Ascent of The Peak on 2011-10-08

Climber: Tom Layton

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, October 8, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:The Peak
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:5160 ft / 1572 m

Ascent Trip Report

"The Peak" seems like an pretentious name, especially since there are higher summits within six miles (Elk Knob and Snake Mountain)--not to mention a horizon that includes Mt Rogers, Grandfather Mtn, and the Roan highlands.

Hike it, though, and you'll respect it. You'll also be in rare company.

On Rick Shortt's APEX list of the 20 toughest eastern summits, The Peak ranks No. 14 overall and No. 3 in NC (behind Mt Guyot and Thunderhead). And those mountains are climbed far more often than The Peak, based on ascents registered on Peakbagger and listsofjohn. It's got to be the loneliest mountaintop among Southeastern COHP--visited less than once a year by Peakbagger and COHP members.

It's not that The Peak is not a worthy destination, but that it's so inaccessible. No trails or roads go within a mile of the summit. Much of the mountain is state-owned and managed by Elk Knob State Park, but the park acreage is isolated from the main park and all the access routes cross private land, including a few places where hikers may not be welcome.

Previous COHP trip reports describe a very steep bushwhack up the NW side of the ridge. After consulting with the good folks at Elk Knob State Park, I decided to try a route from the SW.

I first tried this May 30 2011 but started too late on a hot day and had to turn back a half-mile short of the summit. This time I made it, taking 6 hours for a 6.2 mile round-trip hike. I may be slow, but that's more a reflection of the rugged terrain and undergrowth.

If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't do it alone.

From US421 in Boone, follow NC 194 N for 4.5 miles and turn L onto Meat Camp Road. At 5.5 miles this reaches a gap, passes the entrance to Elk Knob State Park, and changes name to Sutherland Road. Continue downhill into the valley (sorry that I don't know the exact mileage) and turn R onto Browns Hollow Road, which may be iffy for low-clearance cars. After 0.6 miles, park beside the gates that block the road. Elevation 3630 feet. You're parked on private property so if you see anybody, ask permission. The state park land starts near a cattle grate 0.6 miles beyond the gate.

Climb over the right gate (the left one has a no-trespassing sign) and follow Browns Hollow Road 2.0 miles up to the ridge. This road is not on the topo but does show up on the "terrain" map. It is an old logging road and the hillside was logged a few years ago, so you are mostly walking in the sun, and for the second mile you'll be weaving through briars.

At 0.9 miles/4150 feet, avoid a tempting side road to the R that seem to lead more directly upwards. Instead, stay L on the main road, even when it begins to dip a little, and after 2.0 miles cumulative it will lead you up to a grassy forested saddle at elevation 4730. From here, you face one mile of bushwhacking.

The temptation is to follow the 4800 contour along the E side of the ridge to the next saddle, bypassing the 4970 ridge. Learn from my mistake, however, and stay on the ridge, where there is a faint footpath (and nice views to the NW). The extra climbing is better than the tangled blowdowns, undergrowth, and ledges along the contour.

At 2.6 miles, you reach the unnamed gap (el 4870) where the previous bushwhackers came up. Looking down the chute, that's not a climb for the fainthearted.

Keep following the ridge, pressing through briars and hawthorns, to emerge on a subpeak with a couple of rock outcroppings that offer the best views of the hike. This is not the HP, however. Cross one more little saddle to reach the summit at 3.1 miles. I was a little disappointed not to find the Trout BM--but neither did the USGS the last time they were here.

My GPS showed a 5200 contour on the summit, so the 5160 elevation listed here may be an understatement. My altimeter topped out at 5196.

This was my 90th COHP and 40th in NC.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:1810 ft / 550 m
    Elevation Loss:1810 ft / 550 m
    Distance:6.3 mi / 10.2 km
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Bushwhack
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:1670 ft / 508 m
    Extra Loss:140 ft / 42 m
    Distance:3.2 mi / 5.1 km
    Trailhead:Brown Hollow Road  3630 ft / 1106 m
    Time Up:3 Hours 15 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:1670 ft / 508 m
    Extra Gain:140 ft / 42 m
    Distance:3.2 mi / 5.1 km
    Trailhead:3630 ft / 1106 m
    Time Down:2 Hours 30 Minutes

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