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Ascent of Beartown Mountain on 2012-11-11

Climber: Tom Layton

Others in Party:Charles Zerphey
Rickey Shortt
John Hamann
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, November 11, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Beartown Mountain
    Location:USA-Virginia
    Elevation:4689 ft / 1429 m

Ascent Trip Report

We succeeded in climbing Beartown from the southwest after failing on the north side six months earlier. Two trips don't make me an expert on this notorious and trail-less peak, but I think climbers would be wise to approach the summit from the ridge that sticks out like a thumb on the contour map W/SW of the peak.

When you study the trip reports, it's evident that every route encounters cliffs and hellish rhododendrons that guard the summit plateau. On our previous attempt, starting near Dennison's Chapel, we followed an old road and then a ridge line that got us within 200 vertical feet of the top on the north side, but the undergrowth and blowdowns were so thick and tangled that we could not push further.

This time, making our summit approach from the W/SW, we got there, thanks largely to the trailblazing diligence and expertise of Rick Shortt and John Hamann. The rhododendron were not nearly as thick on this side, and instead of being obstacles, they served as handholds to climb the steepest sections. Our biggest challenge was negotiating snow that had accumulated at the base of the cliffs following Hurricane Sandy. The cliffs are fractured, and you don't have to be a rock climber to find ways through them.

The "thumb" ridge can be reached from the south or north via ridgeline pastures that are evident on the topo and satellite photos. Either way, you need permission to hike through cattle ranches, which are fenced, gated, and occupied. Respect private property!

There are panoramic views from the pastures, which go all the way up to 4300 feet on the tip of the thumb. Beyond that, you enter the hardwood forest on a picturesque grassy path and follow the ridge straight up into the rhododendrons. When you hit the cliffs, head to the left (north) and work your way up.

On top, thick spruce makes for slow going, but as you begin to reach some boat-shaped boulders, the understory opens up into an evergreen cathedral, and you'll see a cairn that marks the likely HP. The BM is supposedly on a lesser rock a couple of hundred feet to the north, but in the snow we did not look for it.

There are no views from the summit itself, but you'll find spectacular views atop the cliffs a short distance to the west.

To be strictly legal, you'll want to get a $4 day-use permit from the Virginia Wildlife Department, which manages the top and east side of the mountain for hunting. The hike across the public game land (from Tumbling Creek near Saltville) is even tougher than the way we hiked, and I seriously doubt if any hunters go to the top--I can't imagine dragging a deer or bear from up there. Nevertheless, if you're hiking during hunting season (as we were), it's good to know that there's no hunting in Virginia on Sundays.

Our hike was particularly significant for Charlie Zerphey, the 82-year-old whiz kid who needed Beartown to complete every COHP in Virginia--his 13th green state!

Just like on Balsam Beartown earlier this year, we had a quorum for a chapter meeting of the COHP century club: Charlie now has 616 COHPs, John Hamann 223, Rick Shortt 185, and I have 110.

Rick was making his 4th successful climb of Beartown. Before we arrived, only 14 others on Peakbagger, listsofjohn, and summitpost had claimed this peak.

Beartown also enabled me to complete the list of the 13 Virginia peaks over 4500 feet. For anyone who has the 5 COHP peaks on this list (Beartown, Balsam Beartown, Chestnut Ridge, Whitetop, and Mt Rogers), the rest are not particularly difficult.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1769 ft / 539 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1769 ft / 539 m
    Round-Trip Distance:5.1 mi / 8.2 km
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground
    Weather:Pleasant, Windy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1769 ft / 539 m
    Distance:2.6 mi / 4.2 km
    Route:SW side
    Start Trailhead:Corn Valley Road  2920 ft / 890 m
    Time:3 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:1769 ft / 539 m
    Distance:2.5 mi / 4 km
    End Trailhead:Corn Valley Road  2920 ft / 890 m
    Time:2 Hours 



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