Ascent of Gravel Knob on 2013-10-03

Climber: Tom Layton

Others in Party:Charles Zerphey
Date:Thursday, October 3, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Gravel Knob
    Location:USA-North Carolina/Tennessee
    Elevation:4852 ft / 1478 m

Ascent Trip Report

This was a long way to go for a miserable little bushwhack to the HP of Greene County TN. According to my GPS, it was 12.4 miles round trip with over 2300 feet of climbing to get to an overgrown ridge looking in a thornpatch for BM Big Butt. We found the summit rock (chiseled with four compass directions) but the photo-op BM was missing.

Previous trip reports indicate some confusion about Gravel Knob, and it's easy to see why. The Big Butt BM is (or was) on Gravel Knob. A half mile away is another peak named Big Butt, whose BM is Big Rocks. Even the venerable AT guidebook locates Gravel Knob incorrectly.

In hindsight, I'm kicking myself for not continuing to Big Butt/Big Rocks to at least get a payoff view for all this hiking. But Charlie Zerphey and I (combined age 142) were already pushing our limit, and the return hike exhausted us.

If I were to do this again, I would investigate the route from Bald Mountain Road further west. It sounds much more rewarding in terms of views, and the climbing might be less. Here's hoping for a better route via the new Rocky Fork State Park being developed on the TN side. And see details below (mile 5.0) for a once-a-year opportunity to get here by horse or jeep.

We started at Devil Fork Gap on the TN/NC line SW of Erwin, TN. From I-26, we took TN 352 up to the gap, where the AT crosses. The road continues as NC212. NOTE: It's easy to get disoriented here. For several miles around Devil Fork Gap, NC is west of TN, and the southbound AT actually heads northerly. Gravel Knob is north of Devil Fork Gap, but you take the southbound AT to get there. The AT guidebook says the knob is compass-west of the trail, but it's actually compass-east from the trail.

The hike involves two long relatively level stretches sandwiched around one intense climb.

Milestones according to my GPS (AT guidebook mileage varies slightly):

0.0/elevation 3100: There's ample parking on the NC side of the Devil Fork Gap. The AT crosses the road a short distance down on the NC side. The first three miles climb gently with a net gain of 600 feet.

2.0/3500: AT crosses a rock slide on the west flank of Flint Mountain.

2.7 miles: Flint Mountain Shelter

3.0/3720 (3.1 per AT guidebook)) AT crosses a saddle and begin descent into Flint Gap.

3.5/3480: Flint Gap is a deep notch that was evidently an old road. Catch your breath--you'll climb 1,000 feet in the next mile.

4.0/3950: AT intersects an old jeep road that will lead you the rest of the way.

4.6/4520 (4.7 per AT guidebook): AT reaches the ridge line and the welcome start of another mile of relatively level hiking.

4.8/4500: Sign on the left (west) marks the yellow-blazed spur trail to Green Ridge Knob (4840). We did not explore this. According to the maps, the state line does not go all the way to the top of Green Ridge Knob, and the summit is in NC. Otherwise, Green Ridge Knob might be a contender for the Greene COHP. Green Ridge Knob is ranked as a P1K peak in NC, so if you seek prominence, don't miss it.

5.0/4500 (5.2 per AT guidebook): Grassy clearing marks the graves of three Civil War victims: David Shelton, William Shelton, and Millard Haire. Their story is fascinating, and you can read it in my blog.

Past the graves, the AT follows a well-traveled jeep road that evidently is open to horseback riders and 4-wheelers for the annual "Coldspring Mountain Decoration Day" on the fourth Sunday each July. If you could hitch a ride up the jeep road, you would pass within 200 yards of the top of Gravel Knob.

5.9/4700 (5.5 per AT guidebook)--the AT crosses the west flank of Gravel Knob. The AT continues climbing toward Big Butt, but we left the trail at the saddle and slashed our way through the briars up the knob.

6.2/4852: After much searching and considerable bloodshed, Charlie found the boulder where the BM used to be--a few feet northwest of a small clearing that had been recently hacked out by someone with a machete. Still, the view was mostly obscured. There wasn't even a good place to sit down and enjoy lunch, so we went directly down the steep west slope to rejoin the AT and begin the long trudge back to the car.

Gravel Knob is my 119th COHP, 7th in TN, and 36th of 88 COHPs along the AT. For Charlie Zerphey, it was his 628th COHP, 7th in TN, and 82nd of 88 along the AT.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2352 ft / 716 m
    Extra Gain:300 ft / 91 m
    Round-Trip Distance:12.4 mi / 20 km
    Trailhead:Devil Fork Gap  3100 ft / 944 m
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Bushwhack
Ascent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 30 Minutes

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