Randolph County High Point Trip Report

Mount Porte Crayon (4,770 ft)

Date: June 11, 1999
Author: Fred Lobdell

Mount Porte Crayon was named in 1941 for General David Hunter Strother, a man of many and varied accomplishments, who did some exploration in the mountains in this part of West Virginia. General Strother was a Virginian who served in the Union army in the Civil War. Porte Crayon was the name he signed to his paintings and drawings.

There are two reasonable approaches to Mt. Porte Crayon. The first of these, from the south, involves a hike of about 12 miles with an elevation gain of about 2,400 feet. The second, from the east, has a gain of only about 1,000 feet, but the total hike is about 15 miles. In either case, a bushwhack from the end of the trail to the summit is required. I chose the shorter but steeper hike, which is described here.

From the intersection of US 33/WV 55 with WV 32 in Harman, go north on 32 about 4 miles to county road 32/2. (There is a brown sign here for Dolly Sods Wilderness. "Sods" is a local name for an open, grassy area at higher elevations. The area was first settled by a family of German origin named Dahle.) Turn right (east) here and follow this road to its end at a "T" intersection. Turn around here and go back west 0.8 miles to a bridge over Flat Rock Run. Continue west and after passing 3 or 4 driveways on the left (south) side of the road, you'll see a large barn owned by a stable operator.

Just past his driveway is a small substation with some gas lines, and just west of that is a small brown sign on the fence: "Flat Rock Run Trail". This is VERY easy to miss. I was told that parking by the gas lines subjected me to towing, and the stable operator didn't offer to let me use his place. I was able to get my car completely off the road, but the parking situation is not good. One reason for this is that most of the first mile of trail is on private land, for which the Forest Service has a permanent easement for hiking. However, as a ranger explained to me, where the trail begins is not where the FS has the easement; legally, the easement has never been enforced. Neither he nor I was able to understand this; perhaps it's local politics.

At the sign on the fence, climb over the gate, then over another gate a little further along. From here walk around the barn mentioned above; the trail continues due south behind the southeast corner of the barn. Here it is marked by a white diamond on a brown stake. However, the trail itself from this point to its end is blazed with blue plastic diamonds. For the first couple of miles the trail continues south, roughly parallel to Flat Rock Run. It then turns sharp right and starts following the switchbacks on an old railroad grade. You'll make a left on the next switchback but then continue straight at the next two switchbacks.

At about 3 miles from the start you'll cross the right fork of Flat Rock Run, and at about 3.5 miles you'll turn right and make a relatively steep ascent that crosses several switchbacks. The trail ends at about 5 miles at its junction with the Roaring Plains Trail, which goes off to the left (east). This junction is marked by a sign.

From this point Allan de Hart in his guidebook, Hiking the Mountain State (published in 1986) says that an old railroad grade leads off to the right and goes to the summit, but I was able to follow it only for a hundred feet or so. There were various faint trails here and there, but the best course seemed to be to bushwhack directly to the summit.

I found a raised and rocky area on the east ridge with good views, and deluded myself into thinking that this might be the summit. But when I looked to the west, I saw the true summit. The summit area itself, above about 4,700 feet, is thickly grown with spruce and rhododendron, making for a most unpleasant bushwhack, especially as I was wearing shorts.

It took me half an hour to push through to the west and southwest along the summit contour, and an equal amount of time on the return trip. At one point I climbed up on a fallen tree to get a look around and the ground seemed to be slightly higher to the southwest. So I continued in that direction until it seemed that I might be at the highest area, then climbed another fallen tree. From this vantage point I spotted some surveyor's ribbon on a tree about a hundred feet off to my left, so I pushed on in that direction. When I got closer I saw that several trees had been so decorated, and there was ribbon lying around on the ground.

Breaking out into a small clearing, I saw some rocks lying around and, set in a pipe raised a foot or so above the ground, bench mark "Thunder"!

The return trip requires some careful map and compass work to get back to the trail. Regardless of which trail you intersect, you'll need to turn left to get back to your car.

The alternative, 15-mile hike begins on Forest Service Road 70. At the "T" intersection mentioned above, a sign informs one that the Dolly Sods Wilderness is 1.4 miles to the right. Turn right and drive the 1.4 miles; this marks the beginning of FS 19. Continue on FS 19, a good-quality gravel road, as it climbs steadily for several miles. Keep right at the intersection with FS 75 and shortly come to FS 70 on the right. Unfortunately, FS 70 is gated.

If you have brought a mountain bike, then this is a good place to use it; it will cut your hiking distance almost in half. Hike or bike up FS 70 for 3.4 miles, where it ends. Here the Roaring Plains Trail starts and goes to its end at 3.3 miles at the signed junction with the Flat Rock Run Trail, described above. From here it is the same bushwhack to the summit.