Pocahontas County Highpoint Trip Report

Comments regarding Elevations and Prominences

Date: August 22, 2004
Author: Ryan Richardson

USGS BM Thorny (4,840+ ft) on Cass USGS quadrangle
Bald Knob on Back Allegheny Mtn (4,840+ ft) on Cass USGS quadrangle
one area southeast of Mace Knob (4,840+ ft) on Mingo USGS quadrangle

State highpointers, county highpointers, and prominence enthusiasts might be interested to know that the question "What is the second highest mountain in West Virginia?" has been answered definitively - Thorny Flat in Snowshoe ski area (former location of BM Thorny), elevation 4,848 feet.

The other two candidates, one at the northern end of the Snowshow ski area (4,840+ feet) and Bald Knob (with BM elevation 4,842 feet), are definitely lower.

I ascertained last weekend when I visited Cass Scenic Railroad state park, home of Bald Knob. After riding the train to the observation deck and hiking to the HP of Bald Knob, I returned to the train station and had a long conversation with the woman at the Pocahontas County information center. She said that Snowshoe used the latest surveying techniques to re-survey all their properties in the area (which are extensive) in summer 2003. It was determined that Thorny Flat (this is the term she used for it, technically it is unnammed) is the highest point at Snowshoe and that it has elevation 4,848 ft, 6 feet higher than Bald Knob. In fact, they found exact spot elevations for virtually all the summits in their property and these were published in the Marlinton newspaper last summer with the title "Mountain Mystery Solved". Locating a copy of this paper is left as an exercise to the reader; it would be a windfall for prominence calculations.

So this gives Thorny a prominence of 1,688+ ft (40), and for Bald Knob 882+ ft (40). Thorny is the undisputed 2nd highest in WV, highest in Pocahontas county, and 3rd most prominent in WV (after Spruce Knob and Reddish Knob).

It is true that Cass Scenic RRSP, in their literature, claims Bald Knob is the second highest in the state. She said that she has been pestering the state park to update their information for the past year. Obviously the state park is in no hurry to reprint a whole bunch of handouts, particularly ones that bump their mountain down from #2 highest to #3 highest in the state. She speculated that when the state park opened in 1965, it was known that Bald Knob was 4,842 ft, but at that time Snowshoe did not exist and Thorny was in the middle of privately held logging country, for which no one knew the elevations. (Apparently BM Thorny was removed a very long time ago.) When Snowshoe opened in 1974, preliminary surveys showed that Thorny was higher than Bald Knob but the state didn't consider that reason enough to change their literature. It wasn't until the extensive new survey last summer that it became certain which was higher.

Since I climbed both points at Snowshoe earlier this summer, I can now claim Pocahontas County, as well as one of the southeast's Fifty Finest prominences.