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Ascent of Signal Bald on 2018-12-18

Climber: Bradley R

Date:Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Signal Bald
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:5240 ft / 1597 m

Ascent Trip Report

How I chose this hike: I wanted to knock out some peaks on my NC 5,000' list. This hike contained three such peaks, Potrock, Peak 5149, and Tusquitee (Tusquitee is credited as being higher than signal, but both top out in the same contour). County Corner was also the county high point of Cherokee County. It was not part of the goal, but Dead Line Ridge was also along the way.

The plan: I had a vacation day for Tuesday the 18th. Monday after work I would drive 3+ hours from home to the Chunky Gal Trailhead on Tuni Gap Rd. I planned to sleep in the back of my wife's Subaru Forester. Around sunrise I would take off up the trail and tag Tusquitee, Potrock, Signal, 5149, and County Corner. I believed this hike would be around 8.5 miles based on a combination of previous reports and the route I laid out on my GPS. I guessed this would take me 5, or at most 6 hours.

Parking: I placed Chestnut Branch, Tusquittee, NC into Google Maps and it took me directly to the trailhead on Tuni Gap Rd. The trailhead is right by Big Tuni Creek, there's room for, I'd say, three cars at the trail head and maybe one more just across the bridge.

The Trip: My wife worked late Monday and I waited for her to get home to have supper. After supper I left and drove, non-stop, for a few minutes more than 3 hours to reach the trailhead, arriving just before midnight. I climbed into the back of the car and went to sleep. I woke only twice, once from the cold (I tucked my arms into the sleeping bag and then was fine), the other reason unknown. Overall it's the best I've ever slept over night in a vehicle. I woke up, changed into hiking clothes, had a granola bar and headed up the trail, starting at 7:48 AM.

For the first ~2-1/4 miles I stayed on the Chunky Gal Trail (CGT). This section was rather straightforward with the trail in decent (not great) condition. I crossed Big Tuni Creek 5 times total, the last time roughly a mile into the hike. With recent snow/rain storms the creek was probably higher than normal. I was able to rock-hop across dry, but only because I had waterproof boots. After about 1-1/3 miles the trail leaves the creek and begins to use some switchbacks. Through this distance I gained roughly 1,800 feet at a relatively constant pace.

Upon reaching this point there are several tall trees that have fallen down, some of which seem recent (the recent snow/rain storms had created lots of fresh obstacles). I spend some time looking for the trail, but knowing I need to continue uphill, and the woods looking fairly open I decide to just go uphill. Unfortunately, what had been just out of sight, was a tangled mess of Rhododendron and dead fall. This is the first time I find myself crawling on all fours under limbs, then climbing over dead fall and at one point realizing I was probably more than 10' off the actual ground. It took me 20 minutes (felt longer) to move 1/10 of a mile (and gain 110 feet). (2.35 miles total).

Here I reconnected to the CGT. This connection also happened to be the top of Dead Line Ridge, a peakbagger peak, but one I had not planned to bag. From this point to the ridge line holding all of the peaks I had planned for the CGT is in poor, but manageable condition. First it drops about 130 feet into a small saddle, then climbs about 300 feet to the ridge in a distance of just over 1/2 mile (2.90 miles total)

From here I take a left on what I think remains the CGT, but eventually turns into the rim trail. I'm unsure exactly where this changes. Shortly after this turn (~0.05 miles) I reach the high point of the trip, Tusquitee Bald, with one nice view in the southeast direction. From here I continue on the CGT toward Potrock, soon I believe the trail does turn into the Rim trail. Over the next ~0.85 miles drops about 200 feet then regains about 170 feet to the top of Potrock. This portion of the trail was in fairly good shape. (~3.80 miles total)

From here I return back over Tusquitee, then to where the CGT originally met the main ridge. (~4.7 miles total)

Next, I continue to Signal Bald. Through here I leave the CGT on what feels like a lightly used manway initially. Soon, if there was a manway, I'm unable to follow it further. Here I drop my pack, so I don't need to carry the extra weight, plus it keeps getting caught on limbs. I reach Signal Bald after 0.15 miles, with very little elevation loss and regain. (~4.85 miles total)

I continue toward Peak 5149. I initially head down in the general direction of 5149, looking for a trail as I go. At this point I'm wondering if there even is a trail, even though I'm nearly certain there is one. I'm pushing through dense Rhododendron and more dead fall, again crawling under and over a mess. After about 0.15 miles of this I've spotted what I (correctly) think is 5149, and realize there's no way I can get there and back to the car before dark (and home in a reasonable time to go to work the next morning) going through the terrain I'm in . I turn around, disappointed that I won't reach 5149 or County Corners. Not 50 yards back up the hill toward Signal Bald there is the trail! I decide, with the trail, I can reach the peaks and return to the car before dark. I lose 200 feet in this short section. (just over 5.00 miles total)

For the next 3/4 of a mile the trail is in bad, but manageable condition. I'm able to keep a decent pace while ducking through, and stepping around, dead fall. The trail is also pretty flat through this area, only losing about 50 feet. There are a couple of limited views in this area. (~5.75 miles total)

Suddenly the trail condition deteriorates. I seems like every 5 or 10 steps there's a significant obstacle in the trail. I again return to crawling through, over, around, and pushing through dead fall and Rhododendron laying over the trail. I push through these conditions for the next, flat, 0.15 miles, like earlier it felt much longer. Here I'm starting to go around 5149, and looking up the hill, from southwest of the peak, the bushwhack looks easier than the trail. I was right. I head up the mountain reaching the top with relative ease in 0.05 miles, gaining only around 60 feet (~5.95 miles)

Next I want to touch the Cherokee County High Point. There are two, according to Peakbagger, potential points this could be 1) County Corner Point, where Macon, Clay, and Cherokee all meet on a 5040 contour or 2) on the side a nearby bump (we'll call it "Bump 5080", since this is the highest contour on that bump). I drop off 5149 to the west thinking it should take me across the Cherokee County border losing about 100' in less than 0.1 miles. This side of peak 5149 is in much worse shape and I'm forced further left than I intended to go, this seems to prevent me from ever entering Cherokee County on the drop. I reconnect to the trail and follow it further west for nearly 0.1 miles, this appears to be the saddle between Peak 5149 and Bump 5080. I believe I was standing on the Cherokee county line here, but a contour below the "high point". I go up Bump 5080, but start up at too much of an eastward direction, leaving Cherokee County. Up and down the bump is about 0.3 miles gaining about 60 feet, then dropping 80 feet to a different point on the trail. I cross another trail, Shinbone, in this area. Shinbone's condition is so terrible it's not even worth attempting to follow. Based on all of this I don't think I can take credit for Cherokee County (~6.4 miles total).

I return via the same miserable trail, climbing through the same obstacles, until the trail eventually opens back up. I follow it beyond where I had picked it up earlier and reach a point where the trail is again awful. Here I choose to cut up the mountain back to signal bald. Then I follow my track back to pick up my pack, which I'm happy to reach, as I've been ready for some water for a while. No long from here I reconnect to the CGT and am ready to head down. On the return to Signal, after leaving the trail I reached a point with soft ground under a large Rhododendron and I thought about rolling over (I was crawling again) and taking a nap. I didn't accept this urge as I knew it would have meant I'd still be on the trail after dark. (~7.75 miles total)

Finally, I return down the CGT across Dead Line Ridge and am able to stick to the trail where I had lost it on the way up, learning it took an abrupt left, where I had lost it earlier, covered by several fallen trees. I do miss a turn on the way out, staying on an old road, when I should have dropped into the woods, but quickly I realize I'm gaining more elevation than I should be and return back to the trail. I cross the creek 5 times again and reach my car at exactly 11 miles of hiking total.

Other Thoughts: While returning to Signal Bald from Peak 5149 I began thinking this is the hardest hike I've done all year. Then I thought, no those peaks out west had to be tougher, but based on my pace this was the toughest, and by quite a bit... it felt like it.

Tusquitee Hike: 51:37/mile
South Sister, OR: 42:51/mile
White Mountain Peak, CA: 32:15/mile
Mount Jefferson, NV: 36:59/mile

In all honesty if this was the first hike I had ever done I probably would have never gone hiking again. Still, I feel accomplished for bagging three peaks on the NC 5,000' list.

All of the stats for this hike are listed under Tusquitee Bald.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Stream Ford
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
Ascent Part of Trip: Tusquitee Bald (0 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
OrderPeak/PointDateGain
2Tusquitee Bald2018-12-18 bd3752 ft / 1144 m
3Potrock Bald2018-12-18 c 
4Signal Bald2018-12-18 eh 
5Peak 51492018-12-18 f 
6(Attempt) County Corner Point2018-12-18 g 
Total Trip Gain: 3752 ft / 1144 m    Total Trip Loss: 3752 ft / 1144 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Bradley R
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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