Highpointing – GA-KY-SC-AL-FL

We’ve had this trip for months, and in October had to re-scheduled it due to COVID concerns.  I was a bit worried we were attempting some of these peaks too late in the year, and, unfortunately, ended up being right about that.  Many roads we encountered were closed, even though their status showed as ‘open’.  No matter though, we still had a great, whirlwind weekend where we were able to get in 5 Highpoints.  Originally, we’d planned on 8 (and called them the ‘bowtie 8’ because our drive would go in a bowtie pattern).  The weather had other plans. 

We flew into ATL, arriving around 11am.  The flight had been uneventful, the airport was crowded, and it seemed to take forever to make it to ground transportation (several trains were involved).  When we arrived there was an hour wait at the Enterprise counter to get our vehicle (they wouldn’t let me use the kiosk because I was paying with a debit card instead of a credit card).  On a positive note, we received an upgrade on our vehicle, and we were able to choose any vehicle in the row.  We ended up picking a Nissan SUV so we could sleep in the back, which ended up being much more comfortable than our last trip, where we slept in the front seats.

We were on our way around 1pm.   First stop: Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s Highpoint.  It rained the entire way there, and when we arrived, the parking area was shrouded in clouds. 

I wasn’t even sure we were in the right place, but after getting out my directions I realized it was a half mile walk up a closed (but paved) road.  We paid the $3 per person entry fee and parked.

The weather was miserable, so I put on my hat, jacket, and heavy-duty gloves and we were on our way, walking up the road.

The walk up this road was easy, but in today’s conditions, miserable.  It wasn’t quite snowing yet, so we were getting soaked from the rain.  It was bitterly cold. Water was running down my gloves and I had to pull my jacket hood so tight I could only see a few feet in front of me. I much prefer snow to rain. 

At the top of the hill was a plaque and a sitting area

And beyond that, the visitor’s center (closed)

It was no surprise we were the only ones here today, as the weather was brutal.  The wind picked up as we took a look around, searching for the summit marker (side note, there isn’t one.  The rangers keep it locked up inside so no one steals it).  We found the Highpointers bench, and then climbed the stairs to the tower.  Unfortunately, the tower was closed due to COVID. 

The wind picked up and it started snowing, so we decided to head back down.  We rushed to the car and headed towards our second highpoint of the day:  Clingman’s Dome, TN.  Unfortunately, the road was closed 6.5 miles from the summit, and it was still raining, so we decided to skip this Highpoint too and instead headed to Kentucky. 

We got lost driving (this happens a lot when we highpoint, the intense 4WD road should have tipped us off) and arrived late at night, walking the short distance to the summit in snow. This highpoint is on private property, so we kept our waivers on us as we looked walked around the summit.

This summit had a tower as well, but we didn’t climb it (too clod)

We made a mental note next time to add GPS coordinates to highpoints for our next trip, so we wouldn’t have such difficulties finding them, headed back to the car and drove to the summit we hoped to hike in the morning:  Mt Rogers, VA.  Passing through Gaitlinburg we noticed they were having some sort of parade/celebration, as the city was all done up in lights and there were tons of people milling about.  This looked like a fun town.  Maybe next time we’ll stay here when we come back for the highpoints we weren’t able to get this trip.  We stopped at a grocery store for some cheese, crackers, and meat (side note:  garlic ritz are the bomb) and were on our way, listening to a Harry Potter book on tape.

We arrived at 4am to the trailhead.  The snow, which was supposed to stop around midnight, showed no signs of stopping.  We decided to get a few hours rest and start out at first light.  The wind howled and blew snow around us as we slept, or rather, tried to sleep, as we were slightly afraid the car would tip over in the wind.  We were comfortable sleeping in the back with our sleeping bags and heated blanket, but the noise from the wind kept us awake.  At 6am we turned on the heater, and at 7am we called it.  The wind and snow were just too much for an attempt today. 

On to the next highpoint! 

We crossed into North Carolina, and attempted to take the Blue Ridge Parkway to the summit of Mt Mitchell, but it waws closed.  We then tried to take a back route, and got pretty close.  The weather was nice and there wasn’t any snow on the ground, but we encountered a winter closure gate.  Hmmmm.  They should really publicize things.  There are a lot of great dispersed camping spots here.

No worries though:  on to the next highpoint! 

We were on our way to South Carolina.  Sassafras Mountain was my favorite highpoint of the trip.  Not only does it have a cool name, but the road was open to the top and it was a beautiful day!  There’s a short hike to the summit area just beyond the closed gate.

We walked up the gravel road to a very nicely done highpoint.

The summit marker, bench, and plaques were easy to find

We walked up the stairs to the observation area, and realized we were on the NC/SC state line!  So cool!  So, of course we took photos.

Check out the view from the observation area

Sassafras Mountain: 

It was still early in the day, so we decided to drive over to visit the Alabama State Highpoint as well (Cheaha Mountain).  We ended up starting out the wrong way and heading back into South Carolina

But we quickly noticed our mistake and turned around.  After arriving at the State Park (which had people camping but no open bathrooms) we paid the entrance fee (the girl who took our money wasn’t wearing a COVID mask, and was a little rude) and drove to the observation area.  This was another nice observation area.

We were the only ones there, so we went inside and climbed the stairs

The stairs looked pretty cool on the way back down.

After doing some calculations we realized we had time to drive all the way to the beach and visit Florida’s highpoint tomorrow. We stopped to get gas and noticed Alabama doesn’t have a COVID mask mandate in place.  The town we drove through was sketchy, and I got some very negative looks from the locals when I wore a mask while getting gas.  The people giving me the looks looked to be members of street gangs, so we didn’t stay long.  We drove all the way to Chocktaw Beach and parked on the side of the road, backing the SUV in.  We were right next to the water, and I was excited to wake up to the sunrise the next morning.  We ate our dinner (drive thru taco-bell) and I jotted some notes down in my journal.  How cool was it we were sleeping on the beach tonight?  Sorry, no pictures of this, as it was dark.  In the end the sunrise wasn’t that spectacular and we forgot to take pictures, but it’s a memory I’ll never forget.

It was an hour from the beach to Britton Hill, Florida’s highest point.  At 345’ it’s not much of a highpoint.  In fact, it’s not even a valid peak.  The park was nice though (not the bathrooms, as they were quite filthy, but the park itself, Lakewood Park, was nice).

And now for the 5 hour drive back to ATL.  There was considerably less traffic as we made it back to Georgia

Some notes:

  • There was a lot of Christmas cheer in the form of holiday light displays
  • We passed no less than 500 Baptist churches
  • We saw a lot of deer
  • They close Blue Ridge Parkway in winter, even though they say they don’t
  • The cops in Alabama only have blue lights on their patrol cars
  • We didn’t see any wildlife except for deer (I was kind of expecting to see armadillos in FL)

Colored Peaks


RT Length: 15.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 4692’

Partner: Steffen

I’m calling this post “Colored Peaks” because really, there were 6 peaks and it would have taken too long to title: Gold Flake – 10165, Red Flake – 10650, Blue Mountain – 9856, Yellow Mountain – 9982, Black Mountain (UR) – 10132, & Green Mountain – 10140

The forecast for wind today was between 70-90mph up high, so instead of hiking above treeline today we chose to hike some 10K and 9K peaks. It was still pretty windy, but at least we weren’t being blown away.  We got a bit of a late start because Old Stage Road takes forever to drive.  It’s nicely plowed but still icy in the morning.  I decided to park at the furthest peak first and work our way back.  The first two peaks were each less than a mile in length, and more like warm-ups for the rest of the day.   I’m really glad we decided to do them first because if we’d left them for the end I’m not sure we would have summited them.

Gold Flake – 10165 (so named because of the gold tin and golden morning)

I parked my truck on the side of the road and we headed east through the trees


And then south to the (rocky) summit.


There were no views on this summit, so we took a quick picture


Signed and replaced the summit register


And made our way back to the truck.


This was a very simple and straightforward trek up and down the mountain (without a trail or views).

Red Flake – 10650’ (so named because of the red tin)

We hopped in the truck, leaving on all our gear, and headed to the next trailhead. There wasn’t a place to park so I parked on top of a dirt berm near a shooting area littered with shell casings and we headed southwest up the side of the mountain.



There was more snow here, but luckily we soon came upon a trench! It looked over a week old, but made route finding much easier.  We found a microspike on the trail.  I attached it to Steffen’s pack and we took it out with us.


The trench led us to another rocky summit without any views


We signed and replaced the summit register and were quickly on our way back down.



Two easy peaks down, we now drove Old Stage Road to 371 and took that 4WD dirt road south to Emerald Valley Ranch, where I parked next to a locked gate.


Blue Mountain – 9856’

Emerald Valley Ranch is now owned by the Broadmoor, but was originally purchased as a Girl Scout Camp, and then sold to Spencer Penrose.

We started out hiking southwest along the road


There was a locked gate, but no ‘no trespassing’ sign and tons of footprints, so we just went through the gate


I found some pieces to a hornets’ nest in the snow. At first I thought it was the entire nest buried, but it ended up just being a few pieces.


The road was supposed to lead us near Emerald Valley Boys Camp, but we didn’t see any evidence of that. Instead we came to what was left of an old cabin.  We looked around for a bit and then headed south.


The trench stopped at the cabin and there was no trail here, so we bushwhacked our way south up the mountainside, following deer/animal tracks when available.


We came upon a small lashed structure that looked to have been lashed recently. Maybe this was part of the Boys’ camp? It would make a good tent if you brought along a tarp.


Onward and upward! Check it out: I found some pieces to another hornets’ nest!  Kind of cool, considering it was over a mile away from the last one


We were still straddling the ravine until we made it to the ridge


This was our aim


Once we made it to the ridge it started snowing, which was weird because snow wasn’t in the forecast for today. The wind also picked up, but since we were below treeline it was tolerable.  Notice all the deer/elk chews on the trees?  We saw them all day, and tons of scat as well (from Deer, Elk, and Bighorn Sheep)


The ridge seemed to last forever! Every time we thought we were at the summit the route would dip down and then back up again



There were so many downed trees! Branches and limbs were scattered everywhere.  We had to go around large piles of dead trees and circle back again several times to stay on the ridge.


There were several places that looked like the true summit. We walked around them all but agreed the highest point was the one furthest to the southeast.  None of the high areas had a summit register, so we left one and since it was cold turned around and headed back down the ridge, being careful to stay on the ridge this time and not heading back down the gully



Yellow Peak – 9982’

The skies suddenly cleared and we were treated to a great view of the peaks we hiked last weekend: Knights, McKinley, and San Luis


The ridge had some open areas that looked great for grazing and lots of aspens with bite marks



Here’s the last bit of the trek to the summit


We followed the ridge all the way to 9982, which we named “Yellow Peak” because it fit and because there was yellow duct tape on the summit register.


Here’s looking back on Blue Mountain


Black Mountain (UR) – 10,132’

At this point we had a decision to make: we either turned back now and headed back to the ruins/Emerald Valley Boys Camp area, or we made this a loop and continued on.  I was a bit worried because I hadn’t brought a flashlight and if we continued I knew we’d be hiking out in the dark.  Luckily Steffen had one in his backpack and we were feeling great so we decided to keep going and hit a few more peaks today.  We continued west down the mountain to a small saddle on a game trail, and once at the saddle picked up an actual trail.



That led to a 4wd road! This was great!


We followed the road west for quite a ways, past a run-down cabin and a couple of homes sporting tons of elk antlers



We could have followed the road up to the saddle, but at the time we didn’t know this, instead we cut across a field and headed south up the mountain (through a lot of snow)



There wasn’t a lot of elevation gain on this one since it’s an unranked peak, and it didn’t take us long to make it to the summit.


There wasn’t a summit register on this peak. We would have left one but we didn’t have one to leave.


Turning to the northwest we could see our last summit of the day:

Green Mountain – 10,140’


This really was a simple hike northwest past the road and up to the summit of Green Mountain.


When we arrived we had a great view of Black Mountain


There was what looked to be a mine at the summit?


We walked all along the top of the summit just to make sure we hit the actual ‘high point’. We were unable to find a summit register for this one either, and were a bit disappointed until Steffen got an idea:  he decided to look inside this stump and guess what?  There it was!  It hadn’t been signed since 2010 so I’m sure no one else had thought to look inside the stump since then.


We signed the register and put a cairn on top of the tree so others would know it’s there


Time to make this a loop! We traveled west down the ridge, avoiding this outcropping by navigating it to the left


This quickly brought us to the road


We followed it and were surprised to come across a gate. The only thing to do was climb over it. When we made it to the other side we realized we were now on the ‘right side’ of the gate.  Curious though, since we hadn’t seen any other gates/no trespassing signs on our way in?


A little ways after the gate, and just before the road curved west, we saw a cairn to our left (well, a rock on a log) and followed a faint trail down the mountainside.



Eventually the snow stopped and we descended a steep pipeline/scree slope to another 4WD road.



I was excited to finally make it to this road! We still had quite a ways to hike, but now all we had to do was follow this road out.  Well, I was excited until the road became covered in snow.


The snow was about 2 feet deep and snowshoes would have helped greatly, but we didn’t have any. Instead we took turns trenching and walking in each others’ footsteps.  I could tell this was especially taxing for Steffen.  I’m used to going for long hikes without eating/drinking anything.  My body is just used to it, but his isn’t.  Although he’d had plenty of snacks today and was currently out of water because he’d drank it all, he was tired, hungry, and thirsty.  He’d already taken a few Advil and I was worried about him hiking in the dark.  And then it started to snow.


He stopped to take another Advil and we heard a large cat scream twice to our left. We decided to double the pace towards the ruined cabin.  At times there were animal tracks to follow, but most of the time we were trenching through several feet of snow.

I was excited again when we finally made it to the ruins: we now had less than a mile to go!


This was the easiest part because the trenching stopped and we followed our footsteps in. We made it back to my truck around 6:30pm, making this a 15.5 mile trek with 4692’ of elevation gain in 10 hours, 45 minutes.


I was proud of Steffen! This was the longest hike he’s ever done.  He was exhausted, and offered to cook me steak to celebrate when I dropped him off at home.