn't a truly bad line unless you cheat and go to the right, which is typically armored off.
The photo above encompasses the final two sections, the steep chute, followed by a rock rolldown. The chute can be loose and dry sometimes, but this section isn't terribly difficult compared to the rest. Again, the key is to come into it with a speed you want to keep and avoid grabbing a handful of brake.
There are a few lines through the section above, but none are particularly bad or high consequence.
Once you roll through the above, you are given a brief reprieve before you start hitting more washed out root and rock sections that are fairly typical for the rest of the trail:
For riders riding this trail, I'd consider the ability to ride the above a minimum to ride the majority of the trail and enjoy it. I feel the section above looks worse in photos than it actually is, but I've also ridden the trail several dozen times. You can certainly keep a slower, steadier pace through these bits and still be comfortable, but you don't want to grab a handful of brake at the wrong time.
Working your way down, you'll come into a somewhat awkward right hand corner:
You can see in the photo above that the trail cuts right, just along the edge of that tree.
If you walk just to the left of the tree, you can start to see what makes this section so awkward, especially if you get a bit behind.
Basically, you have an option to either cut just to the left of the tree and make a slow/awkward right hand turn or cut far left as soon as you can, then drop through.
Personally, the only time I've cleaned this is doing the latter, but both options are fairly tricky. I think for people riding Black the first time, most will require some work here. It's awkward and I've only made it a few times.
Shortly after, you run into this awkward little turn into a rut:
This is a switchback of sorts that cuts hard right when you come on top of it.
This is what it looks like from the top:
There are two lines here, most folks go right, where you see most of the tire marks, but I've found it most effective to cut just left of that 'S' shaped root you see, then drop in. In either case, this section isn't particularly difficult, it's just hard to take with speed.
From there, you'll be greeted by a few fairly small rootballs, then an open flowy section that leads into the third batch of technical features on the trail.
You'll pass through a tree gate, then you'll see a series of a few root drops:
There are two drops here, one after another, the last one is a bit scary because of how narrow it is and because it cuts between two trees.
The last one, shown above, isn't particularly large, it's just intimidating and can be tricky when wet because of the roots leading up to it, which want to push you the wrong way.
If you are riding this the first time, it's probably worth taking a look at and making sure you don't stuff a wheel or pedal in the wrong place.
After cutting through the trees, you are given a bit of a reprieve from technical sections for a little while. It's chunky from here, but nothing super technical or difficult compared to the previous sections.
Finally, you end at a left hand turn after this section:
The section above isn't particularly difficult compared to what we've done so far, but it's the last of the sortof narrow and awkward, rutted out bits of the trail. It's pretty easy to straight line this and there aren't any real bad lines.
After this, you enter a short bench cut section of trail that is narrow and not characteristic of what you've done so far:
There are a few roots, some of which are slick when wet, but overall this segment isn't too difficult until you reach the rock stairs.
What you'll see running into the next notable section is a rootball that kicks up a bit, then drops down the other side:
What greets you on the other side is a very often wet, slippery, and muddy rock armored section that's narrow:
This section can be tricky, even though it's relatively benign compared to what we've ridden so far, it's the narrowness and wet aspect that adds an element of fear to this section. I did better riding this the first time I rode the trail blind than I do now, because I know where it is and it gives me the spooks.
At any rate, continue on and you'll be coming up on the last technical section of the trail. It starts with a steepening chute with a few little root drops, followed by this thing:
There are more lines down this thing than I could communicate. I've only cleaned it a few times, but let me tell you how NOT to clear it.
You see that rut in the photo on the left? That mud bank? That's NOT the line, despite people continually tearing down armoring. That 'line' comes and goes over time, as locals cover it up and others uncover it so they can ride it. All of the valid lines on this section start to the right (in this photo) of that rock. So if you aren't riding the roots, then you aren't riding it correctly.
I'm normally all about taking the most efficient line, but in this case, people riding the section wrong are creating an erosion problem. I get how difficult this section is, but please, ride it correctly or walk it.
At any rate, the top of this looks like this:
I've seen people ride this thing a lot of ways. Generally, I try to stay far left during the run in and shoot straight down it, but that can be difficult to maintain and put you in an awkward position. The majority of people I see ride this approach from the right, then cut left as soon as they hit the staircase to roll down. The risk there is that you stuff a wheel in the wrong place, but that is a risk with all of the lines.
Again, if you are riding this blind, might be worth stopping to check out.
From this point on, the trail is fairly flowy with a few little root sections, but nothing like what we've seen so far. Eventually you get into a fast straightaway section that dumps off at the intersection of Lower Black and Thrift cove, which is where we leave off.
Depending on the time of day, you have two parking options. The first is at the base of Lower Black, the grassy lot, the second is anywhere on Avery Creek Rd leading up to and including the horse stables.
If it is later in the day and I'm trying to save daylight, I'll park at the stables or along the road and start the ride at Clawhammer Rd to spend as much daylight on the trail, where it's critical, and spend the dusk hours on the gravel road.
In either case, you end up taking the same route eventually. If you start at the stables, climb Clawhammer Rd (this is the gated road on the right of the stables):
Climb past the gate for a little while until you reach the first intersection with another gravel road on the right, this is Maxwell. Do not miss this turn:
This is your first right on Clawhammer Rd. I'll re-iterate, DO NOT MISS THIS TURN. You will really regret it if you get to the top of Clawhammer and your ride goes from 1.5hours to 3+.
Take a right onto Maxwell, which will dead end into a fire pit, take a right and start the singletrack climb/push to the peak.
Once you reach the peak, descend Middle until you reach an intersection with Thrift Cove on the left and Lower Black on the right. Go right, take Lower Black to the bottom and that will dump you off at the parking lot.
If you parked at the stables, the easiest way back is to take the road (276) past the ranger station back to Avery Creek Rd, then climb the gravel back to your car. There is a route through the Davidson River Campground, past the church, that avoids a lot of time on 276, but I don't have good markers for you to know when to turn off the campground.
If you start at the bottom of Lower Black, do the same as the above until you reach the stables, you'll end back up at the car.
Note that Avery Creek Rd can be prone to closure for road work, if it is then park at grassy.