Ascent of Big Butt on 2012-10-27

Climber: Tom Layton

Date:Saturday, October 27, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Big Butt
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:5920 ft / 1804 m

Ascent Trip Report

This is a nice hike made better by recent trail improvements. My GPS said 6.25 miles round trip from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Big Butt. Other reports say as much as 8.3 miles. The trail follows a forested ridgeline, and except for a brief dip when you leave the Parkway, you're over a mile high all the way.

The grades are gentle to the unfortunately named Point Misery. Then you cross a 300-foot-deep notch on the way to Little Butt. The south face of Little Butt is treacherously steep and the trail winds between towering cliffs, but the hike has been made easier by 185 steps built out of heavy-duty 8x12 landscape timbers that had to be hauled two miles from the trailhead. My thanks and praise to the U.S. Forestry Service and N.C. High Peaks Trail Association for excellent work.

Additional trail construction has recently cleared a path to the overgrown summit of Big Butt, which must have been a bushwhacking challenge previously.

Big Butt was once known as Yeates Knob, and it was along this ridge in 1835 where Elisha Mitchell made his first measurements to determine that Mount Mitchell was the highest point in eastern America.

Landmarks of the hike:

0.00 miles/elevation 5317--Park at Walker Knob Overlook (Balsam Gap) on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Mountain-to-Sea Trail crosses the Parkway here, and an old logging railroad leads NE. A sign with its back to the road points to the Big Butt Trail, which starts downhill to the NW. (The sign says 3 miles to Little Butt, but it's actually 2.35 to Little Butt and 3.13 to Big Butt.)

0.62/5480--After climbing stairs, the trail crosses an unranked knoll that is listed as Brush Fence Ridge by Peakbagger and listsofjohn.

1.49/5715--summit of Point Misery is about 20 yards off the R side of the trail, marked by a surveyor's stake at the foot of a ancient and picturesque forked tree.

2.02/5320--gap between Point Misery and Little Butt.

2.35/5604--after a steep climb, trail crosses the summit of Little Butt.

2.67/5680--fine view across the Cane Creek valley (Big Tom Preserve) to Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains range. This was probably one of Dr. Mitchell's vantage points.

2.90/5800--junction for the quarter-mile spur trail to the summit. This is about 100 yards after the Big Butt trail leaves the ridgeline and begins to contour around the E side of Big Butt, continuing on toward Flat Spring Knob. The summit route is well marked by pink ribbons. Underbrush has been cleared and saplings cut to make it easy to find your way.

3.13/5929--summit is marked by a NC Geodetic Survey marker, "Big Butt 1993." No views here.

Peakbaggers who come this far would be wise to continue another half-mile north on the Big Butt Trail to bag Flat Spring Knob. The NC5K list on Peakbagger (which is based on a minimum of 160 feet prominence) includes Flat Spring (prominence 200). Approaching storms deterred me from going to Flat Spring Knob today, but I will be back.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1843 ft / 560 m
    Extra Gain:620 ft / 188 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6.3 mi / 10.1 km
    Route:Big Butt Trail
    Trailhead:BRP Walker Knob Overlook  5317 ft / 1620 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 35 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 

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