Ascent of Hanging Rock on 2012-02-18

Climber: Tom Layton

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, February 18, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Hanging Rock
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:5200 ft / 1584 m

Ascent Trip Report

Hanging Rock is the fifth highest mountain in Watauga County. The summit offers a 360-degree panorama that features a closeup view of Grandfather Mtn, distant state HPs Mt Rogers and Mt Mitchell, and a number of other mile-high peaks.

There is a fairly well-worn path up the eastern ridge to the top, yet I could find no hiking directions online. The only previous trip report on Peakbagger is posted incorrectly and actually refers to Hanging Rock State Park, which is a hundred miles further east.

There used to be a summit trail from the SW, where you can drive to 4800 feet, but it has been closed. After my hike, I learned that there is public access from the end of Dutch Creek Road (off NC194 southwest of Valle Crucis) through the Bear Paw State Natural Area, which was established in 2008 as part of the NC State Park system.

I started in the "town" of Seven Devils and climbed the NE ridge from 4300 feet--a route previously explored by Peter Barr.

From NC105 south of Boone, follow the signs toward Hawksnest Ski Resort and Seven Devils to the police station on the R. Turn R onto Alpine Drive, then L on Snowbird, L on Chestnut Ridge, and R on Rocky Top, which dead-ends at a water tank with limited parking.

Up the hill beyond the tank, see the NC State Parks boundary sign for the Bear Paw SNA, which extends up the ridge most of the way to the top. There's no trail initially. Just follow the ridge over two steep knolls--the hardest part of the hike.

After 0.3 miles, you'll find an old road coming up from the Dutch Creek valley on the north side. The rest of the hike follows an obvious but unmarked path that is slippery and steep in places. There are lots of big outcroppings along the ridge that are not evident on the topo, and the trail roller-coasters more than the map suggests.

Approaching the summit, you leave the state-owned Bear Paw tract and enter private property, but it is not posted. Around elevation 5140, you'll reach a sign that says Hanging Rock Trail. Here, another trail forks to the north. This is evidently the old trail that was closed because of access issues, and it has been barricaded with branches.

The trail tops out on a rocky outcropping atop an overhanging cliff on the N side. Lean over the edge and you can look down on the exclusive Diamond Creek golf course community (which owns the summit).

The round trip should be 2.6 miles from the water tank in Seven Devils. A mile into my descent, I made it unnecessarily longer by following the old road off the ridge toward Dutch Creek. This road is not mapped, and I hoped it might parallel the ridge and lead into Seven Devils near near my car. When the road turned the other way, I figured I could bushwhack my way back to my car by following my GPS across the north flank of the mountain. But this route turned out to be dangerously steep, and I eventually had to climb back up to the ridge to finish the hike.

Regarding access from Dutch Creek: Trip reports by Rick Baugher (listsofjohn 2014) and Bradley Reese (peakbagger 2014) describe a route that comes uncomfortably close to the Diamond Creek gun range on the north side of Hanging Rock. I think there is a safer and more direct route further east via the woods road I mentioned that reaches the eastern ridgeline. I have not followed this road all the way to the bottom and I'm not sure where it comes out on Dutch Creek Road, but I am sure it is not the same road that goes through the shooting range. Looking at Reese's GPS track, I think he might have found this road if he had started toward the south rather than west.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1500 ft / 456 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1500 ft / 456 m
    Round-Trip Distance:2.8 mi / 4.5 km
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1100 ft / 335 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 900 ft / 274 m; Extra: 200 ft / 60m
    Loss on way in:200 ft / 60 m
    Distance:1.3 mi / 2.1 km
    Route:Eastern ridge
    Start Trailhead:Rocky Top Ln, Seven Devils  4300 ft / 1310 m
    Time:1 Hours 40 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:1300 ft / 396 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 900 ft / 274 m; Extra: 400 ft / 121m
    Gain on way out:400 ft / 121 m
    Distance:1.5 mi / 2.4 km
    End Trailhead:Rocky Top Ln, Seven Devils  4300 ft / 1310 m
    Time:1 Hours 20 Minutes

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