Caldwell County Highpoint Trip Report
Date: December 31, 2007
Author: Edward Earl
Calloway Peak is the highest of several summits on Grandfather Mountain, which
is the home of the famous "Mile High Swinging Bridge", a tourist pedestrian
suspension bridge. There are 3 ways to approach Calloway Peak: the Daniel Boone
Scout Trail on the east, which starts on the Blue Ridge Parkway very close to
the Watauga/Caldwell county line; the Profile Trail from the north at NC-105;
and the Grandfather Trail from the southwest, which starts from the main tourist
area (at the suspension bridge) off of US-221 a few miles east of Linville. The
trail identified on the 7.5' topo as the DB Scout Trail is actually the
Grandfather Trail. All three trails involve a little under 2000 feet of total
gain, though the Grandfather Trail has somewhat less net gain due to a higher
start and a substantial amount of up-and-down over each of several rocky peaks
on the Grandfather Mountain massif. The first two of these trails can be hiked
by purchasing a permit at a number of outdoor-oriented retail stores in Boone,
Blowing Rock, and perhaps other nearby towns for about $7 per person. I,
however, opted for the $14 entrance fee for the main tourist area that provides
access to the Grandfather Trail, owing to increased convenience, limited season,
greater ease of obtaining information, and closure of the Blue Ridge Parkway
where the DB Scout Trail starts.
I began my hike shortly before 11 AM under crisp, clear, blue skies and chilly
temperatures only slightly above freezing. The trail surface was often rock
slabs and these were often covered with a layer of ice, which requires careful movement.
There are some cables and ladders for assistance on slabs and boulders.
After nearly 700 feet of gain, the trail tops out on MacRae Peak
(identified as Raven Rocks on the topo), whose summit boulder can be climbed
with the help of a ladder.
Coming down to MacRae Gap just northeast of the peak, I faced my toughest
challenge of the trip: a 100-foot series of steep slabs thoroughly plastered
with a few inches of ice. There was a cable but the total lack of dry rock for
foot placement rendered it useless. To climb down it would have been suicidally hazardous.
An overhanging face on the right and a drop-off on the left made
circumnavigation nigh impossible. I finally found a dry rock slab on the left,
leading to a couple of frozen moss ledges from which I could downclimb a small
tree several feet to easier ground where I could finally traverse to the bottom
of this very dangerous obstacle.
The crux of the route may have been behind me but I still faced some scrambling
under truck-sized boulders (no ice, thankfully) and up a class 3 chute before
finally topping out on easier ground on the summit ridge of Calloway.
After traversing a long slab ridge down to a broad saddle, I arrived at the summit of
Calloway after a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes hiking time. Two rock outcrops
mostly hidden under short pine trees served as candidates for the highest
natural ground. To be sure of reaching the HP of Caldwell county (whose western
tip is an asymptotically narrowing sharp point that may or may not reach the
summit of Calloway), I continued on the trail several hundred feet E of the
summit, climbing onto any boulder on the ridge crest, until the ridge began to
On the return trip, I discovered that just before the dreaded hazardous ice
section was a trail junction from which I was able to take the Underwood trail,
which contours around the north side of MacRae Peak instead of going over its summit.
That allowed me to bypass the ice, hence the trip was much safer under
the current conditions.
I required a little over 4 hours for the entire hike. Icy conditions accounted
for much of this time. A highpointer in good physical shape and comfortable on
class 3 rock in good trail conditions could probably do it in about 3 hours.
Previous trip reports indicate that this trail is difficult despite the cable
and ladder improvements. This is basically true but it is not due to inadequate
improvements. The trail is well maintained and the cables and ladders are well
anchored and in good condition. It's an inherently rocky route, challenging for
many people not adept on rock.