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Ascent of Mount Mingus on 2016-12-26

Climber: Chris Gilsdorf

Date:Monday, December 26, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Mingus
    Location:USA-Tennessee
    Elevation:5802 ft / 1768 m

Ascent Trip Report

Rob's report proved helpful in knowing what to expect on this peak. It's not the worst bushwhack of my life--not even in the southeast!--but it's in the top 10. Maybe top 5. It's tough...

I parked at Newfound Gap, the Clingmans Dome road closed for the winter, though on this day it was in the high 40s and drizzling with no snow in sight. Hiked the half hour or so on the AT to where it dropped off the ridge (just after entering the beech enclosure). Hopped the fence and followed the mostly obvious ridgeline one mile to the summit. It's almost exactly a mile; the first 0.45 or so isn't too bad, and there's an intermittent old footpath/game path at times, otherwise mostly open forest. At one spot, there's a decent downhill section with a possible right or left ridge to follow; stay right. Beyond this point, there are some rather gnarly sections--choked deadfall, heavy brush, etc.--and while there's usually a way around it, sometimes there's not, and you just have to bash, crawl, and carefully maneuver your way through the nightmarish vegetation. Luckily, it's not continuous, and there's even occasional further sections of game trail, but it's gonna take you a while. The final 100' up to the summit finally lets up with the brush, and there's even some pretty mossy areas of forest. The summit is small and obvious, with high ground at the base of a small tree. It had taken me about 2 hours and 15 minutes to reach the top from the AT.

Not relishing the return on the ridge, nor hiking back in the dark, I decided to follow Rob's example and bushwhack due south to try to meet up with the Road Prong Trail, and then follow this uphill back to the state line, where one can hike the AT or the road back (I opted for the latter, as it avoids a few hundred extra feet of gain). Most of this descent proved a vast improvement over the ridge, with the worst sections of the downhill about the same as an average section of ridge. However, the last 200-300' of descent to the trail was considerably more brush-choked, and I found myself having to literally hike down a creek bed in a gully to get through it. I at last made it to the trail, turned left, and headed uphill to the road (where I'd discover the trail was actually closed, though this route doesn't take you into any of the burn area). I made it back to the car at sunset, 4 hours 45 minutes after setting out.

A few suggestions for those crazy enough to want to climb this thing:
-go in late fall or early winter. Minimal vegetation and no snow is ideal
-long shirt, long pants, hat. This route has very few brambles but you will still be getting a bit bashed up
-take the smallest backpack you can, or none if you can manage it. Leave the trekking poles in the car
-doing this one on a rainy day is probably not substantially more difficult or dangerous than doing it in dry weather, and I feel really adds to the atmosphere of this place. You're in a temperate rainforest, and on this ridge, you can very much appreciate it
-I would recommend descending my descent route, especially if you're pressed for time; it may well be faster ascending this way as well, though you'll want to find a start to the route that avoids the heavy brush! That said, I feel like bushwhacking Mingus Lead should be a rite of passage for any diehard Smokies explorer, or those wishing to attain Mingus's summit
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