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Ascent of Cumberland Mountain-Chadwell Benchmark on 2020-12-22

Climber: Josh Carlson

Date:Tuesday, December 22, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Cumberland Mountain-Chadwell Benchmark
    Location:USA-Kentucky/Virginia
    Elevation:3400 ft / 1036 m

Ascent Trip Report

If you don't care about the KY1000 prom White Rocks highpoint, this county just got a bit easier to do. Years back Ken Oeser used the Chadwell Gap trailhead to get to the Chadwell benchmark and stated one could do all three candidates from that trailhead. Then the trailhead was closed and people started to do the long round trip from White Rocks. The Chadwell Gap trail has been re-opened and according to the ranger I talked to it was closed for 8 years so they could move it to a new area that didn't have private land disputes. The bad news about the trailhead is it's 2.8 miles from the trailhead to the gap instead of the original 1.8 miles. It is still a decrease in round trip time from the White Rocks approach. Here is the mileage:
Trailhead to Chadwell Gap - 2.8 miles
Gap to turnoff for Chadwell Benchmark - .6
Turnoff to benchmark - .3
Chadwell Gap to Oeser's Dome turnoff - 2~ miles (I am estimating this by measuring on the google map as it was unmarked on the trail signs).
So this route is somewhere between 11 and 12 miles roundtrip.

Approaching the new trail I used Ken's original directions and fumbled my way there in the dark. I ended up taking VA 690 to VA 688. 690 forms a loop off of Highway 58. So whichever 690 you turn off at, it will end you up at 688 where you take that north. You follow that road .6 miles until you see the Cumberland Gap Trailhead parking sign on your left.

When I approached the first light of dawn was coming out and I heard a gunshot in the direction the trail was heading. I decided to go back to sleep for a half an hour to let it get more light out. It ended up being a good decision because only a few hundred yards up the trail were two big hunter lookouts at the edge of the trail with a hunter still in one of them. So in hunting season, make sure there's enough light to be seen clearly.

The new trail is about a mile or so of going up down and around ridges until it hooks up with the old trail (it's entirely unmarked so if you do it in snow you might have trouble following it). There is a sign that blocks the way to the old trail. Take the now much wider trail right towards the mountain. This trail is the same now as Ken's old route. It switchbacks it's way up to the trail junction on the ridge trail. Everything else about the route is the same as other reports.

Pick your poison on which candidate you want first: the briar patch or the dome. If you go for Chadwell first take the ridge trail west .6 miles until you reach a sign that says Chadwell Camp site. This is where I left the trail to follow the ridge to Chadwell by going left into the woods. I very much regret wearing a down jacket that day as the briars were pretty thick with the only short respite being the saddle before the final push. If you stay on the ridge line the whole way the views out to the valley below are good, but no views at top. Also on the way back you can see the rest of your path for the county high point candidates. There are three bumps on the ridge to the east. Your other two candidates are on the third bump down the line.

The trail between Chadwell and the Dome is pretty flat and pleasant. When you hit the sandstone cliff on the right of the trail that Ken mentions, you will backtrack to the northwest to the Dome area (you can see the dome from the trail as you approach the big sandstone rock). Depending on how long it has been since the last person approached the dome you might have to rebuild the wood ladder that gets you up the summit rock. Where to build will be obvious and will be building on previous rotted out ladders. I also highly recommend Ken's advice of having a long balancing limb next to the ladder. It made it easier for me to get a grip as the rock is covered in moss and ice when I was there. After you get to the top of the dome (or just put your hand on the top knob as I did), take a leisurely stroll to the other point and enjoy the view as you pull out the briars from your clothes and skin.
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