Saturday, January 4, 2014

Griffith Knob and Peak 3681 - Unknown And Unnamed Isn't A Bad Thing

Griffith Knob and Peak 3681
All of the best hikes are not documented. Sometimes I think about writing a small booklet titled “The Best Unknown Hikes of Southwest Virginia”, or something similar to that, and having a listing and descriptions of local favorites, close to home but worthwhile outings, and obscure but great locales that may be either on or off trail. They might be long or short, difficult or easy, but the one thing most would have in common is that while some may be well known locally, they have been rarely or perhaps even never documented on anything other than a limited scale. Regionally well known hikes like Mount Rogers and The Cascades would not be included in this category unless they were incidental to a lesser known nearby spot, though it might be somewhat subjective on my part as to what is well known and what is not - and what is worthwhile. Most might not make it onto a list of the best hikes in the Southern Appalachians (though some could), but all would be worthwhile and of interest to someone in the area who didn’t want to drive several hours to a good place to hike, or didn’t want to be gone all day. Most of the hikes would be on public land, but if I knew that a landowner welcomed hikers, then some destinations could be on private property. Whether or not such a book ever comes to fruition, it occurred to me that I can pursue that idea in this blog from time to time. One such hike would be Peak 3681 and 3,782’ Griffith Knob in Wythe County, a half day (or less) hike little more than 20 minutes away from my home in Wytheville.

These two peaks are on Brushy Mountain, located in the northern part of the county only a few minutes from U.S. Highway 52, and are within Jefferson National Forest. Respectively, they are the seventh and fifth highest peaks in the county, and the higher Griffith Knob is also the most prominent peak in Wythe County. It should be pointed out that part of this hike is quite steep and on very faint trails, and part of it is completely off-trail, albeit in relatively open woods. As such, it is probably best done in cooler and less vegetated months. The views will also be better then. It is also easy to do only Peak 3681 for a round trip of only around two miles, though because of the route, there is little reason to not include the short side trip to the top of this one even if the primary goal is only Griffith Knob.

Mount Rogers and Whitetop from Peak 3681.
The hike begins at an unmarked pullout on FS 221 only a couple miles from Deer Trail Park. There is an obvious but unmarked path at first, perhaps made by hunters, that starts at the upper end of the parking area, and immediately begins a moderately steep 700’ climb up one of the northeastern ridges of Peak 3681 to the main crest between the two peaks but high on the shoulder of Peak 3681. The path becomes increasingly difficult to see as you climb higher, something to be well aware of for the return trip when it will be surprisingly easy to veer off onto the wrong ridge, but as long as you stay on the crest of this spur ridge going up, you will get to the right spot, hitting the main crest at about the 3,500’ elevation. Take special care to remember this exact spot. From here, turn west and continue upwards less steeply for another 3/10 mile to the top of Peak 3681. There are no wide open views here, but there are at least three spots with limited but pleasant views in different directions. From very nearly right on the summit, there is an outlook to the northwest of Walker Mountain, and peeking above its spine are the more distant and higher peaks of 4,409’ Chestnut Knob and 4,710’ Balsam Beartown, both on the rim of Burkes Garden. A few yards down the northern ridge is an outlook to the east that takes in the valley of Stony Creek between Big Walker and Little Walker Mountains. To wrap things up, one can wander perhaps 50 yards down the southern ridge and find a couple of decent sized openings in the canopy that allow some nice views of Mount Rogers and Whitetop, as well as a swath of the Iron Mountains. Again, none of these views are wide open, and they will be better when the leaves are off the trees - but they are all pretty pleasant scenes and ones that I find quite appealing.

Admiring the view of Stony Fork Valley and Little Walker Mountain from Griffith Knob.

After taking in the views, simply return back to the spot where the crest of the ridge was attained on the first leg of the hike - and again, remember it well, as it is easy to miss. At this point, you should head downhill about 1/10 mile along the southeastern ridge, losing a couple hundred feet of elevation, then regaining it to the top of the next unnamed knob at 3,640'. At this point, continue eastward on an old woods road, losing only about 50' before making a final 200' climb up Griffith Knob. It should be mentioned that the rest of the route is on the boundary between National Forest and private property, so don't please don't wander off the ridge crest to the south or east. There is no view from the top, but this is the most prominent peak in Wythe County and knowing that gives a certain satisfaction of its own if one cares about such things. Incidentally, when viewed from several miles away to the east, especially when the leaves are off and there is a bit of snow on the ground, the broad top surrounded by steep slopes and horizontal rock banding give this mountain a very “Catskillian” look that is quite impressive.

The conspicuous peak of Floyd County's Buffalo Mountain seen from Griffith Knob.

One might as well have the views too though. About ¼ mile down the north ridge, where it begins to narrow and then drop off more abruptly, there is a small clifftop opening a few yards off to the right. This is easily the best view of the hike, with an open arc of the landscape to the east and southeast. Little Walker Mountain, Queens Knob, and Sand Mountain are all in plain view and the solitary volcano-like and symmetrical form of Floyd County's Buffalo Mountain is very conspicuous to the southeast on a clear day, despite its being 44 miles away. This is a great spot to hang out for a while and enjoy what will almost certainly be complete solitude. On the return trip, hope you were paying enough attention to your route to avoid going down the wrong ridge anywhere, something that would be very easy to do in at least four different areas. A recorded track on a GPS could be much appreciated now, but it is still better if you made a mental note of key direction changes on your way here.
This hike is not going to attract crowds of people from all over the Southeast, or even the state. However, if you live within an hour or so, and are looking for something new and different, but not without some rewards, this is one of those little known hikes that can fit the bill. There are many more...

To see the topo map larger on this site, click on the map. Or click here to see it on CalTopo.

Elevation profile for this hike.

Hike stats: 4.2 miles, 1,950' cumulative elevation gain

More pics:


Trailhead coordinates: 37.0120, -81.2283

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