Ascent of Sassafras Mountain on 2015-08-08

Climber: Brian McCray

Date:Saturday, August 8, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Sassafras Mountain
    Location:USA-North Carolina/South Carolina
    Elevation:3554 ft / 1083 m

Ascent Trip Report

Multi-day, multi-summit trip including Table Rock, Pinnacle Mountain, Hickorynut Mountain and Sassafras Mountain.

We arrived at Sassafras Mountain in the early evening after departing Hickorynut Mountain. The trail from Hickorynut consists primarily of the long, relatively high saddle between Hickorynut and Sassafras. There are still a number of turns and switchbacks, but the course is pretty straightforward and not particularly challening. There are several campsite options along this route (many of them buried deeply in rhododendron thickets) but we opted to camp at the summit.

The trail exits the woods just shy of the summit. After making a right turn onto the road, the road ascends a few hundred feet toward a gravel parking lot on the left. Out trip turned around at the summit, however, if one wanted to continue on down the Foothills Trail, the trail reenters the woods near the parking lot on the same side of the road as its initial exit.

The summit location is pretty self-explanatory once you get to the parking lot, but there are three options to physically reach it.

- You could continue down the original road (it winds around the back side of the summit and eventually comes out at a cell tower site at the summit).

- You could take a faint trail near the front corner of the parking lot and ascend toward that same cell tower.

- You could head toward the back portion of the parking lot. There, you'll find a scenic overlook, but just before it there's also a faint trail that leads to the summit area.

There has been a lot of activity at the summit from late 2014 on into 2015. Tree clearing operations were conducted at some point, and several acres of fallen timber still litters the summit. A new weather observation station was built next to the cell tower. At a cost of $15,000, the new tower allows for direct weather observations of the mountain rather than extrapolating data from the nearest other station on Caesars Head. Finally, some other type of tower is going to be constructed (according to locals) some time in the near future. Because of the fallen trees and brush, the main trails to the summit are littered with debris and difficult to hike. If you have any doubts about this, it might just be better to take the gravel road the final few hundred feet to the summit.

The actual summit is marked by a USGS-style benchmark (but set by the state of South Carolina), as well as a park bench (courtesy of and a plaque identifying the South Carolina high point. Views are pretty good in just about all directions, including some spectacular views of North Carolina's 6000+ foot Great Balsam Mountains to the west. The sun sets over these mountains and I was lucky enough to be up there at this time of day.

Camping locations were probably good at one time, but are limited now because of the extensive debris. There are some flat rock locations that would be good, but you'll need a free-standing tent that doesn't depend on staking directly to the ground. Note that I was unable to find any water from the base of Hickorynut Mountain to the summit of Sassafras, so it pays to bring extra if you're doing a longer hike.

Because there is a road to within several hundred feet of the summit, this peak gets a fair number of visitors during the late spring to early fall. It's not uncommon to have a dozen cars in the parking lot around sunset. I had the opportunity to drive to the summit a few days after this trip to explore the summit road, and found it easily drivable by any vehicle. It's steep--it'll make your engine whine--but it's a well-maintain (but pretty long) road.

The descent was pretty straightforward--back down into the saddle area between Sassafras and Hickorynut using the Foothills Trail (or back onto the Foothills Trail in the opposite direction if you're continuing on that way). There was a bit of rain overnight and some wind gusts from a cold front, which actually made it feel pretty good the next morning.

Summary Total Data
    Route:Foothills Trail
    Trailhead:Hickorynut Mountain  
    Quality:3 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Weather:Drizzle, Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Hot and dry on the ascent, some rain overnight and drizzle in the morning on the descent
Ascent Part of Trip: Sassafras Mountain (2 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Table Rock2015-08-07 
2Pinnacle Mountain2015-08-08 
3Hickorynut Mountain2015-08-08 
4Sassafras Mountain2015-08-08 
5Hickorynut Mountain2015-08-09 

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