Ascent of Mount Le Conte-Cliff Top on 2019-03-16

Climber: Dennis Stewart

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Saturday, March 16, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Le Conte-Cliff Top
    Elevation:6555 ft / 1997 m

Ascent Trip Report

As far as I can determine Cliff Top is the 5th highest named highpoint in South Carolina. It is one of four named highpoints on Mount Le Conte's long ridgeline and directly across from the famous Le Conte Lodge. There is more than one approach possible for Cliff Top. I used the Alum Cave Trailhead at 35.62963 N 83.45138 W. The elevation here is around 4000 feet, so you have over 2500 feet to climb ahead of you. The trail has a good grade, but in places you have to walk on long stretches of bedrock, which isn't that bad in warm weather and you will wonder why there are aid cables along the route in places even though the terrain does not seem to require it. Come back in cold weather and you will be very thankful for the cables. It seems ice melts in these places during the day and refreeze at night to create very slippery rock surfaces that aren't always apparent. I had one bad fall in one spot where I thought the rock was just wet, but it was actually covered with a thin glaze of ice and extremely slick. It was even hard to get back on my feet. Needless to say, I used the cables for the rest of my climb. From the trailhead after covering 1.3 miles in 38 minutes, I passed through Arch Rock, which is worth a visit itself. Somehow a massive boulder has formed a tunnel which seems more like a cave. After 3 hours and 11 minutes of climbing I reached the summit ridgeline where there is a hairpin turn toward the east. I was fairly comfortable until this point, but as soon as I turned the corner I was hit with a very cold, strong east wind and I had to put on all my packed clothes. At this same spot is an unmaintained trail that heads west. This is the access for West Point, the 10th highest named highpoint in South Carolina. (See that trip report for details.) I continued heading east and it was a short distance to Le Conte Lodge with many individual cabins for rent. There is even a dining room for a lot more backpacking luxury than you probably have ever had. Directly across from the entrance to the Lodge area is the access trail for Cliff Top, although a sign there calls it Cliff Tops. From here I continued hiking east and climbed both High Top and Myrtle Point before retuning here to bag Cliff Point. (See the trip reports for details of those other two highpoints.) The summit of Cliff Point was only .2 air mile away and I reached it in 10 minutes. The summit area was bare bedrock with an excellent view to the south, but the actually highest point might be within some thick vegetation with a sign restricting access; however, you will be within a dozen feet if the adjacent area is indeed higher. I left the summit and reached the difficult unmaintained spur trail to West Point in 19 minutes. I hiked (bushwhacked) to West Point before hiking back to the trailhead. My descent time from this spot on the main trail was 2 hours and 47 minutes.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:

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