Ascent of Three Top Mountain on 2012-08-25

Climber: Tom Layton

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, August 25, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Three Top Mountain
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:5000 ft / 1524 m

Ascent Trip Report

For seven years, I've been looking at the jagged ridge of Three Top through my living-room window but never climbed it until now. The hike turned out to be not nearly as difficult as I feared. In hindsight, however, I have doubts about whether I reached the tip-top.

Three Top actually has two tops--the two northernmost 5000-foot contours in NC. These are known informally as Huckleberry Rock and Big Rock, about a half-mile apart and separated by a 4840 notch. I followed the trail to Huckleberry Rock but did not try Big Rock, which looks like a knife-edge ridge and has a reputation more attractive to rock-climbers than hikers like myself. I didn't feel comfortable climbing it solo, but if you are interested and need a slow partner, let me know.

I don't carry a sight level, but after studying my photos, I think it's possible that Big Rock is a little higher than Huckleberry Rock--based on how its profile measured up against Old Field Bald (4958) and Elk Knob (5520+) on the horizon beyond. From my home 18 miles away, Big Rock looks a little higher, but it's also a little closer and has a more pronounced summit, which could affect the perspective.

However ...
My altimeter gained 50 feet inside the 5000 contour, so Huckleberry Rock must be very close to 5040. If that's correct, then Big Rock can't be much higher, because it doesn't show a 5040 contour.

The 5000 contour on Huckleberry is larger than the corresponding contour on Big Rock, which may be why Peakbagger scores Huckleberry Rock as the Three Top summit.

If you're playing by COHP rules, you need to tag them both. But this is not a COHP. In Ashe County, Three Top ranks third behind The Peak (5160+) and Bluff Mountain (5100).

Hair-splitting altitudes aside, Three Top is a great destination with spectacular views and some of the steepest topography in NC.

The land is managed by the state wildlife commission, so avoid this hike during hunting season.

I climbed Huckleberry Rock via old roads on the west side of the mountain from Hidden Valley. It's a 3.5-mile round-trip hike with nearly 1300 feet of climbing.

To reach the trailhead, zero your odometer at the Todd VFD station in Todd NC, and take Three Top Road northbound.
10.1 miles--turn R onto Eller Lane. Cross bridge and stay straight on Hidden Valley Road.
10.8 miles--reach a gateway where the road name changes to Oak Trail. You can disregard the large sign that says Private Property--No Trespassing sign because of the small sign that promises Access to NC Game Lands. The state of NC has a right-of-way through the neighborhood.
11.3 miles--pavement ends.
11.5 miles--pass through another open gateway. Continue uphill, looking for the second driveway on the L signed for access to the game lands.
12.2 miles--turn L on the access road. CAUTION: The road beyond this point is not suitable for front-wheel drive cars, though my good old Accord was able to make it up the roughest washboard section on the second try. If you don't have 4WD or high clearance, park here and walk the final 0.4 miles to the trailhead. The access road is narrow and overgrown, and there is nowhere to turn around or pass. However, there is plenty of room to park where the road ends.

The hike starts with a half-mile nearly level along the 3880 contour, climbs steeply (900 feet in a mile), and then moderates once you reach the summit ridge.

0.0 miles (3860 feet)--park at end of NC Wildlife Commission road. Head east past brown gate. The road undulates as it crosses three creeks over culverts.
0.5 miles (3900 feet)--just past the third stream crossing, the road turns R and follows the creek steeply uphill. From this point, the road has not been maintained and is essentially a wide, rocky, trail.
0.8 miles (4320 feet)--the first of a series of 8 switchbacks. The first of these actually loses a little altitude, but the rest gain 500 feet over 0.6 miles.
1.5 miles (4800 feet)--road reaches the ridge NW of the summit and narrows into a trail which is overgrown in places but not hard to follow.
1.65 miles (4950 feet)--faint path on the R leads SE toward Big Rock.As far as I could see, the woods were fairly open, but I'm sure the bushwhacking gets more difficult as you get onto the ridge.
1.75 miles (5030+ feet)--trail arrives at the summit of Huckleberry Rock. The rusty old flagpole on the summit has fallen. There are three high outcropping on Huckleberry Rock, one next to the end of the trail and two others within 100 yards further east. All are worth exploring.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1260 ft / 383 m
    Extra Gain:60 ft / 18 m
    Round-Trip Distance:3.5 mi / 5.6 km
    Route:Old roads
    Trailhead:NCWildlife road off Oak Trail  3860 ft / 1176 m
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:1 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:1 Hours 

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