Sometimes you realize that you shouldn't have waited so long to do a hike again. Such was my case with Bluff Mountain. I had hiked the Appalachian Trail up this mountain once before, way back in 1994. I don't really remember what I thought of it then. Maybe it was hazy, or maybe I just didn't feel like writing, because my journal from that day only makes mention that I was there. But I still knew it had a view and so it seemed like it was time to rediscover it. I've been very close to it again quite a few times during the intervening years, on a number of hikes to Rocky Row, and also to several other nearby peaks like Pinnacle.
It is a very conspicuous peak from a number of more distant viewpoints throughout the region. One reason for that is that despite its modest elevation of only 3,372', it is the most prominent peak along a 26 mile stretch of the Blue Ridge and dead center between the even more prominent, but less distinctive peaks of Apple Orchard Mountain and Rocky Mountain. It is one of only 106 mountains in Virginia to have over 1,000 feet of prominence and rises to a fairly small summit. These qualities make it stand to reason that it was once a firetower peak, and should command an extensive view. It was time to refresh my memory...
My approach the first time had been on the Appalachian Trail, but several explorations of other peaks in this area had brought a potentially interesting, and more challenging option to my attention. Assuming the Forest Service map was correct and there was public access at the start, the topo showed a pipeline and attendant service road going up Bennetts Run, then making a near beeline most of the way for the summit from the northwest. Satellite imagery seemed to confirm the same and so a plan was made. My frequent hiking companion +David was free, and up for a good hike, so off we went to explore.
|Looking back at Pinnacle.|
|Rocky Mountain and No Business Mountain.|
|The panorama West and North from Bluff Mountain looks across the Great Valley to Big Butt, Jump Mountain, and Great North Mountain in the Alleghenies as well as toward such Blue Ridge summits as Whites Peak and Adams Peak.|
|A neat pinnacle on Hellgate Ridge.|
Rather than backtracking on the return hike, we followed the Appalachian Trail south a short distance, then headed off-trail again to traverse Hellgate Ridge. This was rather thick in places, but we did find a neat pinnacle on the ridgeline, as well as a small clifftop overlook with views of Silas Knob and Big Rocky Row. We also found a limited, but great view of conical Peak 2310 and impressive looking Sugarloaf Mountain.
We should have continued along the ridgeline to the top of Pinnacle for more great views and another summit for the day, but instead we dropped back down to Bennetts Run from the low spot on the ridge. This required some very steep and tedious sidehilling, and dealing with a lot of fallen trees near the creek before climbing back uphill again anyway to regain the pipeline trail. From there is was easy walking on now familiar terrain, and we found and successfully followed the faint road we had lost near the beginning of the hike. It will serve me well in the not too distant future when I do this hike again. I’m not going to neglect this great peak again now that I have rediscovered its treasures.
|A minor viewpoint on Hellgate Ridge, looking toward Silas Knob and Big Rocky Row.|
Route of the Bluff Mountain hike. To see a larger map click here.
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Pictures from this hike.
gpx, kmz, topos for this hike
Trailhead coordinates: 37.68971, -079.39118
Google Map for trailhead