Has anyone summited Hightower Bald?
Sorry to post this in another thread, but I wanted to make sure people were aware of my question as it was buried deep in the unrelated Yonah thread.
I and a friend have made a resolution this year to summit the 10 highest peaks in Georgia. The list is actually pretty easy except for entries 3 and 4: Dicks Knob and Hightower Bald.
I think I have a handle on what we'll do for Dicks Knob, but Hightower Bald is pretty scary. There are no nearby approach roads (roads - not jeep trails...I don't have a jeep), and, there doesn't seem to be any trail that actually goes to the summit. Bushwacking, while not out of the question, is not desired.
Now we'll just have to deal with the roads by asking for the services of friends with 4WD vehicles, so that leaves dealing with the trail, as it's an unknown at this point.
Here's what I do know: there are 4 common approaches to Hightower - one for each of the compass points.
1. From the North.
Take a jeep trail all the way to the end of Loggy Branch (a creek) at which point you're at a boulderfield on the north of the peak. Scramble up.
2. From the West.
Take trails from Skut Gap to Lemon Gap, then scramble over thousands of feet of the treacherous cliffs of High Cove Ridge and Shooting Creek Bald (also on the top 10 list but doesn't count as a real peak) and finally up the west ridge (Tom Gap) of Hightower.
3. From the South.
Take the Shoal Branch trail and then when it crosses the creek, turn off the trail and bushwack due north until hitting the summit cliffs. Work around them to the left until Tom Gap and then on to the summit. Or alternatively work around them to the right till Buckhorn Ridge, and then on to the summit (with some addtional nasty bushwacking for the last 100 yards).
Or...even more alternatively, keep on the Shoal Branch trail through Eller Gap and up through Owensby Cove to Lemon Gap, with the part through Owensby Gap being "possibly indistinct". Then proceed as in #2 from Lemon Gap.
4. From the East.
As 1 through 3 are not particularly pallatable options, this one sounds the best.
This way uses a ridge "trail" that branches westward from the AT near Rich Knob, and proceeds over Hightower Gap to the summit. Getting to Rich Knob from Bly Gap is the easy part. The hard part appears to be finding the ridge trail, if there even is one. I have seen a couple web pages where people were asking how to find it because it may be poorly marked or completely unmarked, and it may not even be a trail anymore (if it ever was).
So there are the options - all of them with a high degree of doubt in terms of being able to reach the summit via an easily marked trail without any bushwacking.
I'd appreciate anyone's comments or experiences, and would very much like to hear if someone has been able to summit the peak without the fuss of trailblazing or bushwacking, as that would greatly decrease my apprehension.
Hey TrailLover. Not that I'm really experienced with off-trail stuff or anything, but I've always been curious about Hightower. It sounds like an interesting place to go, but like you said, it seems near impossible to reach without planning a full-scale expedition. Your first few options I'd read about, but I wasn't familiar with the one about the Rich Knob "trail." It sounds like it'd be the simplest way to reach the summit from what you've said. Do you have any more info on it that you could post? I do know some people who have summited Dicks Knob and are familiar with the area, but that's about as much as I know about the mountain itself. Not that this post helps, but I just thought I'd throw out my interest too.
Smokestack climbed High Tower accessing via the AT heading toward Bly Gap. I don't think he would be comfortable leading a hike back there by himself but our friend who led the hike would probably be willing to take you. If you like, PM me and I can check with him to see if he can give directions or would be willing to take you.
Wish I knew more
Thanks for your interest halibut.
Originally Posted by halibut15
Do I have any more info regarding option 4?
I placed all the info known to me in my original post, that being:
1. There's a fairly navigable approach to Hightower Bald via the Hightower Gap ridge, which may or may not have a well trodden byway (otherwise known as a "trail").
2. This approach can be accessed via its intersection(s) (there may be two) with the AT in the vicinity of Bly Gap and Rich Knob, however the junction(s) may be highly inconspicuous.
The good news is it seems that someone named Smokestack seems to have been there, and by a stroke of luck seems to have used this approach himself, so there's hope!
Thanks for the reply, Ms. Nature
Originally Posted by Mother Nature
That's great news.
I will PM you.
Your subject line says "been there" - does that mean you were on the hike too? If so, could you share your impressions?
How hard was it?
Is there a trail across the ridge, or did you just blaze/bushwack across?
If there was a trail, was its intersection with the AT difficult to spot?
Stuff like that.
Thanks! You may have done this already, but you might want to try posting on georgiahikes.com. The forum there is not nearly as active as this one, but you might be able to get some good info from the folks on there. I've noticed some off-trail discussions on there before, so you never know...
Heading to Hightower
Mother Nature and her companion Smokestack (such diametrically opposed names!) have graciously offered to show the way to Hightower for interested persons. There is already an agreed upon date/time/place. If anyone is interested they can PM me or Mother Nature.
I wrote an article in the Winter, 2005 issue of Georgia Backroads Magazine about Montgomery's Corner and the Thirty Mile Post which lie on the side of Hightower Bald. I summited the moutain from Bly Gap on the AT. You must have good maps and a GPS is preferable. It is a hard bushwack due to the vegetation. If you look at map closely you will see a small right angle turn in the GA/NC line. This is an historical artifact of the first survery completed in 1819. The two states still disagree over where the boundary is. I also climbed Hightower years ago from Loggy Branch. Again a GPS and good map are essential to tell here you are. I have also climbed Dick's Knob. It can best be reached via the Coleman River Road from the southern border of the S. Natahala Wilderness. You follow a dirt road most of the way and then the ridge line. In winter it is easy to get your bearings because you can see the ridgeline of Standing Indian in front of you. Good luck. Mike Maffett M.D., Atlanta, GA
Need 4wd for shorter walk and approach off NC old 64 thru "Loggy Br" area. Did it about 15yrs ago, also did Bell Mtn (under 4000') (Quartzite mines) best views in Ga. Bell can be approached from the Ga side via old mining road.
Last edited by Ridge; 01-28-2006 at 10:54.
Great info, thanks!
Thanks so very much for the "intelligence" Mike. Our current plan calls for doing the ridge as you did, but a north approach intrigues me as well (for some future endeavor). You are so right about good maps, but how to tell? Every map I've consulted for info on the north side seems to say something different (and NO map I've seen shows the last bits of the way described in the Georgia Conservancy Guide's Loggy Branch approach). The most interesting map comes from DeLorme TopoUSA which shows a road approaching from the northwest (Sugar Cove). I've not seen this road on any other map. If you call up topozone.com and look at the 1:50000 map of Hightower then you'll see that this road would terminate very close to where it says "3600" for one of the elevation lines just south of where it says "Sharptop Ridge". Additionally, the Georgia Conservancy Guide shows a trail on Sharptop Ridge going all the way to the summit of Hightower. If you put 2 and 2 together...this could very well be the easiest way to summit Hightower, as it looks like the distance from the end of the road, up to the ridgeline, and then over to the summit should be about 1 mile. A major concern, though, would be the condition of this mystery approach road. I'll post a link to a picture of my TopoUSA map later, for those who may wish to see what I'm taking about (TopoUSA is not free and I'll have to take a screen capture).
I'm also very interested in your article as I'd like to hunt out both of the landmarks of which you speak. Is there a possibility you could repost your article or post a link to where it could be read?
Originally Posted by Mike Maffett
I've left you a PM...would like to chat with you if possible.
Originally Posted by Ridge
Trail Lover - I left you a PM. I might can help.
I thought I found a good way to get close to Hightower from NC, but alas it did not work out. TopoUSA showed a road that came within less than a mile of the summit, but after investigating this road I found that it turns private about 2 miles before it ends. There was a nice a llama farm where the road turned private though.
I attached a map. The red circle is *about* where the road turns private, and the green circle is why I had hoped to end up.
This weekend maybe...?
I know the official hike is supposed to take place next weekend, but...looking at the weather, it seems like this Saturday could be one helluva day.
In that vein I have proposed to M. Nature that we give it a try tomorrow.
Now, let me say that I know this is a bit abrupt, but I think it's worth considering.
I've dropped a note to MN to see how she feels about it.
If there are others who were interested but have remained silent, please do speak up.
If for some reason it is not convenient for either MN or anyone else the original plan will of course stand. In fact, the original plan should stand until MN says otherwise.
*I* (and my companions) however will be giving it a shot no matter what--with or without guidance--tomorrow. If the official date does not change, we'll be there to do it all over again.
The Georgia Conservancys Guide to the North Georgia Mountains has directions to Hightower Bald.
That's what I was following...and it's not very good
Following that is an invitation to disaster.
Originally Posted by max patch
The Georgia Conservancy Guide is woefully inaccurate. I say this from direct experience. I plan on submitting tons of corrections to the publisher, because the current directions are NEXT TO USELESS.
As I said, I know that what is in the guide is NG because over the past couple months I have used the good weather to scope out the approaches listed.
Here is a link to ShepraGuide, which is a 99% regurgitation of what is in the Conservancy Guide:
Here are the 3 worst mistakes (there are a lot more):
SCATAWAY CREEK ACCESS. Southern entrance to the wilderness. Go north on GA 17/75 from Helen; turn right on US 76 and go 3.2 miles; turn north on a paved road (GA 100). At 1.2 miles, a paved road (GA 101) to the left goes up Jack Hooper Branch. ... The right fork (GA 100) continues toward the southern access trail to Skut Gap. After leaving the pavement, park and hike up an old log road trail [Fig. 31(22)] which does not follow the creek, but in .5 mile turns east up the slope and enters a clear-cut.
False. The Scataway access is no more. The private landowners at the end of Scataway Road have become hostile to outsiders because of abuses on their land. They have posted not one but two very large signs with quite a lengthly treatise on why they were forced to disallow access.
HALL CREEK ACCESS. This is the southern entrance to the central ridge of the wilderness and to the Maney Branch (Maney Cove) and Shook Branch (Owensby Cove) watersheds. It is the shortest route to the easternmost crossing of the main ridge by the old settlers' trail through Lemons Gap. A slightly longer hike is via the Shoal Branch access. On the west side of the US 76 bridge over Hightower Creek, turn north on Upper Hightower Road. Take the first paved left, at 1.4 miles. The pavement ends in another .8 mile. After passing a flood-control reservoir on the right, be prepared to park along the gravel road anywhere south of the first mailbox on the left before reaching signs (another .2 mile) indicating private land, the Hall Creek Falls Wilderness community [Fig. 31(23)]. The public road ends a little south of these signs; walk up about 3,700 feet of graveled private road. Do not leave the road; it is a public right-of-way. After fording the creek twice, take the first old dirt road to the left [Fig. 31(22)], which leads to the red-blazed wilderness boundary. Follow the old road up the east side of the creek, Maney Branch. In less than 1,000 feet, watch for an old road or trail to turn eastward, sharply up a ridge [Fig. 31(24)].
Not Quite. After the second creek ford the road climbs around a ridge, becomes cement, and climbs more steeply. I postulate that the landowner far up that ridge (the last one in the community before hitting the wilderness boundary) got sick of his road washing away. After not too long on this cement part of the road (my step counter was not working, but I imagine it was only a few hundred feet) one comes to a three way decision. On the right, the cement road continued sharply right up the ridge presumably to the house. In front on me was a gate and a gravel road. To the left, but just branching off at like a 10 degree angle was a dirt road which was blocked about 20 feet in by a mound of dirt. I took the dirt road as that matched the description in the guide. Very soon, a trail branched off sharply to the right, just like the guide says in its last sentence. However, there were 2 problems. #1 It went about 100 feet and ended near an unfinished cabin and a gravel road (probably the gated one)! #2 It branched before the wilderness boundary. I returned to the previous trail and continued. I hit the wilderness boundary. No red blaze, just a small sign nailed to a tree. I continued on. The trail crossed a creek and continued going straight and upward a bit. Then, when the "up" stopped it turned right and went over a creek again. On the other side of the creek there were two choices. Either go sharply right again on a wide road-like trail or go forward steeply upward on a poor quality trail. I chose to go forward and "up" because I had already made a right and it went up a ridge, and that seemed to follow the guide. The trail continued following the ridge and then...pittered out. At that point I could see a waterfall in the distance and decided to bushwack to it, then go home, as it was late. I don't know where I went wrong. It was quite possible that the gated gravel road at the 3-way decision point was the one to take, or, maybe I should have gone right instead of up the ridge when I crossed the last creek. In any case, the guide does not provide enough detail to make an informed decision. The only way to sort this out is to return with a GPS. Also, one is trusting the guide that the road though the wilderness community is a public right-of-way as far as foot traffic is concerned - the sign at the entrance said "No Tresspassing" and that made me twitchy. Still, no one shot me, so that's a good sign, right?
LOGGY BRANCH COVE ACCESS. Northern access to Loggy Branch Cove, Hightower Bald, and the eastern part of the wilderness. On old US 64 east, pass Bethabara Road .4 mile; turn right at a sign on paved Eagle Fork Creek Road; go 2.1 miles to the third bridge; turn left on a dirt road just before the bridge. At .4 mile a gated road turns left. (This is a very rough jeep road. If chosen, take all other right turns and eventually reach Bly Gap on the Appalachian Trail.)
Past this gated road go about 2 miles from the paved road and follow the most developed road (through some private lands) to reach a U.S. Forest Service sign. Do not cross the branch but turn up the ridge following an old logging road which goes by a huge red maple and on to Loggy Branch [Fig. 31(1)], well up in the cove. Whether four-wheel drive is needed will depend on logging activities and rain. Certainly past the government boundary one will need four-wheel drive, but at that point the short distance to the lower cove [Fig. 31(4)] can be hiked
I love this one. Follow it and get hoplessly lost. Well, not quite. I'll tell you exactly where it goes wrong. This sentence: "Past this gated road go about 2 miles from the paved road and follow the most developed road". Not. One must turn right and cross Eagle Creek on a cement bridge at about 4/10 of a mile after the split with Sally Gap road. This is not the most developed road by any stretch of the imagination, but it must be the right way. On my Topo USA map it is marked as Eagles Nest Lane. I was only able to go a short way before the road forked in many directions and became very poor in quality - but I'm sure this is the way because I exhausted all possibilities going past the bridge instead of taking it. Doing such ends you up on Eagle Fork Terrace and way east of Loggy Branch. I plan on returning and hiking Eagles Nest Lane to confirm my theory. I'm attaching my Topo USA map to show what I mean. However, it has the road ending too soon. If one looks at a Garmin map, it goes further and ends right where it should near Loggy Branch high up in the cove. I'll attach that map too. Again, the guide description is way too vague for anyone to follow with any sense of conviction. It took me three visits to decide that the turn onto Eagles Nest Lane was the way to go.
Oh the bitter taste of failure...
I tried to summit Hightower today, with my hiking companion Scott.
Despite it being a beautiful day, the temperature in Hightower Gap was around freezing and the wind was blowing briskly, even at 1PM, which was when we were there.
On the nubble in the Gap I came to a frightening revelation: my "gas gauge" was on empty.
Shaking with exhaustion, I turned to walk back up Rich, and realized that all I could do was stumble. The fact that there is no real trail and brambles all over didn't make it any easier.
It took quite a while of "just one more small step" to reach the top, but I got there, albeit with a major case of brain fog.
The car was still 3 miles away but it was 95% flat once we traversed down the steep shrub hell on the southest side of Rich (I'm suprised we were able to find and then navigate this mess on the way up).
Anyways, obviously we got out, but I have a deep respect for those who can go all the way.
I'll attach a pic of me at the top of Rich (before hitting the energy wall), and yes that's Hightower in the background.
I can't imagine anyone making it to the top of there (Rich) in the summer as the summit is infested with brambles, and the shrub hell on the SE ridge would be dense as anything.
Thanks for the info. Sounds like you saved me from a wasted trip. Please keep us informed!
Originally Posted by TrailLover
Don't give up
Please don't let me keep you away. This region is extremely interesting. One must excercise caution when using the guide. Before a major attempt at summiting, make sure the guide gives enough information to do so safely. In my opinion, it does not. So, you should investigate the accessways with small hikes until you find one that works well.
Originally Posted by max patch
The only way that I could be assured of not getting lost was mentioned only briefly in the guide as an afterthought. This is what I tried yesterday, and, while I didn't make it due to exhaustion, it is not hard to follow. Take the AT from Blue Ridge Gap due north for 2 3/4 miles. This part is substantially flat. The one hard part is knowing when to veer off the trail and go up Rich. There is a point on the trail where a semblance of a trail splits off to the left at 20 degress or so. This is the way up Rich and "the trail" doesn't go any farther than 100 feet before you realize that there is no trail - just a broad ridgeline . It ain't easy but in retrospect, it's not all that bad. The first time bushwacking through anything is an uncomfortable experience of "are we there yet" for me - but that's my problem. It is about a 400-500 foot ascent and about 1500 feet in length. The top is quite prominent, though infested with brambles. From there it is quite clear how to get to Hightower: head down the west ridge to Hightower Gap and then up to Hightower. The ridge is also quite easy to follow and does not contain the shrub hell that you experience coming up Rich. I cannot vouch for what to expect after that, only that it's probably hard to get lost given that Hightower is right in front of you and the ridge between it and Rich is quite pronounced. Also, if one wants to conserve energy, they could try skirting Rich over to Hightower Gap rather than going up and down it - but the slope on that side of Rich is extremely steep.
I will no doubt find the time to re-explore the Hall Creek access, which I think is promising, but I am unsure how much better this will ultimately be as it brings you to Lemon Gap and then one must make their way across the ridge to Hightower and I'm not sure how hard that approach is.
Loggy Branch intrigues me as this is supposed to be as close as you can get, and personally, I like close. The problem is that the roads on this approach may be nowhere near good enough for a regular vehicle. We'll see. That's on my "more investigation" list.
Then there is Shoal Branch. This can end up at Lemon Gap or end up in a 1 mile bushwacking endeavor straight north up the mountain, only diverting near the top to get around the cliffs. Shoal Branch is the only description the guide gives nearly accurate. I could not find the trail on the east side of the creek, but there was one on the west that was obvious right from the parking area.
Hightower Bald, Trailblazer, & Others
I have not checked the website in sometime and am suprised to see the amount of dialogue stimulated by summiting Hightower. Firstly, the only vantage from which I could see the summit was from Brasstown. It is unimpressive and obscure. I did the first summit from Loggy Branch using a compass and topos. A buddy and I did it in the winter and were lucky we ended up on the correct summit. The Loggy Branch description is confusing and inaccurate. The next time was from Bly Gap. The sign post marking the GA/NC line is south of the gap about a 1/4 mile. The sign post does not parallel the state line but rather run northwest to southeast. You turn west from the sign, pass thru a low gap and bushwack the rest of the way headed southwest and then west. There is a short descent and then a climb thru dense blackberry bushs to the summit. The summit has been cleared by human visits but there are no paths leading off the top. I checked many of the rocky outcrops on the north side but found no sign of the surveyors sign (from 1819). If someone finds it please let me know.
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