Russell County High Point Trip Report

Beartown Mtn - 2 spots (4,689 ft)

Date: November 12, 2000
Author: Ron Tagliapietra

Eastern highest 50 cohp, Eastern Toughest 20 cohp, and VA High 5

Since 3.5 miles of the 4 are off-trail, summer brush would be unbearable. However, since spring and fall offer less daylight, you may want to bring flashlights and you should consider a backpack of less than a mile (to avoid toting the pack up the entire 2100-foot gain). Although the management area's drive-in campground is open only seasonally and costs, the ranger assures us that backpacking is allowed and is free (though you may want to check on hunting season). Compare the report below with the USGS quads Elk Garden (both hp spots) and Saltville (the off-trail approach). You will need both quads and a compass on your hike.

Directions: Drive north from Saltville on 634 to Allison Gap (town). Turn left on 613 and drive to the sign for Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area just beyond the bridge over Big Tumblin Creek. Turn right at the sign and drive the gravel road a mile or two paralleling the creek (and crossing it twice). There is a facility (with info and some concessions) on the right (signed but often closed and gated). Beyond this is a ranger residence also on the right (and signed). Opposite the ranger residence is a road on the left with a sign that says "Muck". This road can be gated, and if gated will add about 0.7 mile to your hike. Follow it, crossing under power lines twice near the start, paralleling Dry Branch, and park at the upper gate. The road, residence, power lines, and Dry Branch are all on the topo. The upper gate is just below a junction where a possible alternate route diverges from ours. Our route goes right to take the road north to gain the a very broad East-West ridge. Going left instead is unknown terrain to me, but the map shows the trail continuing west up Dry Branch and reaching a ridge at the west edge of the Saltville Quad; the ridge then goes north to join our route at what I call Junction Knob. You may also wonder if Mutters Gap offers closer access, but Fred Lobdell investigated that side, finding it private and posted. In fact, the summit is the western boundary of the Management Area, so everything west is private. Highway 80 farther west offers a beautiful view, though.

Hiking Route Summary: Landmarks in caps for reference (names are our own); distances from the GPS (units?) with interpolated estimates as useful.

0.1 Jct. with alt. route, stay right
0.3 Jct. boulder, stay left.
0.4 TRAILS END (green field nestled against hillside)
0.8 BUMP
1.1 Top of HEAD WALL, having gained BROAD RIDGE
1.6 descend right to ARCH
1.7 BOULDER scramble left to GAP
1.9 cross GAP to cliffs
2.0 top of CHUTE
2.6 extent of previous attempt
3.0 NF-Mgmt. Area boundary blazes begin
3.2 sharp north TURN in summit ridge
3.75 SUMMIT 4689, our CAIRNS

Detailed Route Description

Road Walk of 0.4 mile: Hike up the road beyond the upper road gate to a U curve Stay right following the curve (the less worn 4 WD jct. path that heads straight into the grassy field is the alt. route above). Ascend gently, then curve left, descend into a dip and reach a fork near a large boulder. Ignore the blue-blazed right hand route but turn left, noting a grassy green area ahead nestled against the hillside. When you cross the green field, reach TRAILS END at the hillside.

Climb of 0.2 mile to camp: Climb the hillside for about 0.1 until you see a larger ridge ascending from the left. Ascend steeply to it, and mark this FIRST RIDGE (branches across ridge) for your return. Turn right uphill for another 0.1 mile or so along the narrow ridge line. You will soon see a series of 2 or three ledges (a mini Hillary Step?) and just above this is a wider flat area large enough for a tent. This is our BASE CAMP.

Half-mile steep climb to BROAD RIDGE. Continue up the ridge line above camp. In about 0.2 mile the ridge line tops THE BUMP (small knoll where ridge then actually descends noticeably a dozen feet or so). Continue up the widening ridge (with drop off right) beyond some distinctive rocks to a HEAD WALL, to the left you will find a path that ascends more gradually and then through a bit of brush to the BROAD RIDGE. Turn left (west) up the broad ridge, but mark your spot well for your return.

Mile ascent of Broad Ridge: Follow the broad ridge through open woods until it gets rocky, reaching a quasi-summit after 0.4 mile. Just beyond, descend a ledge on the right side and hug the cliff line to an ARCH (hole through rock on your left). Continuing west, the ridge gets rocky again, and look for a BOULDER DESCENT on your left. Stay high and continue west briefly until you reach THE GAP, about 0.1 mile from the arch and below a high cliff. (If you miss or avoid the boulder scramble, you will soon find yourself crawling under brush to the top of the cliff, where you must backtrack a bit and can then descend right, but the boulder scramble is much faster). Continue west for 0.3 across the GAP (nice open woods along ridge line west of 4360 summit of broad ridge and east of 4560 summit where broad ridge meets south ridge) until you see high rocks again. Stay left (both right and the middle canyon are slow, though there is another arch) and walk only 50 yards or so until you can easily ascend right to the ridge line. At the top of this CHUTE (neither especially narrow nor steep, but descriptive in contrast to the steeper rock faces everywhere else) perhaps 0.1 from the gap, turn left and follow the "path" with an occasional brown blaze through rhododendron up the ridge for another 0.1 mile to JUNCTION RIDGE (4,560 ft). Here the southern ridge (alternate approach) joins the broad ridge to form the summit ridge.

Summit Ridge for 1.65 miles: This ridge is tough. It is wide enough that you can rarely retrace a route, and you need be off only a few yards to miss previous landmarks. You may find a few pink markers when you first reach the ridge, but they lead nowhere (useful landmarks though). Just head west, trying to stay along the southern edge of the ridge to avoid the hopelessly tangled rhododendron thickets that climb up the ridge from the Red Creek drainage on the north. As you head west you should start to find herd paths, which you can attempt to follow as long as they head west and stay southward. As you go west, you will find AIRPLANE WRECKAGE spread out for a quarter mile. Note the pieces for reference (the nose cone standing upright, two large fuselage sections, etc.). You will probably not see all the parts either direction, but landmarks here are all worth a lot. Another half mile west, you will find a SECOND WRECK of an even smaller plane. This one seems more intact and has a door hanging loose. Soon after this, you will find boundary blazes and markers for the Nat. Forest and Wildlife Mgmt. Area. The going gets easier and the boundary follows the ridge to the summit. There is one confusing spot, where the markers split. One side goes level or down toward Red Creek (near the SW corner of the summit ridge), while the other stays left and heads uphill from the top of that SW knob.

Homestretch: Turn north at the SW Knob. Continue uphill following markers until the pathway passes between two rock outcrops. We believe that this is the summit area. We did not find the BM, though we looked at all the outcrops here. On the right side at the narrow passage we built a cairn on what we think is the highest spot. There are 3 other likely candidates though. Steps before the narrowest defile and also on the right we built a smaller cairn. On the left at the defile is also a high rock, and if you continue to outcrops left from there, you will find a high rock with a view west. The map shows BM on the NW edge of the summit contour and right on the boundary, consistent with these rocks. Beyond, the pathway descends a bit and seems to dead end in a clearing after another 0.1 mile. If you poke into the thickets, though you can find more blazed trees and can push through following them for another 0.1 mile or so to the NE rise (which seems almost certainly lower than the S area).