Ascent of Snake Mountain-North Peak on 2010-09-05

Climber: Tom Layton

Others in Party:I should not have attempted this one alone.
Date:Sunday, September 5, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Snake Mountain-North Peak
    Location:USA-North Carolina/Tennessee
    Elevation:5518 ft / 1681 m

Ascent Trip Report

This is a strenuous hike (by my humble standards) and requires some orienteering skills. The views all along the way are spectacular. Though the terrain is intimidating, don't be frightened by the name. It's unlikely that you'll encounter snakes at this altitude. I'm told that the mountain was named for the serpentine way the summit ridge winds back and forth.

There are several routes to the summit ridge, none of them on maintained trails. The shortest route would be from the Sunalei resort clubhouse on the west side, but this is a gated community, so you may need a real-estate agent as a hiking partner. I had previously hiked the south side from Rich Mtn Gap to the main summit, which is a steep bushwhack. Today's hike followed the northwest ridge.

From US421/King Street in Boone NC, take NC194 north 4.5 miles, turn left on Meat Camp Road and follow it 5.5 miles to the entrance of Elk Knob State Park. At the gap, the road name changes to Pottertown Rd (or Sutherland Rd), though there are no signs. Continue 0.6 miles down the N side until you see a posted farm gate on the left side as the road curves to the right. Park across from the gate in the graveled area that is used for highway maintenance. Climb over the gate to start the trail. The land is posted as private property/no trespassing, but I am told that hikers are welcome, and I encountered several others along the way.

The first mile is a moderate walk up a mowed-grass road, ending at an impressive rock table almost as big as a car that must have been quite an accomplishment for whoever put it in place. The trail climbs steeply for the next several hundred yards over a series of crags on the exposed spine of the mountain. There are several routes through this area, and I evidently took the trail less traveled. Near the top, my trail ended, and had to bushwack a short distance to reach the ridgeline, where I found a yellow-blazed trail. CAUTION: Set a waypoint or otherwise mark the spot where you reach the ridge, to avoid getting lost on the way down.

The ridge trail evidently is part of the Sunalei development (billed as an Adirondack camp) on the west side of Snake Mtn. The trail has not been maintained, and the yellow blazes are sporadic. Where the trail is hard to follow, generally stay on the ridge, though some of the rock outcroppings are dead-ends. As you reach the summit, there is an iron spike in one of the rocks that evidently marks the HP of Johnson County TN (5518). Continue about 25 yards to find another possible HP.

The ridge trail descends to a saddle and then climbs to the HP of Snake Mtn (5560+), maybe a half-mile S. I did not continue on this part of the trail, having previously climbed the south summit from Rich Mtn Gap.

On my descent, I missed the point where I reached the ridge trail. Seeing the Sunalei clubhouse a few hundred yards below, I continued down the yellow-blazed trail which eventually becomes marked with white discs. As the crow flies, the clubhouse is no more than a mile from where I parked, but it is at least 10 miles by road. I figured that I could easily hike cross-country to the east to intersect the trail I had climbed. As far as I had seen, the entire north side of the mountain was grassy fields. But not long after starting across the field E of the clubhouse, I crossed the ridge and encountered thickets, woods, boulders, and ledges. I spent an hour bushwacking E to get back to the trail. This would have been a terrible place to get lost (no cell signal once I left the ridge) and if I had twisted an ankle, I might still be there.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1518 ft / 462 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1518 ft / 462 m
    Round-Trip Distance:5 mi / 8.1 km
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Scramble
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1518 ft / 462 m
    Distance:2 mi / 3.2 km
    Route:NE ridge to summit ridge
    Start Trailhead:Pottertown Road  4000 ft / 1219 m
    Time:2 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:1518 ft / 462 m
    Distance:3 mi / 4.8 km
    Route:trail to Sunalei clubhouse and then bushwhack
    End Trailhead:Pottertown Road  4000 ft / 1219 m
    Time:2 Hours 

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