Gilmer County High Point Trip Report

Big Bald Mountain (4,075 ft)

Rich Mountain (4,040+ ft)

Date: April 16, 2000
Author: Fred Lobdell

There are two possibilities for Gilmer County's highest point. These are Big Bald Mountain, shown on the topographic map as having a spot elevation of 4,075 at the summit, and Rich Mountain, whose summit is surrounded by a 4,040-foot contour. However, two guidebooks and the Forest Service all show Big Bald as having a summit elevation of 4,081 feet. If this is accurate, then Big Bald Mountain is the true high point of Gilmer County. But since we were unsure of the accuracy of that number, we ascended both peaks.

Both mountains lie in the Rich Mountain Wilderness of the Chattahoochee National Forest, and are accessible to the public. However, in this case "accessible" must be considered a flexible term. If you're driving an ordinary passenger car, then Gilmer County must be considered one of the ten toughest county high points in the East. But if you have access to an ATV or even a 4-wheel drive high-clearance vehicle, then the actual hike is diminished to a couple of much more manageable bushwhacks.

Our first attempt to enter this area was from the east, at Big Creek Gap on Big Creek Road. Here the topographic map shows a "4 WD Restricted" road following the ridge line for about 4 miles over High Top, Wolfpen Mountain, and Tickanetley Bald and going past the south side of Rich Mountain. If you were on foot, it would seem best at this point to bushwhack up the south side of Rich Mountain and down the northeast ridge, regaining a four-wheel drive road at the gap marked by a spot elevation of 3,709. We were told later that this was a very nice hike, and that the ridge line is marked by a number of small lakes not shown on the topo. However, the first 1.5 miles or so of this road lie on private property, and the sign said, among other things, "No Access to Government Land". It may be that the property owner simply wanted to discourage the hordes of hunters that probably descend on the area in hunting season. Something an area resident said later indicated that the owner might be amenable to a reasonable and courteous request to hike his land. But we were unaware of this at the time.

At this point we decided we had to consult the Forest Service office in Blue Ridge. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get a lot of information there, but they did suggest that we start from Stanley Gap on Rock Creek Road. As it was now after 3 p.m., we felt that it was too late to begin a hike of this length, so we went on to Black Mountain and acquired the Dawson County high point.

The following morning we drove Rock Creek Road from its intersection with GA 515 south of the hamlet of Cherry Log to Stanley Gap. For most of its length this is a good-quality gravel road. From Stanley Gap, a dirt road goes south into the Rich Mountain Wilderness for about 3 miles before swinging around to the west and going all the way back to GA 515. This road is apparently open all year; there are gates, but they don't seem to be used. The first 0.8 miles leads to a sign board and, while rough, is passable by a passenger car if handled with care. Beyond this point the road becomes deeply rutted, bouldery, and quite wet in places, and is impassable by a passenger car. A high-clearance vehicle is required, and 4-wheel drive is strongly recommended. From this point we took Kevin's pick-up another mile to a stream crossing where we found four people and three vehicles camped. We decided that this was as far as we should take the pick-up, but two of the campers' vehicles were going to go on up the road and they very kindly offered us a ride as far as they were going. They took us another 2 miles or so, past Horsepen Gap and as high as 3,600 feet elevation.

From this point we hiked up the road for about 1.5 miles to the gap at 3,709 feet on the northeast side of Rich Mountain. We bushwhacked up this ridge, going first southwest and then west, for about a half mile and 300 feet of gain. The summit is marked by a large stone fireplace and chimney, about 12 feet tall, BM Rich and two indicator bench marks, and a collapsed fire tower. We then descended to the gap the way we had come, where we enjoyed both lunch and chatting with the people we met there.

We then hiked back east on the road for about 0.4 miles to where a dirt track comes in on the left (north) side. This dirt track is gated (gate # 7) but we could see where the ATV's had gone around the gate. We followed this track for about a half mile to its end, past the east end of Little Bald Mountain and over a small rise to a clearing. We then bushwhacked almost due east to the summit of Big Bald Mountain, a distance of about 0.3 miles with a rise of about 230 feet. Although the topographic map shows only a spot elevation here, we found a bench mark "Big Bald 1934" at the summit. We then continued east-northeast, staying on the ridge line and descending about 500 feet in a half mile of bushwhacking until we regained the road. From here it was a road walk of about two miles to get back to the pick-up.

For us, this amounted to about 4.5 miles of road walking and 2 miles of not-especially difficult bushwhacking with a total elevation gain of around 1,100 feet, not counting minor ups and downs. Somebody leaving a passenger car at the signboard and doing the rest of the trip on foot would have a road walk of about 8.5 miles and 2 miles of bushwhacking, with a total elevation gain around 2,300 feet, again not counting minor ups and downs. This is not a trip to be begun in mid-afternoon.

There is a third possibility for the approach to this area, and it may make for a shorter hike. I mentioned above that the road swung around to the west and went all the way to GA 515. We were told that the road got "really rough" in that direction. A map in the Forest Service office in Blue Ridge showed parking a mile or two up this road at a place called Persimmon Gap. It is possible that this might lead to a shorter hike, but it needs investigation.

Lastly, if you happen to have ATV's along, this can be reduced to a couple of bushwhacks totaling a bit more than 1.5 miles and an easy road walk of about 0.8 miles. But you should allow a couple of hours just for driving this road. I'm not enough of a mountain bike expert to say whether the road was suitable for such transportation; it looked pretty rough to me.