Ascent of Bald Knob on 2018-09-02

Climber: Tom Layton

Date:Sunday, September 2, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Bald Knob
    Location:USA-West Virginia
    Elevation:4842 ft / 1475 m

Ascent Trip Report

The Cass Scenic Railroad's Bald Knob train stops for a half hour for passengers to enjoy the view from 4,700 feet. But if you won't rest until you've climbed all 4,842 feet of Bald Knob, then you need to scurry. You've got 30 minutes, more or less, to hike 1.5 miles round-trip. Scoot down the track a quarter mile to spot elevation 4,635, where a sign on the left says Flag Stop. This marks the old road that runs a half mile and climbs 207 feet to the cabin and decrepit tower on the summit.

I asked the brakeman to verify the 30-minute stopover and told him I was going to hike to the top of Bald Knob. I gave myself a 15-minute turnback time, made it to the summit in 14 minutes, and hurried back down to the tracks. But before I could get back to the train, here she comes around the bend! I had to grab the handrails of a moving car and hoist myself aboard to make sure I didn't miss my ride. In hindsight, I think they were going to stop the train for me anyway, but given that the alternative was an 11-mile hike down to the station, I couldn't take that chance.

If you intend to take the Cass Scenic RR to Bald Knob and take your peakbagging seriously, then take my advice:

1, Check the Cass Scenic RR calendar to see when the Bald Knob train is running. It's not every day. Also, reserve your tickets online. My train was sold out, and passengers who tried to buy walk-up tickets were disappointed.

2, Let the ticket agent and the brakeman on your car know that you want to hike to the top of Bald Knob. They can help you find a seat where you can hop off the train as soon as it stops. I rode Car 1 directly in front of the locomotive, which pushes the train up the mountain. This was a railfan's dream--I was showered in cinders and could feel the heat off the boiler of the engine (Shay No. 2, built in 1928). But when we stopped at the top, I had to wait behind two other carloads of passengers before I could exit. If not for that delay, I think I could have made it back before they blew the whistle and called, "All aboard!"

3, It might be wise to tip the brakeman to make sure you have his attention. Maybe he can make the train wait for you.

4, Consider that the terrain may slow you down. You'll be walking on the tracks for the first quarter-mile and on a slippery and overgrown road on the half-mile up to the knob. I averaged 3 mph and still almost missed the train.

5, Old-timers know that flag stops are places you can flag down the train to get on board. I asked the brakemen if future Bald Knob hikers could just wait at the "Flag Stop" sign at 4,635 and get the train to stop for them. They said no--that sign was just for decoration. But it's worth asking. If you could get them to agree to pick you up at the flag stop, you could shorten the return hike by 0.25 miles, giving you an extra 4-5 minutes.

6, See the photo on the homepage at This shows the Bald Knob summit in the background behind the train. It will give you a perspective of the landscape.

7, The folks who promote Cass will tell you that Bald Knob is the second highest peak in WV at 4,842 feet. More likely, it is the third highest in Pocahontas County and the fourth highest in the state. The WV highpoint, Spruce Knob, reaches 4,861. According to Pocahontas County GIS, Thorny Flat stands 4,849, South Mace Knob/Cheat Mountain 4,846, and Bald Knob 4,843. Bald has the smallest summit contour and has been flattened by construction, so it seems to be the least likely to be the county highpoint.

8, Your train will return to Cass about 5 pm, which should leave you enough time on a summer afternoon to climb Thorny Flat and South Mace/Cheat Mtn, so you can confidently claim the Pocahontas COHP.

Disclaimer: Never jump onto a moving train.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:272 ft / 82 m
    Total Elevation Loss:272 ft / 82 m
    Round-Trip Distance:1.5 mi / 2.4 km
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:207 ft / 63 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 142 ft / 43 m; Extra: 65 ft / 19m
    Loss on way in:65 ft / 19 m
    Distance:0.7 mi / 1.2 km
    Route:Down RR track, up old road
    Start Trailhead:Cass Scenic RR summit  4700 ft / 1432 m
    Time:14 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:207 ft / 63 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 142 ft / 43 m; Extra: 65 ft / 19m
    Gain on way out:65 ft / 19 m
    Distance:0.7 mi / 1.2 km
    Route:Down old road, up RR track
    End Trailhead:Cass Scenic RR  4700 ft / 1432 m
    Time:14 Minutes

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