Ascent of Racoon Mountain on 2018-10-13

Climber: Chris Gilsdorf

Date:Saturday, October 13, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Racoon Mountain
    Elevation:2000 ft / 609 m

Ascent Trip Report

This one is a quick side trip from Chattanooga, and ranks as the most prominent summit in Hamilton and Marion counties, as well as being a Tennessee P1K. But may have some access issues...

I approached from the east, taking Exit 174 off of I-24 onto Cummings Hwy. Heading west, I took the first major left onto Cummings Rd, then entered an upscale subdivision by turning R onto River Gorge Dr and proceeding straight at a roundabout. This becomes Aetna Mountain Rd, your key to the summit. The road changes from well-maintained subdivision to undeveloped paved boulevard (the upper end of the clearing appears to be actively being developed into more homes) to a suddenly-rough dirt/gravel road. The road crosses a rocky creek bed requiring some care, then begins switchbacking up the mountain. The road is rocky in places and often washed out in the middle, but a sturdy passenger car can handle this in dry weather. At 1700', however (just below the final switchback), a muddy, rutted-out section will stop cars like mine in their tracks. I squeezed over to the side of the road and parked. This was my trailhead.

The hike from here was a bit over a mile one-way. The road continues, muddy at first, then with a series of large rock steps, car-eating puddles, and general roughness (4WD MANDATORY!) as it gains and traverses the relatively flat summit plateau. The topo shows the road ascending to within 0.1 miles S of the main summit contour, and so just before the height-of-land, I left it and followed some ATV tracks that petered out, then followed mostly-open woods with a few brambles to the top. It turns out the network of tracks do pass virtually right over the summit--you're only a few steps away from the road at highest ground, which was still indistinct. Just north of the summit was a No Trespassing sign advising the land beyond was Aetna Mountain Adventures property. I was able to see that the other candidate contour was definitely lower, so you should not need to proceed beyond this sign.

I followed the ATV tracks back to the main road and then retraced my steps. At one point, an ATVer was behind me and I was in plain sight, but I just kept pace a ways ahead of them. Approaching my car, a dingy pickup was coming up the mountain, but the young driver just asked if I was alright and proceeded on. I returned to my car, got it turned around in the tight space available, and drove down the mountain and back to Chattanooga without incident, returning downtown less than 2 hours after leaving it.

I'm not sure the exact "legitness" of this route. Driving up the switchbacks, there was signage on some trees for some sort of preserve where general access was not allowed, but this seemed to be indicating the land adjacent to the road, rather than the road itself. There was no signage up on the plateau, and nothing negative until north of the true summit. AMA's website does seem to indicate they allow at least intermittent public access. However, a news article from 2014 seemed to indicate Aetna Mountain Rd is legally a public right-of-way. So who knows...all I can say is, if you're interested in this summit by any route other than mine, you should definitely inquire with AMA for permission.
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