Buncombe County Highpoint Trip Report

Potato Knob (6,400+ ft)

Date: August 5, 2006
Author: Don Desrosiers

Those of you who have ever taken a course in Organizational Behavior would have recognized this hike as a classic example of group-think. Too many people with too much ability and experience, possessing too little specific information, making too many assumptions and asking too few questions thus making too many bad decisions, being too much convinced of the correctness of said decision(s). Further, since this was scheduled to be a fairly short walk, most people left their TR printouts, topos, compasses, GPSs, and gear in the cars. We have met the enemy and he is us.

This was a large group effort of Konventioneers, definitely 15 in total with the addition of Ron Tagliapietra.

From the intersection of the Blue Ridge parkway and the road to Mount Mitchell (mile marker 355.4), take the Mount Mitchell road approximately 2 miles to the state park visitors center at Stepps Gap. On the west side of the road there will be a gated gravel road heading up toward Mount Gibbes and Clingmans Peak. Take that road.

About 50 yards from the fence on Clingmans Peak is where the fun began. There is a trail to the west (right) that descends through the woods. You want that trail. It is noted in several trip reports. There was a neat pile of lumber at the trailhead. Both Don Holmes and I noted the pile but totally missed its significance.

Instead, the group walked to the fence and split up, part going left, part going right. We began a serious bushwhack more or less along the fence. A (numerically) small group of John Mitchler, Fred Lobdell, and myself went to the right, eventually coming through a hole in the fence, back up toward Clingmans Peak, back down through the very thick woods, back through the fence, and over several large boulders where we met the other group that had gone over Clingmans via a route that was apparently only slightly less circuitous.

Eventually, we wandered through the thick woods and came to the famed cabin (35° 44' 4.7" N, 82° 17' 14.7" W). Since nobody paid much attention to the one trip report printout we actually had, we wandered along the edge of the clearing, finally finding the faint trail. At the fork about 1/4 mile from Potato (we had two working GPSs that were being actively ignored), we went to the right, not the left as clearly noted in Fred's 2001 trip report. Finally realizing our mistake, we reluctantly persuaded ourselves to take the left fork, wandered some more through the woods and arrived at the rocks on Potato better than 2-1/2 hours after leaving the cars.

On the return trip we took a "slightly different route", sticking strictly with the trail. It brought us quickly to the previously-mentioned cabin. At the side of the cabin, the trail continued, arriving at the lumber pile mentioned above in about 1/4 mile. From there it was a straight shot down the gravel road to the cars for a return trip of less than 45 minutes.

We will let the reader draw their own conclusion as to the moral of the above story.