Panthertown Valley -- Laurel Knob (4-7-16)
If you've never heard of Laurel Knob, you're not alone. Not many people outside the local hiking/climbing community have. With a summit elevation of only around 4,530' it would be a fairly non-descript peak if not for one distinguishing feature, and it's a BIG one...it's south face. Rising anywhere from 1,200-1,500 vertical feet from the valley below Laurel Knob's south face sports the tallest unbroken rock face in the eastern United States. Now I really bet you're wondering why you've never heard of it!
The main reason Laurel Knob has remained off most peoples radar is that its not easily accessed. In fact, up until 2006, unless you owned property around the mountain one would have to trespass to get to it. That year, though, everything changed. An organization called the Carolina Climbers Coalition purchased access rights to the cliff face and constructed an access trail which would allow climbers to reach the Knob legally, from Panthertown Valley. Even so the peak is still a bit of a challenge to reach, and thus it remains relatively unknown in the region.
To reach the cliffs of Laurel Knob the closest access is from the Saltrock Gap Trailhead on the western side of Panthertown Valley. From the trailhead to the cliffs is nearly three miles one-way utilizing the Panthertown Valley, Deep Gap, and Laurel Knob Access Trails. The hike to the end of the Deep Gap Trail is quite easy with only minor elevation changes. The CCC-constructed access trail to the cliffs, however, is a different animal altogether. The lack of visitation means its a narrow trailthat never feels like its been worn-in. Exposed roots, slick ledges, log-top stream crossings, and an extremely steep final descent to the base of the cliffs makes it a challenging path to hike...and I only hiked it. I can't imagine the determination climbers must have making the long trek in and then climbing a 1,500' cliff!
Unfortunately my time went by faster than expected and I wasn't able to do a complete exploration along the bottom of the cliff face...rather I just barely made it to the cliffs. What I did see was simply jaw-dropping however. This is one of those places where nature makes you feel very, very small. It's a place that will certainly now be on my short list of places to return to. In the meantime, come on along with me and take a glimpse at an astounding eastern peak which few have ever seen...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.168203, -83.039668
Mileage Hiked: 5.8 miles Hike Duration: 2:30
Trailhead Temp: 50'F Trail Traffic: None!
Min. Elevation: 3,620' Max. Elevation: 4,075'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,250' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 216'