Fall Kyanite Hike
Yancey County, North Carolina
November 2007
By Mike Streeter

On the heals of some heavy duty digging for Corundum at the Propst Farm the day before, Chrissy and I decided to head out with Opal to the Ray Mine area of Yancey County to go for a mountain hike on a crisp Fall Sunday. A wide area that extends from Burnsville to Black Mountain is known to contain pale to deep blue kyanite, most as float on ridges and steep slopes. We will hike along mountain roads and trails mostly for the simple enjoyment of being out in nature, but the potential bonus of finding a pretty blue rock along the way makes doing so all the more enjoyable for us die-hard rockhounds. Still a bit tired from digging on Saturday and since it was such a beautiful day, I would have been perfectly content had we found nothing, but that was not to be.

We left our truck at the Ray Mine parking area and followed the trail to the creek area that runs through the heart of the spoil piles. Along the way, we met a nice couple from Virginia who were rockhounding in western North Carolina for their first time. We took the time to offer some specific collecting advice to them before bidding farewell and heading off to climb up and over the steep ridge.

We stopped for a while to investigate the spoil piles at the Johnson Cove mica mine just on the far (north) side of the ridge. Bruce Skubbon found a beryl crystal on the gravel road just below the mine during a trip that I lead there in July 2007. His somewhat surprising find prompted us to look a little closer at the spoil piles that draped down the steep slope, but no hint of beryl was detected by us in the mostly simple pegmatite rocks. So, we continued our hike, much to Opal's relief because she prefers to keep moving and sniffing.

It was such a clear day, that we could easily see in the distance Pine Mountain and Chalk Mountain mines near Spruce Pine, about 12 miles away as the crow flies.

Since many of the trees had lost their leaves, we could also see the town of Burnsville nestled in the nearby valley below.

While checking out one of many new and already-overgrown roads that had been cut during logging operations in the past couple years, I happened upon a monster blue rock! My contentment with day instantly turned into excitement! The BIG rock was full of very nice kyanite blades in a matrix of mostly solid quartz and was just sitting there pretty as you please in the middle of the road.

"Hey Chrissy, check this out", I hollered over to her as she was taking a break to soak up some of the afternoon sun.

"Damn", she said as I pointed to rock. Chrissy will often make her point with a single carefully chosen word.

Yep, it was a monster alright. While I was pleased to find what I would figure later to be a 90-pound boulder full of kyanite, I was a little bit daunted with the prospect of having to haul it on my back for the 1-1/2 mile hike up, over and back down the steep ridge to the truck. The rock would have been perfect just as it was, but I decided to take a few whacks at it to see if I could reduce its weight to a less than back breaking amount. The rock promptly split in half and this allowed me to cob off a total of about 20 pounds , so that I was left with about 70 pounds. I somehow managed to fit both halves into my backpack along with about 15 pounds of other much smaller kyanite-bearing rocks that we had previously found. I figured that along with all my gear, I had about 90 pounds on my back. While I have carried more on other occasions, I had not had to negotiate such a steep climb and descent while carrying that much weight before. During the climb up to the ridge top, I had to stop repeatedly because my heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest and was breathing harder than I could ever remember. The freshly-fallen slippery leaves made getting down the other side of the ridge all the more difficult, but we managed to make it back to the truck without breaking our necks.

You may be thinking that I'm one crazy guy to have carried that heavy load for so long - and you'd be right, but for that and many other reasons. But, maybe the following pictures will soften your opinion about my insanity.

Click on each picture to enlarge.

Was my back sore? Yep! Was it worth it? Probably not, but it had to be done!