Ascent of Doubletop Mountain on 2018-08-01

Climber: Chris Gilsdorf

Date:Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Doubletop Mountain
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:5481 ft / 1670 m

Ascent Trip Report

Snaggy and Doubletop are a pair of ranked 5ers that lie along a ridge extending from the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Richland Balsams. I'd been saving Snaggy and Doubletop for a rainy day. That turned out to be a wise choice--this pair is exhausting, a bit monotonous, and limited on views. For those crazy enough to want to climb them, read on...

There are three potential ways to tackle this pair:
1. Via the hoity-toity Balsam Mountain Preserve, a private mountain community--old grassy roads lead to the summit of Doubletop from the north
2. Via a long series of mountain roads from Wayehutta Creek. This appears to be a public pay-to-use OHV area. There appears to be a road up from Moses Creek that may avoid the OHV area as well.
3. Via a very long out-and-back ridge hike/bushwhack from the BRP

I opted for option #3. The actual start of the route from the BRP, where an old barred woods road heads uphill, has room for a car to park. Not wanting to wish a ticket or getting towed, I instead continued to Locust Gap, 0.8 miles further northbound. I retraced my steps to the old woods road. This soon picked up a portion of the MST, which cuts off to the left shortly before where the old road is shown meeting the ridge on the topo. Past this point, the ridgeline trail becomes far more faint, and you'll be contending with moderate brush--a theme for most of the day. The route was difficult to follow around Lost Knob, but became clearer as it circumvented the hill SW of it and descended to Deep Gap. Here, a good gravel road shown on the topo met the route. I'd been seeing signs designating NC Game Lands, then national forest lands, on the south side of the ridge height-of-land, but now saw a no-trespassing sign for the north side for Balsam Mountain Inc.

First up was Snaggy. I walked the road a minute or so to high ground, then cut up to the right, bushwhacking steeply but easily until I gained the ridge. Here, the dual signage was still intermittently present, as was a hint of a trail. The last bit up Snaggy Bald involved a bit of a rock outcropping that was treacherous in the rain. Nevertheless, I got past it and soon found myself at the small summit area, with knee-high vegetation afoot. There might be a view off to the south on a clearer day.

Two ridges leave the summit--I took the left one. This was very brushy and brambly, though more passable on descender's right. I followed the ridge a few tenths of a mile, then cut right down the steep slopes toward the faint path traversing Snaggy's west slopes shown on the topo, at one point crossing an old woods road. I picked up a foot path--still a bit above where the route is shown on the topo--and followed this down till it became indistinct, bushwhacked a few minutes, then picked up a very good woods road that led to Flint Spring Gap. This continued downhill to Mayapple Gap. Here, there was a clearing on the north side of the ridge where one of the grassy roads in the Balsam Mountain Preserve passed by; the border was heavily signed and posted.

My initial plan had been to just head up the ridge, but there is a slightly more indistinct--but still good--woods road that ascends another 200' or so on the SE slopes of "Mayapple Peak". Where it rounds the south ridge and heads NW, I left the road and bushwhacked straight up, following the ridge to a small saddle, then the remainder of the way to the summit of Doubletop. The last 0.2 miles or so passed through/around some rhododendrons and some interesting rock outcroppings; if you pay attention, you'll generally find a trail. At the very summit, I was surprised to find a clearing, in the middle of which was a nice, rustic lookout tower. I took a little time there to stay out of the rain and dry my stuff off. It had taken just under 4 hours from my car.

On the return, I retraced my steps to Flint Spring Gap, with plans to pick up the faint trail up to the better road at Bald Gap. This turned out to be a nightmare. The good woods road appeared to be heading for the north side of Snaggy, so I abandoned it. I followed my previous foot path beyond where I'd picked it up, and it soon and suddenly ended on very steep, treacherous slopes, covered with moss-covered rocks, and leaves hiding ankle-breaking holes. Wasting quite a bit of time here, and never actually finding the path, I finally struggled my way to the good woods road. My plan was to follow this back all the way to the MST trail junction to avoid any further brush/bushwhacking.

The road remained in fairly good condition past Deep Gap, and all the way to just before the spur ridge south of Lost Knob, where it was gated at the Game Lands boundary and became a more overgrown two-track. This emerged into a meadow, which contained some briars, but also some absolutely sublime wild blackberries--definitely the highlight of today's hike! Past here, the road climbed steeply to the ridge crest, where I picked up the trail, dragged myself up the last bit of uphill, and finally emerged on the BRP to trudge the last 0.8 miles to my car. I finally made it back 7 hours and 40 minutes after leaving--far longer than I'd anticipated it would take!

This is a grueling route. For Doubletop in particular, if one can get permission to approach from the Balsam Mountain Preserve, that would undoubtedly be a more pleasant route. However, the route I took is legal--the path/road, when present, runs between the two sets of signs. For future climbers, I might recommend following the woods road from Deep Gap to Bald Gap, picking up the fainter woods road that heads NNE along the W slopes of Snaggy Bald, and tagging the summit from this road's closest approach, then heading straight downhill from here toward Flint Spring Gap. At any rate, these mountains will not give up their summits easily. Plan accordingly.
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
A helpful map for those looking to climb the peak from the BRP (2018-08-01). Photo by Chris Gilsdorf.
Click here for larger-size photo.
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