Ascent of Cove Mountain on 2009-10-10

Climber: Brian Stansberry

Date:Saturday, October 10, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Cove Mountain
    Elevation:4077 ft / 1242 m

Ascent Trip Report

I left the Sugarlands Visitor Center at around 10AM and reached the Cove Mountain Trail/Laurel Falls Trail junction at 12:45PM, which was 0.1 miles from the summit. I didn't go immediately to the summit, but instead followed the Laurel Falls Trail 0.9 mi to the Little Greenbrier Trail junction and back, which added 1.8 miles and about 350ft of extra elevation to the trip. It's appx. 9 miles to the summit from the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and 4.1 miles to the summit from the Laurel Falls Trailhead along Little River Road.

The 8.4-mile Cove Mountain Trail begins at Cataract Falls. This waterfall is accessible via the Sugarlands interpretrive trail, which begins right behind the visitor center (signs point the way to the waterfall). The stroll from the visitor center to the waterfall adds about a mile to the round trip.

Beyond the falls, the trail gradually ascends northward around the east slope of the mountain to a gap created by Dry Pond Branch (traffic along US-441 below creates a continuous roar along this stretch). At the gap, the trail crosses to a west-facing slope, and continues northward to the ridgecrest. As the trail turns sharply west across the crest, it passes a private house with a fence that comes right up to the trail (at this point, the trail follows the park boundary).

Along the ridgecrest, the trail proceeds through a series of gradual inclines and declines, but nothing steep. While the first leg of the trail ascending from Cataract Falls is rocky and rutted, the second half of the trail is practically "carpeted" by flattened grass and moss. I never grew tired of the mix of mid-October green, orange, yellow, and red tree leaf colors, which were vivid in the foggy soft natural light.

The trail passes near the summit of Mt. Harrison, a subpeak of which (well north of the park boundary) is the terminus of the chairlift at Ober Gatlinburg. I didn't notice any signs of Ober Gatlinburg, other than an unpaved maintenance road that paralleled the trail for some distance. At the summit marked "Phils View" on topo maps, the forest foliage clears somewhat, but I couldn't see anything due to the dense fog. A National Park Service benchmark disk (labelled "E 137") sits atop a false summit about a half mile east of the Cove Mtn/Laurel Falls trail junction.

The Cove Mountain Trail continues westward 0.1 mile from the Cove Mountain/Laurel Falls trail junction to the summit of Cove Mountain. The old firetower at the summit has been converted into an air quality monitoring station jointly operated by the National Park Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority. A small section of the tower's stairs (to just beneath the TVA canopy) are open, but this section is still well below the treeline. Near the tower there is a National Park Service benchmark disk labelled "E 132," and several antennas.

Full route: Interpretive trail from Sugarlands Visitor Center to Cataract Falls (appx. 0.5mi) -- Cove Mountain Trail to Laurel Falls junction (8.4mi) -- Laurel Falls Trail to Little Greenbrier Trail junction (0.9mi) -- Laurel Falls Trail back to Cove Mountain Trail junction (0.9mi) -- Cove Mountain Trail to summit (0.1mi) -- Cove Mountain Trail back to Laurel Falls Trail junction (0.1mi) -- Cove Mountain Trail back to Cataract Falls (8.4mi) -- Interpretive trail back to Sugarlands Visitor Center (appx. 0.5mi)
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2965 ft / 903 m
    Total Elevation Loss:2965 ft / 903 m
    Round-Trip Distance:19.8 mi / 31.9 km
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Weather:Drizzle, Cool, Calm, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2965 ft / 903 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 2615 ft / 797 m; Extra: 350 ft / 106m
    Loss on way in:350 ft / 106 m
    Distance:10.8 mi / 17.4 km
    Route:Cove Mountain Trail
    Start Trailhead:Sugarlands Visitor Center  1462 ft / 445 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:2615 ft / 797 m
    Distance:9 mi / 14.5 km
    Route:Cove Mountain Trail
    End Trailhead:Sugarlands Visitor Center  1462 ft / 445 m

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