Ascent of Saddle Mountain on 2013-08-24

Climber: Tom Layton

Date:Saturday, August 24, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Saddle Mountain
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:3367 ft / 1026 m

Ascent Trip Report

Saddle Mountain has two summits a half-mile apart that are on different quads, which creates some confusion. The lesser peak, known locally as the Horn of Saddle Mountain, actually has the name Saddle Mountain on the Cumberland Knob quad. The higher peak is identified only by its spot elevation, 3367, on the Roaring Gap quad. Complicating the situation is that Cumberland Knob has 20-foot contours while Roaring Gap has 40-footers, so if you're just counting contour lines from the saddle, the Horn may seem higher. The sign on the Horn says Elevation 3367, but this actually refers to the other peak. There is a benchmark on the Horn (BM Saddle, USCGS 1933) that has an elevation of 3334, according to its datasheet.

The summit is on the Eastern Continental Divide, but the Horn is east of the divide.

The land was marked for development until it was purchased by the Conservation Trust of North Carolina through a grant from the Stanback family of Salisbury. It was transferred through the Piedmont Conservancy and now is managed by the NC Wildlife Commission as the Mitchell River Game Lands.

Other than not being well-marked from the road, it's easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Take Saddle Mountain Church Road a short distance, turn right on Mountain Lake Road, and then take the first gravel driveway on the left, which passes through an unmarked gate that is usually open but may be closed in winter. Drive a half-mile on this road (passable by car) to a second gate which is locked and signed. This is the hunters' parking area and the trailhead.

The road continues up another half-mile and then connects with a loop that crosses the summit of Saddle Mountain. A sign at the gate says it is a 2.9 mile roundtrip hike to do the loop and the spur trail to the Horn. Peakbaggers don't need to do the whole loop, and it was 2.7 miles for me, with a gentle climb totaling a little over 600 feet.

From the gate, walk uphill for 0.5 miles, then take the left side of the loop and continue to the saddle at 0.8 miles. Here, the road switchbacks to the right and crests at 0.95 miles. The summit is a short, easy bushwhack to the left (south). Return to the saddle, where there is a sign pointing to the horn. The trail follows the ridge and reaches the Horn 0.4 from the saddle and 1.55 from the start of the hike. Then it's 1.25 miles back down to the car.

The Horn is mostly wooded but has a great view eastward to Fisher Peak. In the winter (or with a little tree-thinning) this would be a nice vantage point for Pilot Mt and the Sauratown Mtns.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:687 ft / 209 m
    Total Elevation Loss:120 ft / 36 m
    Round-Trip Distance:2.7 mi / 4.3 km
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:687 ft / 209 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 567 ft / 173 m; Extra: 120 ft / 36m
    Loss on way in:120 ft / 36 m
    Distance:1.5 mi / 2.4 km
    Route:Gravel roads, signed trail
    Start Trailhead:Hunters parking area  2800 ft / 853 m
Descent Statistics
    Distance:1.2 mi / 1.9 km

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