Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.

Username: Password:
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
September 21, 2017, 11:54:55 AM

Login with username, password and session length

Shoutbox

Last 5 Shouts:

ShifuCareaga

July 05, 2017, 02:35:23 PM
ouch!! haha that's gotta bite.

I'm just trying to decide where to go camping this weekend!!
 

Bazinga

July 03, 2017, 06:54:05 PM
Stupid flat tire ruined my hiking plans.  :P

ShifuCareaga

March 06, 2017, 11:19:53 AM
Really missed being out yesterday. Rest is important, though. I hope all of you are having a good spring!
 

Bazinga

November 24, 2016, 02:29:39 PM
Gobble, Gobble.  Happy Turkey Day!!  :D

ShifuCareaga

April 24, 2016, 04:38:09 PM
If people don't get out there... they are missing it... wow what a great weekend for getting out!

Show 50 latest
23 Guests, 3 Users
   

Pine Mountain Trail
Northern Terminus to Skegg Wall


- Scott "Cliftyman" Duvall

I've wanted to see Skegg Wall for quite some time. Ever since I saw a picture that Tim Brothers took of it, it has been on my list of "must see" places. Of course it's not "easy" to get to Skegg Wall. You either have to park at Birch Knob parking area and hike the PMT north to get to it (which is rough country and not a few miles) or you have to climb the northern terminus of the Pine Mountain Trail to access it.

You can see Skegg Wall from below. Some people may not realize this. When you are standing at the Towers Overlook at Breaks Interstate Park if you look in the southwestern direction you'll see two peaks jutting up. The flat one to the west is Skegg Wall and the opposing one to the east is Skegg Knob.

We began our journey at Ashcamp. We wanted to personally visit Ashcamp Arch which is up above Ashcamp Church of Christ and a gas station on a ridge. We bushwhacked up to there and had a snack before coming down and driving to the Breaks. I normally wouldn't mention an unmarked arch but this one is visible from town. I'm not going to tell anyone how to get up there. Most people probably wouldn't want to get up there anyway because it can get a little hairy.

We camped at the Breaks on Thursday night. The campground was clean and had very good facilities. Prices were quite high for primitive camping. Option "A" was $12 per tent and the campground attendant said there was another option (I'll deem it option "B"), that was $12 per site, but it was $12 extra for each tent on the site. Maybe I'm stupid but last time I checked that is the same thing. We thanked the attendant when he gave us the options and we chose option "A" SINCE IT WAS THE SAME EXACT THING AS OPTION B! So we paid $34 for two sites because we had three tents total. We drove to the Towers Overlook and spoke in depth with a gentleman from Barklick, VA and his son about hiking up to the Towers. After learning from him there was a definite route up we drove back to the campsite and got some shuteye. Next morning we ate at a home cooking restaurant on the north side of the Russell Fork in Elkhorn City. The restaurant had good, cheap food and friendly people. It was our understanding that we had to park at the Sheriff's Office to hike the PMT in Elkhorn City. We went there and asked the officials about what a gentleman from VA had told us. We were informed that you could in fact drive up the gas well road he had mentioned. It is public but they said it's nowhere to leave a vehicle and he also said you would need a four wheel drive. I asked the man from VA and he said "sure you can drive a car". Word of warning; folks from eastern KY will drive a car into numerous un-godly places. Don't ever trust them about where you can drive a car. Western Kentuckians like myself get scared driving a car up a 100 foot hill, let alone fish-tailing and spinning all over a 2000 foot mountain. The owner of http://www.russellfork.info/ happened to be doing some business in the sheriff's office and we met him too. He was a wealth of information. He told us how the northern terminus of the PMT isn't blazed very well, that four wheeler trails do split off of it and that there was a new parking area built just two weeks ago for it! We were overjoyed to hear that. We headed out Carson Island Road which runs to the right past the sheriff's office on the south side of the Russell Fork right in Elkhorn City. The parking area was past the pay lake on the right. It consisted of an area with quite a few parking places, trash cans and a gazebo. We promptly started up the trail. In retrospect it took us about 3½ hours to climb to the top and you gain about 2000 feet of elevation if you hike all the way up to Blue Head Overlook. The road begins at a large chimney-like rock that juts out over the Russell Fork river bottom. A right turn up a gravel road takes you straight up the hill. You get to a right-hand 180 degree turn to the right in the road which I'm assuming is the "gas well road". Instead of taking that turn you go straight across a little branch and cut to the left on a dirt and rock encrusted road which is the PMT. You eventually come to another major intersection in the trail which is right past some power lines and there'll be what's left of a metal gate on trail right next to a large boulder. Continue straight on the trail here. If you take the right turn up the mountain you'll continue on a snaking four-wheeler trail that goes all the way up and meets with the PMT at the top of the mountain. This trail is a four wheeler trail and it's in the sun and briars the whole way up. If memory serves me correct you'll pass an area with water with some four wheeler damage on your right, there'll be another four wheeler trail splitting to the left right past this, continue straight. You'll then come to a 180 degree cut to the right in the trail and the road travels on straight. Take the 180 degree bend right up a heavily rock strewn trail that goes straight up. This is the last leg of the trail that will take you to the Elkhorn City overlook. This section of the trail has one of the most bizarre sights I've ever seen on trail. About 3 miles up the mountain there is a car that flipped over. I took several pictures of it but pictures don't do it justice. This thing is in the middle of nowhere. The only thing I can think of is that about 20 years ago some nutcase decided he wanted to try his hot rod out (the car looks to be from the 70's) and he somehow got it up on the mountain by some alternate road (there is no way this thing wrecked going up, there are boulders as large as four wheelers in the trail) and came barreling down to a grueling, metal-twisting death. I really can't imagine what kind of ride the driver took in this death-mobile. And it had to have been driven down, there's no way it would have stayed on the "road" otherwise. Maybe one day the guy that just removed a car with draft horses from Clifty Wilderness will take his horses up there and drag the car down.... but for now the car is a testament to a member of the "idiot's hall of fame".

Not far past "the car", you'll find the Elkhorn City overlook. You'll begin seeing views from the trail through the trees and then you'll come to a dusty (or potentially muddy) area where four wheeler trails snake around, but you'll see one spur going to the edge of the mountain. From this area you have a wonderful view of all of Elkhorn City and the takeout on the gorge kayaking run on the Russell Fork river. The neatest thing about this overlook is that you can see exactly where you came from below. My car was a little red speck in the parking lot about 1300 feet below. After having a snack there we continued up the mountain. I began seeing what I believed were old American Chestnut stumps and sure enough shortly after seeing these all along the trail I began seeing several seedlings. I really enjoyed this and many didn't look to have any blight on them! I'm sure they'll get it eventually but I can have some hope some might live through it. After navigating some more confusing junctions we came to the top of the power line run over the mountain. After crossing under it you come to another trail junction (which has several American Chestnut seedlings nearby). We concluded that the left split of the trail here will take you to the "Chimney" and "The Towers" in Breaks Interstate Park. I'm definitely going to try going to those landmarks next time I'm up there. We weren't sure on this but the maps, topography and information we gathered from locals seems to point to this. If you take the right split on the trail you'll continue through a rhodo thicket that has some large, dead American Chestnut stumps and logs in it. You'll begin seeing boulders and cliff walls on the right of the trail. You'll come to an area that is confusing to say the least but the PMT is blazed decently here. The furthermost left trail is the PMT, the furthermost right trail past the graffiti strewn rocks will take you to an overlook 2600 feet up that gives you a bird's eye view of KY, a silica mine and part of Skegg Wall. (Make sure you take a right at the other junction you'll come to along this path and it's straight up the mountain the last 300 feet). This is by far the worst area on the trail as far as mis-treatment. Technically you are in VA here, but no one likes to see any place get trashed. There are numerous four wheeler trails branching off the PMT here, there is trash everywhere, several fire pits and more graffiti than I've ever seen. Sadly the graffiti is all over a cliff that contains one arch and another pseudo-arch. I personally believe that the park service is going to have to find a way to reconcile the three groups that want to use these trails. Horse riders and ATV-riders have been using these trails long before the PMT was thought up. We met two or three responsible ATV riders on trail. They weren't supposed to be there but they were riding slow and enjoying nature. One couple was older and they didn't have the ability to hike anymore. They mentioned how some folks give all of them a bad name. I have to admit that the ATV riders are providing a wonderful service in keeping the trails clear of blown down trees. This would be very hard on this trail if it were up to people hiking up the mountain with hand or gas-powered tools. The fact that a gas well road and numerous four wheeler roads run up the mountain here make it almost impossible to keep all groups besides hikers out of this area. Another thing that was interesting is that our group was the only group of hikers we saw on trail. This was on a perfect weekend. We had perfect temperatures, perfect weather at the beginning of fall and no hikers. For hikers to expect the other two groups to stay off this trail when they aren't even using it seems to me to be a little pretentious. Enough for politics I guess.... needless to say there's a lot of work to be done on this issue.

Half the reason we came to Skegg Wall was to check out Indian Council Arch which is off the PMT in this area. We visited it and after checking coordinates promptly found out it is in Virginia. Oh well, Kentucky has plenty of arches to go around! The area around Indian Council is very interesting with several other cave like structures and small arches. The area wasn't as vandalized with graffiti as the other area less than ½ mile away but it did have a lot of trash. While some of the group measured the arch and documented it the other part cleaned up trash in the area and took it back to the really trashed area. You can bushwhack up above Indian Council (some locals called it Kings Castle) and there are some more neat rock structures up above it. I'm assuming that Virginia is maintaining the Northern Terminus of the Pine Mountain Trail since it runs through Breaks Interstate Park land (even though KY contains part of Breaks Park, this part of the trail is in Virginia). I'm not sure though and the jurisdiction on this is probably a mess.

After taking a look at Indian Council we proceeded up the PMT. You'll begin seeing remnants of an old livestock fence on the right side of the mountain. Truthfully it's pretty amazing to find this in the woods 2000 feet up a mountain. I can't imagine what kind of livestock were kept in by the fence. I'm guessing sheep or something. Right past this area you'll see the PMT take a left down the mountain. This is where the PMT goes through Skegg Gap. Blazing is very poor and confusing here. Make sure you take the first left to continue on the PMT if you want to continue on it. If you take the second you'll come to a dead end where they must have re-routed the trail (we found blazes that had been chopped off trees and the trail petered out). If you continue straight you'll come to a very steep, rocky, straight up-hill climb. This is the spur trail that takes you to Blue Head Overlook that gives you spectacular views of Skegg Wall. We spent about 4 hours on the rocks above Skegg Wall meditating on the beauty of nature once we got up there. I've been told you can see Mt. Rodgers from this point on a clear day. I took some pictures of a high mountain to the west and I got in my coordinates in Google Earth when I got back. It turns out Mt Rodgers is about 60 miles from that point. We might have been seeing it but I think we were probably seeing about 40 or so miles to the high mountains east of Gundy, VA instead. It's pretty hard to say. We decided we'd stay at the established campsite that is about 150 feet from the overlook. We built a very small fire in the fire-ring there and slept under the stars since we didn't pack up tents. On our way up we scared away 2 deer and one came back in the night because we heard it snort at us early in the morning. We were able to watch the clouds roll across Virginia and see the moon rise over Skegg Wall. It was interesting to see how Kentucky's hills and hollers were shrouded in darkness and Virginia's were covered in security lights and such. A solitary fire burnt on the knob below Skegg Knob about 500 feet below. We were assuming it was a group of four wheeler riders that camped on the gas well road that went over the top of that knob. We noticed the gas well road goes below Skegg Wall and truthfully the view would probably be spectacular of Skegg Wall from that vantage point if anyone was interested in going out there (you would be looking up at 300 feet of rock instead of looking down on it from above). The only thing that spoiled the beauty and solitude is that you could hear the reverse warning signal on trucks all night long at the silica mine. On a side note I found another American Chestnut that was about 15 feet tall up here that didn't seem to be hurt by blight yet.

Next morning we got up and took some pictures of dawn over Skegg Gap and promptly hiked back down the mountain. The car was safe and sound and I really never worried about it. Folks around Elkhorn City are extremely friendly. There was a group of ATV riders taking it easy at the shelter down there. They were eating lunch and they drove up the mountain after we came down. There is wonderful access to the river on Carson Island Road. It would be easy to put in at the gorge takeout and take out here or farther down in Elkhorn City. Of course there are some large rapids on this section, but they can be portaged, but my point is that the Russell Fork has excellent access and it would be a wonderful kayaking stream for all levels of paddlers. While talking to the owner of the Russellfork.info website he told us that most people think the river can only be run when the Flanagan dam (by the way you can see Flanagan Lake from Blue Head Overlook) is letting out. He said the river can be run 11 months a year. The river was about 60 cfs but it was still navigable around Elkhorn City, there would have been some scraping and carrying but the large pools and shoals and huge cliffs would definitely make for interesting paddling. In retrospect the blazing on the PMT is really, really bad on some sections of the northern terminus and good on others. I think a PMT symbol (the squiggly pine tree) should be stenciled on trees on the PMT and there should be a blaze at all junctions! I think spur trails should be marked with a different color or something (like the ones going to Blue Head or Elkhorn City Overlook). The junctions are the most confusing aspect of the trail. I don't know if trail markers just ran out of paint or what.... we did see some red plastic flags used in some areas. If in doubt just hike about 150-200 feet past any junction and you'll probably pick up another blaze... but you shouldn't have to do that. I really don't think intermediate hikers will use this trail until the blaze problem is straightened out. Four wheeler use will scare some people away too. While we were eating lunch in Elkhorn city people were riding ride past the Sheriff's office down the main street on four wheelers. Obviously four wheelers are a part of everyday life here and in all areas of Eastern KY. I would like to see the forest service try to come up with an all encompassing plan instead of one that shuts these folks out entirely. I think heavy fines for littering and vandalizing (including confiscating ATVs) and some kind of check-in/out system might help. I think there should be a gate that is locked when trail conditions are too muddy for horses or ATV's. The ATV riders and horses do have a way to get up the mountain by the power line trail but once they get on top, the PMT up to Skegg Gap is being used. As I said earlier I appreciate that they keep the trail clear of debris. It's the folks who purposefully tear up the trail, litter and vandalize that upset me. Also, remember that there are bears on Pine Mountain. Food should be hung while camping in the backcountry. If you don't believe me I will tell you about our night at Kingdom Come....

After eating lunch we drove to Kingdom Come State Park via 119 and the Little Shepherd Trail. At the top of Pine Mountain on 119 the road has been greatly improved and there is a huge parking lot for access to the Pine Mountain Trail. This is top notch access and I wish I would have taken a picture of it. The Little Shepherd trail turns south here and goes all the way to Kingdom Come State Park, and past. This road used to be gravel but it has now been paved. This road is scary, especially if you are driving south on it because you are on the outside edge. There are areas to get around cars but in one of the many curves or near one of the spectacular drop-offs things could get hairy if you met a larger vehicle. The road follows the crest of Pine Mountain and it's literally straight down with no guard rail along 60% of the road. We made it to Kingdom Come in one piece though. We camped at Kingdom Come that night barely getting into the visitor's center to get a permit because they were closing. We immediately noticed the people in truck beds and in cars driving around aimlessly. We quickly found out why. There are about 40+ tagged bears in the park and 5-7 untagged ones. They come out in droves near sunset. We saw two bears, one was 40 feet away and the other was about 150 feet away (we had a tape for measuring arches so we are positive on the distance!). They snuck down and turned over garbage cans in the campground area to get at food left after picnicking and use during the day. The next morning it looked like a tornado went through the park since every garbage can was turned over. We spoke with the ranger in depth about the bear. We also found out that Kingdom Come has had elk and mountain lion verified as being in the area. I've never experienced a more wild side of Kentucky until going on this trip. I can only imagine that Bear and Elk populations will increase in Eastern KY (and mountain lions too!). The ranger told us that Kingdom Come continually acquires new land and that if certain politicians are elected in this gubernatorial race that the funds are already set aside to provide a "wounded bear habitat" which will guarantee that visitors will see bear (and the wild ones will still be around too), showers and expansion for the existing campground. I'm happy for this part of the state. I was here about 5 years ago and things seem to really be getting better out there. Make sure if you camp at Kingdom Come that you get there before the visitor's center closes, that you follow the rules on the signs about bear and that you understand that there are only 4 primitive campsites in the park. Kingdom Come really is a nice base camp for numerous areas in the Eastern part of the state like Bad Branch and Blanton Forest, with a nice, small network of hiking trails, fabulous overlooks and Log Arch. The price was right too, $6 per site! (Each site holds 2 tents).

This was one of the best trips I've ever experienced. I had great company and we didn't have any problems. I got to see two bears in the wild, I saw numerous arches, fabulous views and I really put some worthwhile miles on the old odometer (my car's too). I was overjoyed to learn that there is access to the Towers in the Breaks... I had been curious about that for quite some time. Most of all I got to see one of the most spectacular cliff faces in Kentucky at Skegg Wall and spend plenty of quality time watching nature do its thing. Those memories will be with me when I'm trudging through the long hours spent at work behind the computer!

Stats about PMT Northern Terminus

  • How to get there - take Carson Island Road in Elkhorn City to parking area on right
  • Overnight Camping - Yes
  • Permit Required - No
  • Burn Ban - check with Jefferson National Forest or Breaks Interstate Park or PMT trail
  • Day Hike - it's possible but it wouldn't be fun, probably an overnighter
  • Must See Sites - Skegg Knob, Skegg Wall, Elkhorn City Overlook and "THE CAR". Chimney Rock, Indian Council Arch, and The Towers if you want to get off trail
  • Elevation Gain - 2000+ (more if you do some of the other sites)
  • Elevation at Highest Point - around 2700 feet maybe a little higher near the mine overlook
  • Elevation at Lowest Point - about 700 down at the Russell Fork river
  • Distance - about 12 miles round trip unless you go to the Chimney's or the Towers and then it'd be a lot more

Trail Description

The PMT Trail guide is wrong at this time. You do not start from the Police station. You drive out Carson Island road which takes about ½ mile off the trip and park at the new parking area. Trail starts on gravel road along Russell Fork. Take right turn underneath chimney like rock straight up mountain. Turn left and cross small creek when gravel road bends to right. Go straight (instead of right, right will take you up mountain on four wheeler road beneath power lines) at next trail junction when you go underneath power lines and see remnants next to lockable gate by large boulder on trail right.

Take no more left hand splits in trail until you get to Elkhorn City Overlook. Before getting to Elkhorn City Overlook you should see a water hole on the right (that is probably muddied by four wheeler tracks) and you'll come to a hard right turn up an extremely rocky road… "THE CAR" is on this part of the trail. Trail is well blazed from this point up for the most part. You'll go underneath the power lines again. Turn left underneath the power lines… if you turn right you're on that power line trail mentioned earlier and going back down the mountain. Shortly into the woods you'll begin seeing blazes again past the power lines. There is another trail junction here. Left will probably take you to the Chimney and the Towers at Breaks Interstate Park. Right is the PMT. Continue on until you get to rhodos and "graffiti cave". When you get there you'll see numerous trails. The PMT goes left here, if you take the furthermost right trail it will take you to a high overlook and the top of an very steep four wheeler trail (there's another right hand to take at a junction on this trail). After turning left on the PMT you'll see remnants of an old stone fence. Shortly after this you'll see a junction with no blazes. This first left hand turn is the PMT (there'll be large boulders on trail left and trail goes sharply downhill into Skegg Gap). There is another left hand if you continue up trail, this is NOT the PMT, it's a dead end. If you continue all the way up the trail and don't turn left on the PMT below you'll go to Blue Head Overlook where you can view Skegg Gap. Trust me, if you want to do this trail print this description out and please let me know if its not done correctly and I'll revise it.


Ashcamp Arch
Ashcamp Arch

Skegg Wall
Skegg Wall

Powerline
Powerline

Parking Area
Parking Area

Rocky Trail
Rocky Trail

Decomposing Auto
Decomposing Auto

Overlook
Overlook

Indian Council Arch
Indian Council Arch

Spur Trail
Spur Trail

Blue Head Overlook
Blue Head Overlook

VA from Blue Head
VA from Blue Head

American Chestnut
American Chestnut

Sunset
Sunset

Dawn
Dawn

Silica Mine
Silica Mine

The Trail
The Trail

Russell Fork
Russell Fork

Start
Start of PMT

Share on Twitter! Digg this story! Del.icio.us Share on Facebook! Technorati Reddit StumbleUpon

Recent

Privacy Policy