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Ascent of Balsam Beartown Mountain on 2017-01-10

Climber: Duncan Lennon

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Balsam Beartown Mountain
    Location:USA-Virginia
    Elevation:4710 ft / 1435 m

Ascent Trip Report

Ok. The trip reports on cohp.org are good but aging, and conflict slightly. There are a couple of decent reports on this site but I want to add a detailed, broken-down one for the common Chestnut Ridge route that makes sense to everyone. Begin!

Overview
A fun, rolling hike through beech-maple forest. One third of the hike is on maintained hiking trail, another third on semi-maintained forest road, the last third (comprising several different sections) being cross-country travel of varying steepness with minor patchy undergrowth. Less than nine miles round trip, with 2500'-2800' of total gain depending on exact route.

Driving
Find directions to Walker Gap. All roads are paved and driveable in most conditions until 0.5 miles below Walker Gap, at which point a gravel track leads steeply uphill to the Gap and the AT. Medium clearance needed to get up there. There are places to pull off and park near the end of the paved road if the gravel track is a no-go.

To Chestnut Ridge
From Walker Gap, the white-blazed AT gains just over 900' in ~1.4 miles. The stone, fully enclosed Chestnut Knob Shelter graces the very summit.

To Heninger Gap
From the outhouse of the shelter, walk northwest down the hill. An obvious barbed wire fenceline leads to a newer electric fenceline. Follow this closely, staying left of it, until it makes a 90° right turn. Note that here the ridge divides into two parallel ridges. Follow the fence to the right and down the hill on the more easterly of the two ridges. This ridge reaches a woods road just southwest of a small green house; walk to the right of the house onto a road that descends north to the Gap proper.

To the summit!
From Heninger Gap the woods road climbs, eventually passing through a rhododendron patch. Once through the patch you are near a minor saddle southeast of 'South Balsam Beartown'. Cross the flat saddle due north to pick up another woods road, which contours around the east slope of the subpeak. This road then descends slightly to a grassy, crescent-shaped ridge (the "swag" in other reports). The woods road faintly continues across the ridge, but you have a choice here. A) Continue across the ridge, enjoying great views but braving some not-that-trivial thorn meadows. Wear pants for Choice A. Or B) Descend to your left, heading straight for Balsam Beartown and avoiding most thorns but losing some extra elevation. Either way, you have to duck some Hawthorn trees but you arrive somewhere below the southeast ridge of the peak. Climb steeply but easily up to the ridge, then walk up to the summit on a gentle game trail.

My experience
I love sleeping on summits so I carried overnight gear up to the Chestnut Ridge shelter and spent a cozy night in there; highly recommended. There was half a foot of snow on the ground, which made parts of this easier as I had tracks to follow on the return. I saw numerous deer and, unusually, a deer-shaped area melted out of the snow where one had fallen after being shot the previous day. Burke's Garden is one of the most unique and beautiful places I've seen in the eastern U.S. That alone made this hike worthwhile. Pretty cool!
Summary Total Data
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)



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