Beartown Mountain is a spur of Clinch Mountain, one of the highest mountains in Virginia (8th tallest), and is considered by some to be one of the toughest climbs to an eastern US county highpoint. It gets climbed by few highpointers and maybe some bear hunters. I suspect it infrequently climbed because it is a long off trail slog (see topo).The usual approach by many highpointers is from Tumbling Creek Rd up the ridge between Red Creek and Tumbling Creek. A route up the western grassy ridge offers a much less strenuous, more scenic climb but access is over private land with multiple landowners. (See the other route descriptions) This mountain is in the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA). It is Virginias second largest WMA with 25,477 acres. The ridgelines south and northeast of the summit are the approximate boundary for the Wildlife Management Area (see topo) Small cliffs on the various routes off stunning views.
The beauty of hiking this mountain, and most others, is you can mix and match these routes as you please. The routes out Tumbling Creek are difficult, some of the hardest off trail hikes I've done.
From I-81 take exit 35, west to Saltville, Va 634 to Allison Gap, Va 613 to the WMA entrance and turn right. Or access from VA 80, go west and turn right onto Va 613 to WMA entrance, turn left, and drive up to the welcome area. Just past the rangers house, turn left onto a road with a sign that reads "MUCK". Go through the first gate (usually open) to the 2nd gate (closed). Here's where the fun/pain begins.
Primary route (Clinch Mt WMA)
The approach seen most in writeups is up the unnamed ridge between Red Creek and Tumbling Creek. This is accessed on the jeep road from Dry Branch to MUtters Gap. It is a complete bushwhack with a 2000 foot elevation gain in 4 miles (most in the first half). This route requires USGS maps (7.5 minute quads Elk Garden, Saltville) and compass/GPS. One must have excellent crosscountry/ route finding skills.
After turning left onto the jeep road past the rangers house, drive to the second gate. Now hike upstream through a small field, to the intersecting jeep roads. Turn right (the road to Mutters Gap), walk up the road, and when ready, take a left and go up to the ridge. It climbs steeply west, then levels (relative term) ,and slowly curves to the north. There are small cliffs on the climb on the ridge.
There is also the wreckage of 2 planes. The summit is broad, covered with large Rhodos and mature Hemlocks. A rock cairn can be found on the highpoint. I never found the benchmark.
Usual RT time is 7+ hours, distance ~8.4 miles. If you are bushwhack hardened, this mountain is for you. Ascending up one of the creeks would be a true test of mettle. Be warned, this is an EXTREME hike. The 3 routes out of Dry Creek are some of the hardest bushwhacks I've done in the mountains of VA. (The topozone link is on the ridge to the summit, described in this route description.)
other WMA routes
The summit can be attained by any route chosen by the hiker. The jeep road along one Dry Branch is shown crossing the creek and making the ridge, but is indistinct. This road continues up Dry Branch but ends (not shown on map). The WMA boundary is the summit ridge to Mutters Gap and south of the summit plateau, so any route on this side is possible.
The route on the western side is on open balds but access issues are a problem.
Food, water, Map (USGS Quads Saltville and Elk Garden VA) Compass/GPS, excellent route finding skills, an indomitable spirit.
Camping fees (developed sites) and fishing permits are required in season. Backcountry camping is free. You must camp 50 yards from Laurel Bed and 100 yards from lake.
When To Climb
Fall to spring has less undergrowth (briars,blackberries, stinging nettles, vines, etc) and rattlesnakes tend to be less active. This would be a miserable summer hike. This area is heavily hunted in season. Exercise appropriate caution.
Camping, picnicing, hunting, and a 300 acre lake are contained in the Management Area. You cannot camp within 50 yards of creeks or 100 yards of lake otherwise camp anywhere.
Conditions at Mt Rogers/Grayson Highlands SP should be similar. At close to 5000 feet it can have snow when valleys below have none.