Caldwell County Highpoint Trip Report

Calloway Peak

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 drop significantly.

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.