Bell County Highpoint Trip Report

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

Date: October 22, 2005
Author: Fred Lobdell

The three candidates for the HP of Bell County all lie in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, on the VA-KY state line. The summit party of Ryan Richardson, Mike Schwartz, Kevin Williamson, and the author tackled this one a bit differently than previous parties, hence this report.

An outfit called Wilderness Tours runs van and foot tours of Hensley Settlement, an abandoned early 20th-century settlement located on the KY side a short distance below the ridgeline. As of late 2005 these tours cost $10 for a one-way ride to the settlement and $14 for the round trip. Hikers may be dropped off at the settlement at an elevation of about 3,300 feet, thus saving more than 1,500 vertical feet of hiking. The tours leave (this year) at 9:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Reservations are strongly recommended and may be obtained by calling the visitors' center at the park.

We took the van to the settlement, stopping at the foot of the gated 5-mile road to pick me up after I left my vehicle at a large parking area. At the point where the regular tourists were dropped off, we stayed on the van and continued another 0.8 mile to the pick-up point, which is where our hike started. We followed trails for about a quarter mile or a bit more, then had to bushwhack to the summit of the knob that is shown as being topped by a small 3,400-foot contour and BM "Chadwick". A GPS unit is helpful here. Like other parties, we were unable to find the BM.

We then returned to the Ridge Trail, a wide and well-maintained path, and turned right (generally east-northeast). We followed this trail for about 2.5 miles or so, past signed Chadwell Gap and the sign for the intersecting Chadwell Gap Trail. The latter was marked by a "Temporarily Closed" sign. We understand that the reason for this closure is that the trailhead in the valley is on private property and the owner has withdrawn permission for the public to use that trailhead. Continuing generally eastward, we arrived at a height of land on the trail where a large sandstone boulder leans over the trail, a spot noted by Ken Oeser in his report. From this point it was a short bushwhack up to Oesers Dome, the easternmost candidate for the HP. With a bit of help, Ryan was able to scramble up onto this sandstone boulder, the highest part of which is about 12 feet above ground. The rest of us piled up some fallen logs to give us a leg up and, with some pushing from below and Ryan pulling from above, we all made it up. From there, it was a short bushwhack west to the third and final HP candidate.

Perhaps Oesers Dome wasn't really a HP candidate. If the county (and state) line strictly follows the center of the ridgeline, or the highest areas along it, then it might seem that Oesers Dome is a few feet on the Virginia side of the line, separated from the rocky ridge at that point by a couple of feet of ground. Still, we recommend that future HPers climb the dome anyway.

Done this way, this county HP requires a 5 to 6 mile round trip hike from the settlement, and then another 5 or 6 miles road walk back to where the pick-up vehicle is left. An idea that occurred to us during the hike (better late than never?) is to leave a vehicle at the trailhead for the Ewing Trail, at the east end of the park and a short distance off US 58 in the hamlet of that name. Then this hike could be done as described above to the two eastern HPs, from which hikers could continue east. At the junction with the Ewing Trail, a decision could be made as to whether to continue on to White Rocks, HP of the park, or descend directly. Either way, this would be a hike of 6 to 7 miles, or possibly a bit more, and would avoid retracing one's steps. I would be interested in reading a report from anybody who follows through on this idea.