Ascent of Big Bald on 2008-11-01

Climber: Brian Stansberry

Date:Saturday, November 1, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Big Bald
    Location:USA-North Carolina/Tennessee
    Elevation:5516 ft / 1681 m

Ascent Trip Report

The Appalachian Trail crosses the summit of Big Bald 6.8 miles from the parking lot at Spivey Gap (the "7.0 miles" I put for the ascent distance included a short side trip to High Rocks). The Forest Service maintains a dirt road all the way to the top, but I'm not sure if it's open to the public. The summit of Big Bald is marked by a North Carolina Transportation Commission benchmark.

A substantial grassy bald covers the summit of Big Bald, the northern slope of Big Bald (called "Big Stamp" on topo maps), and an unnamed subpeak just northeast of the main summit of Big Bald (some people confusingly call this subpeak "Little Bald" for obvious reasons, but Little Bald is a forested summit further to the north). There is a 360-degree panoramic view from the summit of Big Bald. The Smokies rise like a faint blue wall across the mountains to the south and southwest, the Black Mountains present as a brownish-black ridge to the southeast, and the Unakas stretch endlessly to the northeast. On a typical hazy day, the Tennessee Valley appears as a giant blue void just across the mountains to the northwest. Parts of Erwin are visible in a valley to the north. If I were to rate the grassy balds of Southern Appalachia, I would place Big Bald at #2, behind only the Grassy Ridge half of Roan Mountain.

Every Autumn, the Big Bald Banding Station operates a migratory bird observation and banding station atop the unnamed northern subpeak of Big Bald. Bird traps and nets are scattered across the subpeak's bald and wooded areas, although they don't impede the A.T. thru access. From what I could tell, there were two substations. The lower substation (called "Big Bird"), at the northern tip of the bald, centered around a domed tent with binocular slits, several bird nets, and a flagpole crowned by a statue of a horned owl (they said this attracted hawks). The upper substation (called "Little Bird") was situated in a wooded thicket near the top of the subpeak. A small dry erase tallied the birds they had banded that day (on 11/1/08, when I passed through, they had banded a robin, a sapsucker, and a ruby-crowned kinglet) and a list of birds they had banded or observed for the season. As I had just 3 hours to make it back to Spivey Gap before sunset, I didn't get a chance to stick around and harass them with questions.

The Bald Mountain shelter is located just off the A.T. 1.2 miles north of Big Bald and 5.6 miles south of Spivey Gap (the shelter is about 10 minutes from the bald area). The shelter is a typical A.T. shelter, with one side open and about 10 wooden sleeping bag slots inside. Two marked spur trails-- one just north of the shelter and one to the south-- lead to springs that (I think) are part of the upper Tumbling Creek watershed.

Summary Total Data
    Distance:13.8 mi / 22.2 km
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country
    Weather:Cool, Windy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Distance:7 mi / 11.3 km
    Route:Appalachian Trail
Descent Statistics
    Distance:6.8 mi / 10.9 km
    Route:Appalachian Trail
Ascent Part of Trip: Big Bald and Friends

Complete Trip Sequence:
1High Rocks2008-11-01
2Little Bald2008-11-01
3Big Bald2008-11-01

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