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Ascent of Elk Knob on 2011-09-04

Climber: Tom Layton

Date:Sunday, September 4, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Elk Knob
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:5520 ft / 1682 m

Ascent Trip Report

Today (Sept 4 2011) was dedication day for the new summit trail. A couple of dozen volunteers and park staff climbed the mountain to put the finishing touches on the trail and celebrate the completion of 5.5 years of work.

This was my 24th ascent of Elk Knob, and I had the honor of dumping the last wheelbarrow of gravel on the end of the trail.

The new trail is 3.8 miles round trip and climbs 960 feet from the parking lot. Most of the hike is under trees, but the summit views are well worth the hike.

THE VIEWS: On a clear day, five states (NC/SC/TN/VA/KY) are visible from the two overlooks at the summit. This includes 3 state HP's: Mount Mitchell NC, Mount Rogers VA, and Black Mountain KY.

Signs at the overlooks identify a number of recognizable peaks, including Whitetop, Pilot Mtn, Grandfather, and the Roans.

In addition, on the rare clear day, look for:

-- Mt Guyot TN/NC (98 miles, 245 degrees W/SW) just to the R of Big Bald from the south overlook. Guyot is the second highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Guyot was visible without binoculars on Oct. 23, 2010.
-- Black Mtn KY (79 miles, 301 degrees) beyond the N ridge of Snake Mtn, looking W/NW from the road below the south overlook.
-- Whitaker Mtn SC (83 miles, 173 degrees S/SE from the south overlook) at the W end of the ridge that includes Crowders Mtn and Kings Mtn.
-- Charlotte skyline (89 miles, 148 degrees S/SE) on the far L side of the south overlook. The 60-story Bank of America tower is the tallest building between Philadelphia and Atlanta.
-- Winston-Salem skyline (82 miles, 100 degrees E) on the far R side of the north overlook. The highest building is the 34-story Wells Fargo Tower (formerly the Wachovia Tower).
(Bearings are based on true north=0. Magnetic north here is +7.)

Additionally, I have been able to identify 35 county high points visible from Elk Knob. There may be as many as 41, according to peakfinder.org. I'm biased, but I know of no peak in America that commands a view of more COHPs. (This is one dimension where the western mountains don't stack up--if only because the eastern counties are smaller and closer together!) According to peakfinder.org, the view theoretically spans all the way from Flag Pole Mtn (143 miles W, the highest point in the Cumberland Plateau) to Shepherd Mtn (107 miles ESE, the highest in the Uwharrie range). In all my trips up there I've never been able to distinguish either of them.

THE STATE PARK: NC has been proactive about purchasing large tracts of land along the Blue Ridge to protect mountains from development. Elk Knob is one of four relatively new state parks, along with Grandfather Mountain, Chimney Rock, and Gorges. Facilities at Elk Knob include a picnic area (elev. 4500) and backcountry camping sites (elev. 4000).

Elk Knob State Park acreage includes two COHPs: Johnson TN on Snake Mountain and Ashe NC on The Peak. No trails have been developed to either location.

THE MOUNTAIN: Elk Knob and adjacent Snake Mtn are the HPs in the Amphibolite Range, distinguished by craggy peaks (by southeastern standards, anyway) and "sweet" soil which support several rare species of plants, including Gray's Lily. Elk Knob is the 3rd highest point in Watauga County, after Grandfather Mountain and Snake Mountain. Google Earth shows the summit at 5556. The state park sign says the elevation is 5520, evidently based on the 40-foot contour maps. However, I have seen a 10-foot topo that shows a 5550 contour.

DRIVING DIRECTIONS: Elk Knob State Park is 10 miles north of Boone NC. From US421/King Street in Boone, take NC194 north for 4.5 miles. Turn left onto Meat Camp Road and go 5.5 miles to the park entrance on the right.

Tom Layton
Boone, NC
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:960 ft / 293 m
    Distance:3.6 mi / 5.8 km
    Route:New trail
    Trailhead:State Park trailhead  4560 ft / 1389 m
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Weather:Drizzle, Hot, Calm, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:1 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:40 Minutes



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