Ascent of Shining Rock on 2018-03-17

Climber: Marcus Lostracco

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Saturday, March 17, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Shining Rock
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:6000 ft / 1828 m

Ascent Trip Report

I was in Atlanta for work and I packed my hiking gear with the intention on using it to get back to the South Beyond 6000. I can say I have re-discovered the peakbagger itch.

After a long and busy week I got a rental car in Atlanta and left at 5:30pm on Friday March 16th in the middle of rush-hour traffic. I picked up a map at REI and then hit the road north to NC. I stayed at the Brook Trout Inn in Sapphire, NC - great place. $100 for the night. I arrived at 9pm and was in bed and completely knackered by 10pm. I set my alarm for 5am.

My goal was to complete a nearly 30-mile loop in the Shining Rock Wilderness that would bag 7 of the South Beyond 6000 peaks. Chestnut Bald, Tennent Mountain, Black Balsam Knob, Grassy Cove Top, Shining Rock, Cold Mountain, and Sam Knob. Starting with the Mountains to Sea trail at Beech Gap, connecting to the Art Loeb Trail, and eventually following the Cold Mountain approach trail, returning to my starting point via Sam Knob on Laurel Creek Flat.

I arrived at Beech Gap at 7am - from Sapphire I took the US 64 East then the NC-215 North to the Blue Ridge Parkway intersect. The BRP was closed in many areas. I found this to be a joke - the roads were all clear, no reason to have it closed. I parked in a turnout at the MTS trailhead crossing (White blaze).

It was slightly raining so I began to suit up to put on my waterproof pants. As I was doing this I realized I barely had the energy to put them on! I shut my eyes for a minute. Then I laid the driver's seat down flat. I went to sleep and woke up at 10:30am. Wow - I guess I really needed it. I had not been resting enough this week. I groggily got ready and was off and hiking at 11am. I was already hungry (the 6am breakfast had already worn off), so I took a break within the first 10 minutes to eat my sandwich. Talk about a slow start.

*Chestnut Bald*
I approached my first 6000 footer of the day after about 45 minutes. Chestnut Bald lies off the MTS trail, after about 3 miles from the TH. My GPS waypoint was indicating I was getting close so I began my bushwhack to the top through a dense forest of super thick thorny grassy stalks. This was super slow going and not fun at all. My hands were getting all cut up and I got poked in the eyeball pretty hard at one point. Finally I figured out to stay close to the bigger trees as there were less of these dense stalks. The summit is an anticlimactic mess of blowdowns with no views. On the way down I found a well-beaten bushwhack trail that took 2 minutes to descend back to the MTS. I should have read some TR's about Chestnut as I would have taken this approach to the top in the first place. To avoid the mistake I made, continue on the MTS until it makes a sharp left turn. Right before that left turn there is a fairly clear path to the top of Chestnut Bald. This avoids the arduous bushwhack on the other side of the peak.

*Tennent Mountain*
The Art Loeb Trail eventually breaks away from the MTS trail not long after Chestnut Bald. There is a fork and a trail marker clearly indicating as such. The key here is to not take the "Little Sam Knob" trail which is immediately preceding the Art Loeb junction. The trees clear up and coming up to Tennent Mountain you are rewarded with amazing panoramic views of the Black Mountains of NC as far as the eye can see. It is only 1 mile from Chestnut Bald so it comes quick - some great instant gratification on this hike.

*Black Balsam Knob*
The trail remains exposed for a good duration of the Art Loeb Trail, then becomes wooded again as it descends to Black Balsam road, where you cross over to continue on the trail. It is a chunky gravel path to start out with, and soon emerges back into the grassy clear rolling hilltops with panoramic views. Black Balsam Knob is the highest point on this loop. It's a vast summit with total panorama - which worked out for me as the sun had emerged - although still very windy at this point. 30mph at least.

*Grassy Cove Top*
Then begins a descent down into Ivestor Gap. This is the point where the Art Loeb Trail crosses into the Shining Rock Wilderness area. There were signs posted saying "Trail Closed to Grassy Cove Top due to erosion". I ignored these, as most people do, and went to the top of Grassy Cove Top. I think the reason it's called Grassy Cove is, once again, like Chestnut Bald, there are these big thick stalks of thorny grass. It's a somewhat strenuous climb to reach the top, but once again, total panorama and awesome views.

*Shining Rock*
After descending and following the Art Loeb Trail, it reaches a junction at Shining Rock Gap. Here, you continue to the right, and follow the trail, which goes off in several directions. You follow the general out-and-back trail to Shining Rock. The whole hike I was wondering, why is it called Shining Rock? Well the answer became clear as I approached it - there are huge (huge!) chunks and slabs of quartz on the ground. The summit itself is capped in giant quartz boulders and slabs. Pure white quartz with some lichen thriving on it. Really unique. I reached a false summit which was a pleasant viewpoint. I found the trail once more and continued on to the actual summit - it is in a field of rhododendrons. I was quite tired at this point and laid down on a quartz slab that was sitting in the sun. The rock was nice and cool. I closed my eyes and the next thing I know I was waking up to a cool gust of wind. I looked at my watch and it was 3:15pm - I had been out for a good 40 minutes! And I was still by myself on the summit. Not a bad place to catch up on some Z's. However, at this point I concluded that Cold Mountain was not going to happen. It was another 4.4 miles from Shining Rock Gap, which would have been over an hour each way, then another 10 miles to get back to my car. Too late for my liking. So when I got back to Shining Rock Gap I took the side trail that bypasses Grassy Cove top to return to Ivestor gap - a nice and flat equestrian trail which moves quickly and has some amazing moss features along the side of it.

*Sam Knob*
When I got back to Ivestor Gap, instead of taking Art Loeb, I took the return trail that goes off to the slight right (not sure of the name) - this brings you to a parking area at the top of Sam Knob road. Along this trail there was a truck in the middle of it with a broken axle. That's what you get for driving on the trail... The after crossing through the parking area of Sam Knob I marched on to the approach trail. It's a pretty steep climb! Some awesome views from the top. Actually one of the nicer summits of the day. I descended quickly and returned to my car via Laurel Creek Flat trail. Some awesome waterfalls along here.

A gorgeous day. Really felt like I made the most of it. This is a great time of year to come up to the beautiful mountains of NC. The weather is still unpredictable but on a good day, the trails are all yours.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:400 ft / 121 m
    Quality:4 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Windy, Partly Cloudy
Sun came out for the summit
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:400 ft / 121 m
    Distance:10 mi / 16.1 km
    Route:Art Loeb Trail
    Start Trailhead:Ivestor Gap  5600 ft / 1706 m
    Time:4 Hours 
Descent Statistics

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