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Ascent of Balsam Beartown Mountain on 2015-09-07

Climber: Chris Gilsdorf

Date:Monday, September 7, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Balsam Beartown Mountain
    Location:USA-Virginia
    Elevation:4710 ft / 1435 m

Ascent Trip Report

To add a bit of clarification to this hike, as done from Walker Gap:

Getting there: the bit of dirt road leading up from Burkes Garden to Walker Gap is a bit rough, in that there are several deep washouts cutting through the road. However, passenger cars (including mine) can make the gap with care in dry weather.

The private property: basically, the boundary between public and private lands (at least from Walker Gap to the swag area, I don't know beyond that) seems to be defined by the ridge. If you're on the side draining back into "God's Thumbprint", it's probably private land. Coming down off Chestnut Ridge, there is private property signage along the old barbed wire fence, so stay left of it on your way to BM Maiden. Halfway down, the newer electric fence comes in from the right and continues down the ridge divide (thus, needing to go left when you reach it), running down to the house in the flat area prior to the true lowpoint of the saddle. From here, signage and the fence become much more intermittent. I inadvertently ended up on the wrong side of the ridge on an old woods road, which allowed me to bypass South Balsam Beartown, and which deposited me right onto the swag.

The bushwhacking: honestly, not that bad at all. I'd call 90% of the route a 2/10 on my hellish bushwhacking personal scale, with the remaining bits maybe a 4/10, and avoidable if you're good with your routefinding. The first area is around 3950' due south of the "Y" in "VALLEY" on the topo, between the saddle and the swag. Here, simply follow the ridge crest instead of trying to avoid the extraneous gain. The second area is found passing along the ridge along the last 1/3 of the swag area, and is choked with thorny brambles. Not fun. However, once you encounter these, head around to the right and drop down from the ridge crest a bit, entering the trees to avoid the thorns. Everything else, including the final ridge to the summit, was either very open or had game trails.

The scenery: just gorgeous. Burkes Garden feels like stepping back in time a century, what with all the women clad in Mennonite garb, and the isolation from the rest of the state. Excellent views can be had from Chestnut Ridge (to Mt. Rogers and back to Burkes Garden), as well as from the swag, though unfortunately not the summit. However, the small open meadow on the summit provided a peaceful place to relax a bit and watch a few red-tailed hawks make lazy circles overhead. I've spent fairly little time in Virginia, and even less of it hiking, but the scenery on this one seems hard to top.

Roundtrip was about 4 1/2 hours, with a few moderate breaks. Exactly 2 hours to reach the summit from Walker Gap.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack



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