For some time I have been trying to locate the highest peak in the South Mountains of North Carolina. I had read in a number of places that the range reached a height of 3,100+ feet. But whenever I'd search topographic maps, the highest peak I could find was just a shade under 3,000 feet. My pal, Andy Kunkle, finally realized that the confusion arose over a single Internet mention of the 3,100 foot mark. We quickly discounted it after researching the facts.
And the fact that kept coming up was that the highest peak in the South Mountains is a summit called Buzzard Roost, which is 2,980 feet above sea level at its highest point.
Andy, Jacky Thyen and I had tried to reach Buzzard Roost once before. We found a great waterfall (Sally Queen Falls), but failed to reach the high point of the range. This time Andy figured he had a better and shorter route mapped out for us, so we decided to give it a try. The team on this trip was me, Andy, and Bob Johnson. Jack opted out due to his holiday-period sideline business of selling toy Hess Trucks--this keeps him ultra-busy until Christmas time.
I met up with Andy here in town, then we drove to Morganton where we hooked up with the other Bob and then we drove to one of the new sections of South Mountains State Park. This spot is the old Broughton Hospital Reservoir (also known as the Clear Creek Reservoir). It will, in time, be the location of a new campground and cabin area for the park. For now, there's just a road, the lake, and lots of forest to explore.
We followed an old logging road for a while and when that finally vanished in the woods, we just followed the map, bushwhacking through the forest and climbing ever upward toward what we hoped would be the summit of Buzzard Roost.
Heading out from the car, we could see the dam that creates the lake, with the mountains beyond.
Above the lake was Buzzard Roost (on the right) and Hickory Knob (left). Although Hickory Knob actually looks a tad higher from this spot, it's about twenty feet shorter.
As we hiked through the forest we were reminded that Fall was still in full throttle here in the lower mountains of North Carolina.
This time of year, the forest floor is often as beautiful as the trees above.
We were pleased to find a great cliff just at the summit of Buzzard Roost. And what a wonderful view! We could see many of North Carolina's major mountain features from this overlook.
Looking down the 1700 vertical feet we had climbed, we could see the reservoir far below us.
This is the actual highest point of the South Mountains. The rubble summit of Buzzard Roost.
I was also surprised to find a healthy grove of the increasingly rare Carolina hemlock growing above the cliff on Buzzard Roost. These show no signs at all of adelgid infestation and could be saved with the application of the right insecticide.
Andy and Bob with a fallen oak behind them and some of the Carolina hemlocks around.
Andy took this one of me on the way down the mountain. The terrain was really tortuous, but this likely had made things difficult for the timber barons to rob the mountains of its old forests. We saw many big trees, including this impressive oak.
Not quite straight down, but Bob and I both had more than our fair share of tumbles on the trip back to the base of the mountain.