Ascent of Mount Le Conte-West Point on 2019-03-16

Climber: Dennis Stewart

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, March 16, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Le Conte-West Point
    Elevation:6344 ft / 1933 m

Ascent Trip Report

As far as I can determine West Point is the 10th highest named highpoint in South Carolina. It is one of four named highpoints on Mount Le Conte's long ridgeline and the one farthest to the west, thus the name,"West Point". Although West Point has the lowest elevation of the four highpoints on Mount Le Conte's summit ridgeline, it is by far the most difficult to reach and it will definitely test the level of any peakbagger's summit hunger! There is more than one approach possible for West Point. I used the Alum Cave Trailhead at 35.62963 N 83.45138 W. The elevation here is around 4000 feet, so you have over 2300 feet to climb ahead of you. The trail has a good grade, but in places you have to walk on long stretches of bedrock, which isn't that bad in warm weather and you will wonder why there are aid cables along the route in places even though the terrain does not seem to require it. Come back in cold weather and you will be very thankful for the cables. It seems ice melts in these places during the day and refreeze at night to create very slippery rock surfaces that aren't always apparent. I had one bad fall in one spot where I thought the rock was just wet, but it was actually covered with a thin glaze of ice and extremely slick. It was even hard to get back on my feet. Needless to say, I used the cables for the rest of my climb. From the trailhead after covering 1.3 miles in 38 minutes, I passed through Arch Rock, which is worth a visit itself. Somehow a massive boulder has formed a tunnel which seems more like a cave. After 3 hours and 11 minutes of climbing I reached the summit ridgeline where there is a hairpin turn toward the east. I was fairly comfortable until this point, but as soon as I turned the corner I was hit with a very cold, strong east wind and I had to put on all my packed clothes. At this same spot is an unmaintained trail that heads west. This is the access for West Point. From here I actually continued heading east and bagged Myrtle Point, High Top and Cliff Top before returning here for a difficult bushwhack on an unmaintained, overgrown trail. (See the trip reports for those other three highpoints.) It was only .39 air mile to the summit from the main trail, but it took me 55 minutes to reach it, handicapped with fallen trees and a rock cliff on the east side of the summit mass that I did not want to attempt with the amount of ice I had covered earlier on the hike up. Instead I circumnavigated the summit mass to the far west side and found easier access there, although I must confess I used a lot of vegetation holds to help me reach the top. The summit had a clearing with good views to the south and I took advantage of the view to rest for the return trip to the main trail which I was not looking forward to. I reached the main trail again in 48 minutes and my descent time from here was another 2 hours and 47 minutes.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Scramble
    Gear Used:

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