Ascent of Waterrock Knob on 2020-08-30

Climber: Scott Leslie

Date:Sunday, August 30, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Waterrock Knob
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:6292 ft / 1917 m

Ascent Trip Report

Bagged as part of the SB6K challenge.

This is my full trip report of my Plott Balsams Traverse.

The Plott Balsams Traverse represented my penultimate SB6K adventure. I had a little bit of nervousness going into this hike, after reading a recent trip report that said the trail was extremely overgrown. Two fellow SB6K peakbaggers were with me on this hike which made for excellent company and conversation.

Starting at the Waterrock Knob Overlook, we made our way down to the Yellow Face Trail via a short road walk. The trek out to Yellow Face is short, but was a little steeper than expected. Trail was wet and muddy due to recent rainstorms. It was indeed overgrown with every thorny plant imaginable, but it was more than manageable. Bagged Yellow Face, then headed back towards the parking area.

The tourist trail that ascends Waterrock Knob is the steepest tourist trail I have hiked on the BRP. It is paved halfway up to the "pedestrian overlook" and afterwards becomes an unpaved but well-worn path. Fantastic views of the enormous Eastern Smokies crest abound on the way up. At the top, the obvious high point is a small flat rock next to some weeds. A benchmark sits right next to it. After tagging the peak, we then briefly descended back to were the unofficial Plott Balsams Trail begins it's descent off the Knob. The entire trail out to Lyn Lowry is marked with circular yellow blazes.

The trail between Waterrock and Browning Knob is in one of the poorest states I have ever seen a trail in. It seems word of the plane crash on Browning has spread throughout the hiker crowd causing this trail to see an immense amount of overuse. The entire trek is an enormous mudpit with many spots required delicate footing.

Just before the summit of Browning, you'll arrive in a small clearing where the side path to the plane crash goes down to the left. It's steep but short. We had the crash to ourselves and were disappointing at the amount of abuse the site has seen - Please don't leave graffiti on the wreckage!!!

Heading back up, the trail becomes much less defined going forward as most of the tourists turn around here. It turns into a roller coaster of sorts as it goes up and down the various knobs of the range with few areas offering flat reprieve. One exception is an area which passes right next to a small house. * Past this is a large observation deck with gives great views of the Plotts and the Smokies.

After a brief uphill, the true summit of Mount Lyn Lowry can be had just off the trail to the right. The memorial cross is an incredible sight to see. From here I had heard that the trail to descend off the mountain was hard to spot, but I found it immediately. Here lied the biggest challenge of the day - The descent (and later ascent) off the NE face of Lyn Lowry is sadistically steep. It reminded me of the Pinch-In Trail in Linville Gorge.

With the climbing completed, the hike turns into a walk along a series of overgrown forest roads out to Plott Balsam Mountain. The scenery up here was surreal - large sunny fields interspersed with quiet coves of spruce-fir forest. Easily one of the most unique places I've ever hiked through. A map would be of great service here, but should you not have one, make sure to not follow any paths that dip off the main ridge of the Plott crest. Eventually we came to a large clearing that marked the start of the Plott Balsam manway. Orange flagging tape tied to two trees marked a gate of sorts to start the off-trail hike. The manway is super obvious. It's steep at first, but flattens out as the trail skirts a relatively flat, yet narrow, ridgeline.

The summit of Plott Balsam is obvious and is marked with an NPS survey stake. We took a break here before heading back to the parking area. The return trip felt shorter but the steep ascents were extremely difficult. This is easily one of the hardest hikes I have done, but the incredible scenery made it all worth it.

My overall ascent quality is a "10".

*EDIT: As of 2021, hikers are NO LONGER WELCOME to cross the house property OR ascend the observation deck. A new manway has been cut to bypass the property, and the owners are asking all hikers to take that path instead.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:472 ft / 143 m
    Quality:3 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:472 ft / 143 m
    Route:Waterrock Knob Trail
    Start Trailhead:Waterrock Knob Overlook  5820 ft / 1773 m
Descent Statistics
Ascent Part of Trip: Plott Balsams Traverse

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Yellow Face2020-08-30212 ft / 65 m
2Waterrock Knob2020-08-30472 ft / 144 m
3Browning Knob2020-08-30420 ft / 128 m
4Mount Lyn Lowry2020-08-30420 ft / 128 m
5Plott Balsam Mountain2020-08-30268 ft / 82 m
6Fork Ridge2020-08-30140 ft / 43 m
Total Trip Gain: 1932 ft / 590 m

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