Ascent of Mount Hardy on 2012-10-13

Climber: Tom Layton

Others in Party:Carolina Mountain Club (leader Ashok Kudva
Ryan Fix
George Grunewald
Marcia Bromberg
Heidi Swann
Bobbie Powers
Donna Lanning).
Date:Saturday, October 13, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Hardy
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:6120 ft / 1865 m

Ascent Trip Report

Out of respect for the wilderness, you probably shouldn't read this or any other trip report for Mount Hardy. ; )

Blazes and signs are forbidden on the trails in the Middle Prong Wilderness and the adjacent Shining Rock Wilderness. Evidently, the keepers of the wilderness expect you to find your own way.

The results?

1. It's easy to get lost. We met three hikers and a trail runner who were off course and needed directions. In spite of the wilderness designation, there is LOTS of foot traffic here.

2. Homemade markings abound. You'll follow signs left by the hikers who have gone before you--occasional ribbons, branches laid across wrong paths, and even hatchet slashes on tree trunks. Blazes would be less obtrusive, and marked trails would minimize trampling.

3. Mount Hardy is more of an orienteering challenge than it needs to be.

We hiked the Mountain-to-Sea Trail from NC 215 westbound to the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Rough Butt Bald overlook. This section of the MST follows an old logging railroad, and you can find old rails, cables, and even cross-ties. The MST is well-maintained (if unmarked) and not hard to follow as it passes north of Mount Hardy. However, finding the spur trail to the summit can be tricky.

I hiked with a group from the Carolina Mountain Club, ably guided by Ashok Kudva, who is quite familiar with the wilderness. We started at a well-used gravel parking area about a half-mile north of the Parkway on the west side of NC 215 (elevation 5160). The MST crosses here (unsigned, of course!), but we bypassed the first 200 yards to avoid a wet stream crossing.

Hike down the road until it crosses the creek. At that point, you'll see the old railroad grade on the left (west) side, which is now the route for the MST. This trail climbs gently for 2.65 miles to reach Fork Ridge at elevation 5800 on the NE side of Mount Hardy.

In places where the MST leaves the railroad grade, it's easy to go astray. We missed a turn at a stream crossing near the 2-mile mark, where the MST veers to the R under rhododendron but another worn path continues straight ahead uphill. If you sense that you're off the maintained trail, it's wise to retreat.

At 2.65 miles, the MST makes an S turn around two large uprooted trees (maybe hemlocks or spruce). Just beyond this, watch closely on the left for the spur trail that heads SW toward the summit. The CMC website says there is a flat rock with a T-shaped blaze at this intersection, but I did not see it. If you recognize the northbound Fork Ridge/Green Mountain path on the right, you've gone too far.

Because the junction for the summit trail is unmarked, several manways have developed through the forest, and it is easy to get disoriented. GPS is helpful--especially on the way down.

One crucial junction on the summit trail is marked by an unusual forked birch tree and a "nursing tree"--a fallen evergreen where several branches have become trees of their own. Beyond this point, the path becomes steeper but easier to follow. There are some clearings with nice views near the top, though the actual summit is wooded.

After you leave the MST, it's just over a half-mile on the spur trail to an outcropping with a RM (No. 2 Black Mt, 1933). The arrow points into the brush, presumably toward the BM. But I did not pursue it, since it's obvious on the topo that the BM (elevation 6110) is not in the highest contour. Continue along the wooded ridge about 200 yards, crossing into the 6120 contour to find a knee-high rock that's the true HP.

The out-and-back hike from NC215 to the summit and back would be 6.5 miles with a climb of almost 1,000 feet--qualifying for the South Beyond 6000 standards. There is a shortcut from the Parkway following a manway on the steep southeast side of Mount Hardy, but that route is too short for SB6K.

Our group had the advantage of multiple cars parked at both ends, so we did not have to retrace our steps. After leaving the summit, we visited a meadow north of the MST with spectacular views to the west. (I am told there is another great viewpoint 1 mile further north on Fork Ridge, about halfway to Green Knob.) We descended through the field, rejoined the MST, and continued westbound, finally leaving the Middle Prong Wilderness and taking another spur trail to the Rough Butt Bald overlook. Our route totaled 5.6 miles, about 4.4 along the MST and 1.2 on the Mount Hardy spur.

Along the way, we enjoyed meeting a trail maintenance gang from the Carolina Mountain Club, who were cutting fallen trees, clearing undergrowth, improving drainage--in general, taming the wilderness. They do great work. If the Forest Service would let me, I'd buy them a bucket of trailblazing paint.

If you're not familiar with the Carolina Mountain Club, check out They offer frequent guided hikes spanning most of western NC and parts of TN and SC. Their website includes a treasure trove of maps and trip reports covering hundreds of trails and peaks.

Mount Hardy is my 20th peak among the 40 on the South Beyond 6000 checklist
I need to re-do four by SB6K-approved routes: Mt Mitchell, Mt Craig, Richland Balsam, and Clingman's Dome.

Still on my to-do list: most of the Smokies, the Plott Balsams, Cold Mountain, and the Black Mountains traverse. If you're interested in a slow hike to any of those, send me a message.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1160 ft / 353 m
    Total Elevation Loss:920 ft / 279 m
    Round-Trip Distance:5.6 mi / 9 km
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1060 ft / 323 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 960 ft / 293 m; Extra: 100 ft / 30m
    Loss on way in:100 ft / 30 m
    Distance:3.2 mi / 5.2 km
    Route:MST wesbound, Mt Hardy spur trail
    Start Trailhead:NC 215   5160 ft / 1572 m
    Time:2 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:820 ft / 249 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 720 ft / 220 m; Extra: 100 ft / 30m
    Gain on way out:100 ft / 30 m
    Distance:2.3 mi / 3.8 km
    Route:MST wesbound
    End Trailhead:BRP Rough Butt Bald overlook  5400 ft / 1645 m
    Time:2 Hours 

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