FKT: Wes Bintz - Plott Balsam Range Traverse (NC) - 2021-11-06

Route variation
out & back
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
6h 41m 9s

I started in the dark at 7 am and 34 F and luckily had a dying flashlight in the truck to use until sunrise, otherwise I would have had to delay the start since the West Fork approach and the East Fork climb are both quite technical, especially with a full 2.5 L bladder.  I made it to Blackrock in about 1:10 and was whacked with 20 mph icy crosswinds that didn't let up along the ridge.  I made it to Waterrock in about 2 h 10 mins and Plott Balsam at 3h 25 mins.  Between Waterrock and Lyn Lowry, it's slow going with a lot of hand work.  Once you descend Lyn Lowry, there's about a mile and a half or so of roadbed to finally get cruising and mentally recover.  The trail to Plott Balsam is a very hard to catch and follow, even having already been there before.  Besides the relentless wind and heavy trail traffic at Waterrock the return went smooth, especially psychologically, knowing most of the climbing is done.  The East Fork descent, of course, insults tired legs.

I have previously hiked this entire route in segments and routefinding was still difficult with relentless last minute adjustments, mainly from the manway some people call a trail from Waterrock to Plott Balsam. I recommend scouting the route first otherwise you'll be constantly checking the tracking. For water, other than East Fork, there is only one sad spring on the Waterrock trail that has about a gallon of water in it and is probably mostly tourist dog slobber.  These trails are all primitive and rugged with amazing views and a wilderness feel.  Thanks to Ben Gans for creating the route!