Ascent of Sandymush Bald on 2016-07-04

Climber: Tom Layton

Date:Monday, July 4, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Sandymush Bald
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:5152 ft / 1570 m

Ascent Trip Report

This was an outstanding hike in many ways--including the westward views toward the Smokies, the hospitality of the folks at the Cabins at Sandy Mush Bald, and the opportunity to explore a route that has not been previously posted on COHP or Peakbagger.

Start your trip with a visit to, which offers overnight bunkhouse accommodations, supper, and breakfast just 500 feet below the summit. Even if you're not staying overnight, stop in to say hello, refill your water, and catch your breath on the porch swing. It's a little like Le Conte Lodge but a little less exclusive, less expensive, and (at 4640 feet) less elevated. On the other hand, Sandymush tops Le Conte by staying open year-round and serving garden-fresh food. While I was there, the staff were pulling potatoes to cook for supper.

I had the opportunity to meet the man who built the cabins, Dr. John Adler, 95, a hiking pioneer who was with President Roosevelt when he dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940. Here the connections to Le Conte Lodge grow deeper. Dr. Adler told me that he has climbed Le Conte over a hundred times. One year he hiked up every week to deliver the mail to the lodge staff. Dr. Adler is quite the entrepreneur, and he said that Herrick Brown once offered him the chance to take over as manager of Le Conte Lodge.

Just like at Le Conte Lodge, you have to hike to the Cabins at Sandymush. The route to the cabins is 2.5 miles and climbs 1200 feet, which is only half as hard as the Alum Cave Bluff trail to LeConte. Also, Sandymush is accessible by high-clearance 4WD vehicles, which is how Dr. Adler gets there nowadays. In fact, the webpage says that if you really need a ride up, let them know.

The hike follows the gated 4WD road up the north side of Sandymush Bald.

The GPS address for the trailhead is 19001 Highway 209, Hot Springs NC. (Actually, it's 19 miles from the town of Hot Springs.) Coming from Asheville, I took Exit 24 off I-40 and headed north on NC 209, which makes a right turn after about 8 miles at the Ferguson Supply store in the Fines Creek community. The next stretch of road is known as "The Rattler" by motorcycle enthusiasts. Once NC 209 crosses Betsy's Gap at the Madison-Haywood county line, you're about a mile away. Look for the golden 19001 mailbox on the left, which marks a new parking area on the right.

The trail follows an old woods road that is shown as a dotted line on the topo paralleling Bald Branch. You'll pass through two gates and climb steadily for 1.2 miles to the head spring, which is halfway to the cabins. Beyond this point, the road switchbacks a couple of times and the grade gets easier. The intersections are marked with homemade signs.

You'll reach the cabins in 2.5 miles. They sit on the north side of Sandymush Bald at 4640 feet in a clearing that looks northeast toward Little Sandymush Bald (which is easily accessible if you're collecting unranked peaks).

From the cabins, it's another 0.6 miles up an old jeep trail to the summit of Sandymush Bald. Follow the fence-line on your left, and stay left at the only junction. This path is a little steep in places.

At the summit, you can find the Sandymush benchmark under a couple of stones about a foot below the surface of the field. The 5120 summit contour is oblong and there is also high ground in the trees on the southwestern end, along with a reference disk marked Sandymush 3 that is set in stone 200 yards from the benchmark. My altimeter couldn't say for certain which of these points is higher, and I think peakbaggers and county high-pointers would be wise to touch them both.

Sandymush Bald was my 94th COHP out of 100 in NC. Still to go: Haywood and Cherokee in the mountains, Camden and Pasquotank in the Great Dismal Swamp, and Currituck and Dare on the Outer Banks. Let me know if you're going any of those places.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1852 ft / 564 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1852 ft / 564 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6.6 mi / 10.6 km
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Weather:Hot, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1852 ft / 564 m
    Distance:3.5 mi / 5.6 km
    Route:4WD road to Cabins at Sandy Mush
    Start Trailhead:3300 ft / 1005 m
    Time:2 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:1852 ft / 564 m
    Distance:3.1 mi / 5 km
    End Trailhead:3300 ft / 1005 m
    Time:1 Hours 30 Minutes

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