Ascent of Pinnacle Bald on 2021-03-20

Climber: Bradley R

Date:Saturday, March 20, 2021
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Pinnacle Bald
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:5400 ft / 1645 m

Ascent Trip Report

How I chose this hike:
Three of the peaks we on NC's above 5,000' list. Blackrock and The Pinnacle both had excellent views.

The plan:
Drive up on Friday night after work, sleep in the back of the car. Try to get on the trail before the "Assault on Blackrock" trail-race gets kicked off. Get to The Pinnacle first via west fork and Pinnacle Trail, then bushwhack to Pinnacle Bald and Perry Top (order to be determined based on what I see leaving the trail). Return to the Pinnacle trail hike back out to West Fork, past the upper Junction to East Fork and continue on, what I'll call, the Blackrock trail to the top of Blackrock Mountain. Turn around and head back to the upper junction of West and East Fork and take East Fork back down to where the two merge back together and return to my car. Followed this as closely as could be expected.

I placed Pinnacle Park, Sylva, NC into Google Maps and it took me directly to the trailhead parking. This is at the end of Fisher Creek Rd. Pinnacle Park is a city park maintained by the city of Sylva.

Night at the trailhead:
I arrived at the parking area right at midnight. There were several other cars in the parking lot. The parking is very near residences. Unfortunately there are security lights lighting up the parking area, preventing me from having the pure darkness I prefer to sleep in. I climbed in the back of the Escape and went to sleep. I awoke a few times to the sound of cars. At 6AM I woke up to the sound of cars and people setting up for the "Assault on Blackrock" race.

The hike:

First Start:
I was trying to get on the trail before the race started at 7AM. I packed and was on the trail at 6:45AM. Not too long later (about 0.2 miles in) I became concerned I'd left an interior light on in the car. I decided to turn around and check. While I was headed back down EMS teams were headed up the trail to quickly respond to runners in need and hand out water. I got to my car, no lights were on. This 0.4 miles are included in the stats for this hike, but I won't include this distance in my descriptions.

At about 6:55 I was back on the trail. It was still dark, so I was wearing my headlamp. The trail is wide enough for ATVs to easily travel the trail, but the trail surface is made up of rock that is a bit loose. 0.25 miles in you come to the lower junction of West and East Fork trail. I continued on the West Fork. (0.25 miles total)

Lower Junction to Pinnacle Trail:
Not too far beyond this junction on West Fork you come to an interesting rock formation, that I think is called split rock. By the time I arrived at the rock formation there was enough daylight to see the trail and formation, but not yet enough light to take good photos. I continued on. Eventually the first couple of racers reached me, they were moving at a trot. Later another group of 4 or 5 passed me, they were at more of a walk as fast as you can pace. Finally a runner passed me who was sincerely running (Racers did not all start at the same time, but minutes apart, so the best runners may not have been the same as the lead runners). 1.75 miles past the lower junction I reached the turn off for The Pinnacle. These first two sectioned combined to gain about 1,700' (2.0 miles total)

To the Pinnacle:
After turning off of the race route I have the trail to myself for a bit, only passing one group who had camped off the Pinnacle trail. It was about 1.4 miles to the Pinnacle from the turnoff from West Fork, with some up and down, but gaining only 100' overall. The views from The Pinnacle are astounding, looking south into the city of Sylva, and surrounding mountains. I hadn't ate yet so I had a muffin while taking in the views. To the right I can see the ridge that holds my next two goals, Perry Top and Pinnacle Bald. I'm observing trying to figure out my best path to tag these two peaks. Between The Pinnacle and Perry Top there is a deep drop I want to avoid. The ridge kind of forms a "V" between the three with Pinnacle Bald being the bottom point of the "V" and The Pinnacle and Perry Top being the two points at top. I'd also seen this on topo maps before starting the hike. I decide I should try and maintain elevation, hiking the V shape. (3.4 miles of hiking)

Looking for the right place to leave the trail:
I start back on the Pinnacle trail headed toward West Fork. For a while the terrain is a steep drop on the side toward Pinnacle Bald, but after about 0.4 miles I leave the trail to the left (East) as the trail is now even with or below the ground in this direction. There's no specific marker or indicator where I leave the trail, just seems like I can now leave the trail in the direction of Pinnacle Bald without losing significant elevation. (3.8 miles total)

Bushwhack to Pinnacle Bald:
I'm still trying to decide if I should go to Perry Top or Pinnacle Bald (PB) first. I decide on PB, because I know if the bushwhack is tough to Perry then I might talk myself out of PB on the way back. For a bit the bushwhack isn't bad, but then I run into a brier thicket. These aren't the biggest, baddest thorns you'll ever see, but they're thick and they keep grabbing and tugging my clothing. I slowly tip-toe my way through this thicket, and tell myself I'll do all I can to avoid other brier thickets. After I get past the thicket the terrain gets much steeper. I go relatively straight up PB, only making small switch backs to avoid further briers and thick mountain laurel. After 0.4 miles off trail I reach the top of PB, with some briers at the top. The exact high point is hard to determine, I decide it's a small group of rocks. I gained about 500' in this portion of the Bushwhack. (4.2 miles total)

Ridge to the saddle down PB toward Perry:
I begin following the ridge line toward Perry, this is to the SW. Soon I find a game trail, at times it's obvious enough I think people are using it, the majority of the time, though, I see it as a game trail and at points it becomes almost unpassable and in areas I have to crawl to get through. A nice surprise here, though, is that there are some rock faces giving views over the Pinnacle to the south. By this time I can hear other hikers on The Pinnacle. The ridge is steep enough to each side that if the ridge becomes unpassable all I could do is turn around, this never becomes necessary though. Finally, after about 0.7 miles and losing about 500' of elevation the ridge becomes wider and I end up on an old road bed. (4.90 miles total).

Up to Perry Top:
I'm happy to find this road bed, there's quite a bit of dead fall, but it makes the going much easier. I have to push through one unavoidable brier thicket before reaching where Perry gets steep. After this first thicket I drop my pack to pick up on the return. Once at the final push up Perry the road bed is in such bad condition with dead fall I can no longer follow it. In addition to this the whole area is another brier thicket, slowing me considerably. From the point I first picked up the road bed to the top of Perry is about 0.9 mile, gaining about 300'. Most of the elevation gain is in the last quarter of a mile. There's a metal rod and box laying at the top, no views. (5.80 miles total)

Return to the saddle:
I return to the saddle between PB and Perry via effectively the same route I'd used to get up Perry, picking my bag back up. (6.6 miles total)

Returning to the Pinnacle Trail:
Here I was at the point I'd found the road bed when coming off of PB. The road bed split, and I continued on the road bed to the right, circumventing another climb up PB. As I followed the road I recognized I was losing elevation, but the mountain was so steep to my left I couldn't convince myself to leave the road bed. After about 0.7 miles the road bed reached Dills Creek (only a small spring here), and ends. I was about 400' below the Pinnacle trail, In the hole I had planned to avoid when I first left the trail, though it looked like more than 400' from my vantage point. I began climbing back up toward the trail primarily following the creek, then veering to the right (toward the trail). Gaining 400' in 0.3 miles I recognized a tree I had passed earlier, I cut right here and was back on the trail in another 0.1 miles. I was happy to be back on the trail. All things considered, if I was to redo this hike I would probably follow the road to where it ended again, though there may be an easier route (7.7 miles total).

Pinnacle Trail back to West Fork:
The trail was now quite busy with other hikers. A little under a mile of hiking on the Pinnacle Trail I reached the West Fork trail again. (8.6 miles total)

West Fork to Blackstock Trail:
The next 1.4 miles are relatively easy, gaining only around 400'. About 2/3rds of a mile into this 1.3 miles you reach the upper junction of West and East Fork. This was back on the race trail, but all racers were done. There were some alternative trails to Blackrock, but they were taped off. I think this was related to the race, not these trails being closed. (10.0 miles total)

To Blackrock and back:
The trail up black rock is 1) much steeper and 2) much more rugged than West Fork was. I hadn't ate much, and as I started up this section I felt weak. I stopped and ate some pop-tarts, jerky and drank some Gatorade. This seemed to give me a boost. The climb remained difficult. Very steep, and requiring me to use my hands to scramble up certain areas. Finally I reach the top of Blackrock, with amazing views. I considered flying my drone, but was tired and a bit behind schedule so I took a few photos and headed back down. One way this portion of the trail was 0.5 miles, gaining 700'. Up and down. (11.0 miles total)

West Fork back to the East Fork Junction:
I returned to the upper West/East fork junction in another 0.6 miles of hiking, losing about 100' of elevation. (11.6 miles total)

Down East Fork and back to parking:
East Fork begins as a gradual decent, but gets steeper and steeper as you go. Just as an idea, the first half mile loses 250', the last half mile loses about 750'. This is steep enough that my knees and feet are aching while holding me back. Overall East Fork lasts for 2-1/4 miles and loses 1,700' before reaching the lower west/east fork junction. I had expected it would be too soon for wildflowers at this elevation, but ended up spotting a dog-tooth violet in this section. I was happy to reach the lower junction, after another 0.2 miles of descent, where I also saw some Spring Beauties blooming, I was happy to be back at my vehicle. (14.1 miles total)

Overall this was a challenging day, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. I'm getting to hike less than in the past due to other commitments, but it seems to make my opportunities to go nicer.

Some background:
Ahead of the hike I had checked Jackson County's GIS to see if I could make it to Perry Top while remaining only on public property. My determination was you could by staying relatively close to the ridge of PB and Perry Top. On the way back to the trail from Perry I dropped a bit more into the hollow than originally planned. I believe I remained in the Nantahala National Forest, but am not entirely sure. I saw no posted signs. The City park contained most of the trails I stayed on, the national forest contained most of the bushwhack, and a bit of the trail up Blackrock.

If staying on trail this is a good hike year round. If bushwhacking to PB and Perry I'd suggest going outside of hunting season and early enough vegetation isn't out much.

I found one map and a couple of articles that seemed to indicate there was a second access to Pinnacle Park from Parris Branch Rd. I reached out to Jackson County's Tourism Page. They communicated back clearly that there was no public access from Parris Branch, and that any access from here would require passing through private property, they did not recommend any access from there.

Stats: Since Blackrock is the high point of the trip I considered it the turnaround point for all stats (i.e. the ascent was 7 hours because it also included The Pinnacle, Pinnacle Bald and Perry Top, while the descent was just over 1.5 hours because I went straight down with no side trips).
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Bushwhack
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
Ascent Part of Trip: Blackrock Mountain (0 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1The Pinnacle2021-03-20 a 
2Pinnacle Bald2021-03-20 b 
3Perry Top2021-03-20 c 
4Blackrock Mountain2021-03-20 d4231 ft / 1290 m
Total Trip Gain: 4231 ft / 1290 m    Total Trip Loss: 4231 ft / 1290 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Bradley R
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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. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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