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Ascent of Morris Knob on 2018-02-20

Climber: Chris Gilsdorf

Date:Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Morris Knob
    Location:USA-Virginia
    Elevation:4440 ft / 1353 m

Ascent Trip Report

This mysterious, majestic peak tucked away in the beautiful ridges and meadows of southwestern Virginia has been on my radar for a while. While it's been climbed before, several inquiries into access and routes went unanswered, and so I ultimately had to take matters into my own hands. Ultimately, things worked out...

After climbing Beartown, I drove NE to the Morris Knob area in search of permission. I'd identified two promising approaches: the maintenance road to the summit shown on the topo, and a series of meadows following one of the many ridges fanning out from the south end of the peak. I first made my way to Dorsey Lane to investigate the former approach. I inquired at a large yellow home, and the folks there were friendly but stated they didn't own the land in question--I'd need to talk to the next gentleman up the road. I investigated, but nobody was home except an old, friendly dog.

I returned to Liberty, VA (really just a half-dozen homes nestled in a small valley) and took Hogback Rd as a shortcut (it was being graded or some such, and was a nightmare to drive--some shortcut!) over to the SE side of the mountain. I found the exceedingly long driveway I'd seen on satellite imagery beforehand, and found it posted but the gate open. The driveway was a bit hairy with several berms, but I finally made it to the home at the end, where I encountered the owner, a very friendly guy. We chatted a bit, and while he had no reservations about me crossing his land, he noted a different gentleman owned the upper meadows, and I'd need to get his permission, though he imagined he'd readily grant it. This owner also mentioned the gate to his property was usually closed, so I had been lucky. He gave me his business card, then I left. Back in Liberty, a bit of asking around pointed me in the direction of this other landowner's house, but nobody was home.

I decided to try the Dorsey Lane approach one more time before heading to Sugar Run. This time, the landowner, an older gentleman named Bill, was home. We chatted for several minutes, and I found him to be very friendly. He had no qualms about me hiking up the road, and even said that he liked it when people hiked up there! He did however request that I park at the chapel back out on 91 just north of Dorsey, as county maintenance workers sometimes used the road, and it sounded like there might be some issue where he didn't own the entirety of the route up...? Nevertheless, I'd recommend paying him a visit before attempting this route. I have contact info for all of the above individuals, but won't post it here to protect their privacy...serious inquiries can email me at herbst (DOT) krummholz (AT) gmail (DOT) com.

THE HIKE:

I returned the following day, after my successful walk up Sugar Run and my less-than-successful attempts at East River Mountain. I parked at the chapel and walked to the maintenance road, the gate to which was now open. Great, I thought...I'll be having company at some point. Only can hope they don't turn me around.

The road walk isn't the most exciting, but you'll gain steady elevation, first straight up the mountainside and then eventually on long switchbacks cut into the steep slopes. And the route is easy--just follow the most major road to the summit. The woods here are open, but a bushwhack would be an exhausting affair. The road itself, if it could be driven (and it shouldn't, even if the gate is open), would require high clearance at a minimum, and likely 4WD. On this day, it was a mudfest. About halfway up, I encountered the maintenance workers, driving back down in a 4WD buggy. "You doin' alright?", they asked. I assured them I was, we exchanged pleasantries, and they went on their way. Awesome.

The road finally tops out on the summit plateau, mostly levels out, then makes a curving ascent up the final summit bulge to the summit towers. While the highest contour is large, high ground is obvious, at or within a few dozen feet to the right of the first building. There are no views from the summit clearing, but continue past the green-roofed structure and pick up a faint trail leading out to the promontory SW of the summit, through the rhododendrons. I assure you, this five-minute detour is well, well worth it...

I retraced my steps back down the mountain, encountering more workers on the way down! This time, a pickup truck and an earthmover, apparently doing some renovations on the road. I returned to the chapel and my car without incident, making the roundtrip in a slightly sluggish 3 hours 40 minutes.

This route isn't as glamorous as the ridges to the south, and it lacks amazing views, but it's relatively mindless, you don't have to deal with any horrendous bushwhacking or navigating through cliff bands, and you'll probably be able to get permission. Again, email me at the above address and I can get you contact info for the landowners.
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