Bell County Highpoint Trip Report

three areas on Cumberland Mtn (3,400+ ft)

Date: September 24, 2004
Author: Fred Lobdell

The three areas that are the candidates for the HP of Bell County, KY, are all along the VA-KY state line on the crest of Cumberland Mountain. They are also all in Cumberland Gap National Historic Park so there is no problem with public access. I only managed to get to one of the three areas; the point of this report is not to report a partial success but to suggest a way to the ridge crest that eliminates most of the hiking elevation gain. (Edward Earl can stop reading here.)

I hiked up using the Ewing Trail, following Bob Packard's report. (I was told by a park ranger that the Chadwell Gap Trail, used by the Oesers, is now "permanently" closed.) After 2.6 miles and about 1,700 feet of gain, the Ewing Trail intersects the Ridge Trail. The latter runs for 16.6 miles along the crest of Cumberland Mountain. According to the Park Service, there is more than 11,000 feet of elevation change along this trial but, as it's unnecessary to hike the whole path, the ridge crest elevation change necessary to do the Bell County HPs is much less.

About halfway up the Ewing Trail, I was suddenly struck with the thought that there is a much better and quicker, albeit more expensive, way to gain that elevation. However, I was committed (or I should be committed) so I slogged on. At the intersection with the Ridge Trail, I turned left and continued southwest along the ridge for another 2 miles or so until getting to the landmark trail side rock mentioned by Ken Oeser in his report. Here I bushwhacked to the right to the summit area and found "Oesers Dome", a 12-foot high boulder with near-vertical sides in its lower parts. I was unable to get myself up this and so resigned myself to being unable to claim Bell County on this trip. I'll have to come back with some sucker -- er, fellow county highpointer -- and do this final ascent with assistance. (For comparison purposes, I got myself up the summit rock on Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park without assistance.)

From Oesers Dome, it is a relatively easy quarter-mile bushwhack to the second area, a large flat rock with fine views to the southeast. As I knew I couldn't complete Bell that day, I didn't hike the additional 3 miles to the third area but rather turned around and retraced my steps back to my car.

Now for the easy way: There is an outfit called Wilderness Road Tours that takes visitors from the visitors center at park headquarters to a place called Hensley Settlement, an early 20th century mountain community. They will also pick up visitors at a parking area on KY 217 at the foot of the road up to the settlement. The fee for this is $14 for a round trip, or $8 for a one-way trip. Reservations may be made at the Visitors Center or by calling (606) 248-2817, extension 1075.

From Hensley Settlement, at just under 3,300 feet elevation, it is a half mile or so on trail and bushwhack to the southwesternmost of the three areas. From there it is about a 6-mile round trip hike to the other two areas, described above. The tour bus stays at the settlement for an hour and a half, so unless you're very speedy you won't be able to make the return trip.

Once you're back to the settlement it is a 4.6 mile road walk, downhill all the way, to the parking area on KY 217.