November 5-6, 2016
There are forty peaks over 6000’ as part of the South Beyond 600 Challenge. The most remote and difficult are located in the backcountry of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’ll be honest; these are hard peaks to grab. They require a lot of research and a lot of compass/orienteering skills. My friend Andy and I set out on a chilly Saturday morning from Cosby Knob Campground with the following itinerary: hike up Snake Den Ridge Trail, head south on the A.T. , hike up Old Black, Mt. Guyot, and Tricorner Knob, spend the night at Tricorner Knob Shelter and summit Mark’s Knob on Sunday.
Snake Den Ridge Trail
At the northern end of the Cosby Campground the Snake Den Ridge Trail begins near campsite B51. The trail itself is not overly steep, but it is a steady uphill hike, with some nice switchbacks. I really enjoyed the fall foliage and late autumnal yellowish leaves dancing precariously upon the trees. The only water source is at 1.5 miles at the mouth of Inadu Creek (Inadu meaning “snake” in the Cherokee language). After 4.4 miles the trail veers southwest for .7 miles until finally meeting the A.T. at Inadu Knob. Total elevation gain is 3,440 ft.
We took a right (south) on the A.T., and were impressed by the beauty of the area. You are at alpine level (5,500 – 6,000 ft.) upon a ridge with some stunning open views of surrounding peaks. From Snake Den to Tricorner Knob Shelter is 3.7 miles. It’s not super difficult, although there is some ascent up the skirt of Mt. Guyot.
Old Black (elevation 6,370 ft.) is a relatively easy bushwhack just off the A.T. If coming up Snake Den, continue about 1.5 miles south on the A.T. As soon as the trail starts to bend a little, look for a slight manway to the east (pictured below). We actually didn’t find this clearing till the end. We went up the mountain just short of it and ended having to hike through a ton of blow down and brambles. But, the bushwhack was quick and the summit is marked by a rock cairn at the base and a tattered American Flag protruding from overturned tree roots.
.3 miles past Old Black is the beginning of the bushwhack for Mt. Guyot. Andy I are were starting to get pretty tired from the day’s hiking, so we jointly decided to hike to the shelter for the night and grab Guyot the following day. From Old Black it is 2.1 miles to the Tricorner Knob Shelter (the highest shelter in the Smoky’s at 5,920 ft).
After we put our stuff down, I decided to bushwhack to the summit of Tricorner Knob (elevation 6,120 ft.). The trailhead starts at the corner of the A.T. and Balsam Mountain Trail. You must head in a northeasterly and upward direction. It was less than a 1/4 mile bushwhack; the terrain is not difficult and there’s hardly any blowdown. The summit is a rock cairn and the highest point on the mountain. Of interest, this the dividing point for Haywood County N.C., Swain County N.C. and Cocke County, T.N.
This is the one. This is the peak (elevation 6,169 ft.) that I had the most trepidation about. In the South Beyond 6000 challenge, it is the most remote peak and the longest bushwhack (1.6 miles). The key to the hike is to find the exact spot to begin the bushwhack. We left the shelter at 8:00 am and started hiking on the Balsam Mountain Trail. I timed it and exactly .5 miles from the junction the trail takes a sharp turn to the north (left). The bushwhack begins on the right hand side of the trail or south (pictured below).
Just past the trees, trail becomes evident. This used to be the old Hyatt Ridge Trail in the last century. While there is a ridiculous amount of blowdown, the trail is fairly easy to follow. As you can view in the GPS link at the bottom, we went around Mt. Hardison and then summited Mark’s Knob from the east side. The Hyatt goes for 1.2 miles, after which you have to be quick to spot the manway , which is a short, steep bushwhack up Mark’s Knob (pictured below). At the top we spotted the cairn marking the false summit. Just a few hundred yards past this is the actual summit, with several ribbons.
This was by far the best bushwhack of the trip. There’s something magical about being deep in the woods and not on a trail, a sense of adventure that invigorates.
This was the last peak of the day and it was a doozy. Mt. Guyot (elevation 6,621) is the third highest peak in the eastern United States. It’s also one of the hardest bushwhacks. From the Balsam Mountain junction with the A.T. we hiked 2.3 miles north on the A.T. There’s no guesswork as to where Guyot is located, it’s seen from miles around. The hard part is to know where to begin. As the A.T. takes a sharp turn northeast, we picked a good spot (what we thought was a good spot) near a dry spring. There’s no easy way about this, you take out your compass, head east by northeast and keep heading up. The terrain is steep, but soon it became thick with blowdown and briars. Soon my hands were bleeding from the scrapes. At one point I stepped on a log, which was rotted and my leg plunged down up to my knee and wedged between two trees.
Eventually we made it past the blowdown and spotted a cairn, and not only a cairn, but a benchmark. Exultation! This was the peak.
We didn’t want to return through the blowdown field, so we went north and then headed due west, using both my Suunto Traverse breadcrumb feature and the compass to make sure we were heading south and back to the A.T.
After the bushwhack up Mt. Guyot, we were spent. Luckily, it was a downhill hike from Snake Den Ridge. What a weekend and what a hike. This was some of the most fun I’ve had hiking in a while.
GPS link – Day 1 (Old Black and Tricorner): https://www.movescount.com/moves/move130223363
GPS link – Day 2 (Mark’s Knob and Mt. Guyot): https://www.movescount.com/moves/move130223353
Total mileage is 24.4 miles.