Madison County Highpoint Trip Report

Crabtree Bald (5,320+ ft) and Sandymush Bald (5,152 ft)

Date: December 23, 2007
Author: Shannon Dillmore

To get to the "trailhead", we took off on I-40 to exit 24, heading north on NC 208, turning right on Upper Crabtree and then taking a left on Bald Creek Road. I located the old Messer place, with the mailbox (3207) still there, and parked at a gate on the driveway. The house was abandoned, with the junked car in the front yard. Peter Barr is trying to arrange permanent access through a new housing development that is going up here and he secured access for me. He has requested that anyone wishing to approach this route go through him, as the issue will become more sensitive once residences are actually built. Edward Earl's recent report also suggests an alternative approach that I didn't scope out.

We took a gravel road about 2 miles to a col. We took a couple of wrong turns, first taking a road to the left of one that had a new concrete bridge. This cost us about 0.6 mile and an additional 300 feet of gain. My advice for anyone else taking this route is to follow the concrete bridge and then try to follow what looks to be the most maintained road. The good news was that the weather was clearing, with no sign of the cold and wet weather we experienced the night before. By the time we reached the col, it was sunny and about 45 degrees.

To get to Crabtree's summit, we followed an old jeep road, making for fast travel, except for a steep portion where the mud caused a lot of falling and losing ground. We got to the top, with a repeater and old shack. The summit offered gorgeous views. I've heard that one can see all 6000+ foot peaks from the summit but I don't know the geography well enough to verify this. We spent about 5 minutes on the summit but knew we had a lot of work ahead of us and were quickly on our way.

We retraced our steps to the col at the end of the gravel road. Our plan was to stay on the ridgeline, going over a few 300-foot hills on our way to Sandymush. A fenced pasture on the north side of the ridge wasn't posted but we wanted to avoid going on private property so we bushwhacked through a thorny but not too dense forest along a fence that marked the ridge. We went over the first minor summit but the ridge was starting to be completely overtaken by the fence and, seeing no postings, we went under the fence. We found an old jeep road and followed that for quite a while, making for much faster travel again. We passed a bench set atop a bald at the second summit along the ridge, the summit just southwest of Buckeye Gap. As we descended into Buckeye Gap, we saw a gravel road that crossed the gap with a house well southeast of a gap and a metal gate on the northwest side. We quickly crossed the gravel road and went up yet another hill. As we approached the hill crest, we encountered a metal gate that was posted but in the direction we were coming from. This was the first indication that we may have been trespassing but, since no name or number was on the placard, I couldn't tell if this was owned by the contact that had granted access or not.

We proceeded onward, as the direction we were traveling was not posted and we soon reached the tri-county junction at 5000 feet. Near the top were nice views and a fire ring. From here, we traveled down an ATV track through a forest and crossed a fence that was posted again with no name or number. We made it to Sandymush, I took a couple of pictures, then hustled back. Some nasty clouds were coming in from the north, confirming the forecast for bad weather in the late afternoon.

We retraced our path to the road terminus. The ups and downs of the ridge were more difficult on the way back, probably due to me not hiking much in the past few months.

We made it back to our car after the dull walk down the gravel road. With the wrong turns, our round trip distance was 12.2 miles with about 4,600 feet of elevation gain. A nice workout that took my dog and me 5 hours and 50 minutes.

I'm pretty sure we were trespassing at the end and, although I was glad I made it to Sandymush and Crabtree in the same hike, I'd have to recommend the Sandymush route Patrick Craft describes on his page.