"We were robbed!" When I first started backpacking back in the early 70s, this is what I'd likely hear when I'd meet other hikers in the high country of the Georgia Appalachians. The urban(rural?) legend was that because the local Cherokee bands were agitated at the time, the surveyors who'd been tasked with striking the northern boundary for the state of Georgia were cowed from going any farther north, and so settled on a point farther south. Thus, the reasoning of the Georgia hikers of my youth went, Georgia was robbed of its 5,000 foot peaks, at least; and perhaps of even mile-high summits.
Ridgepole Mountain, from Pickens Nose.
I don't know if any of this is true. What I do know is that if Ridgepole had gone to Georgia, and had become its "highest peak", then there would have been a road bulldozed to its summit, and there would be a hideous museum and curio shop up there, and development would crowd its nearby slopes.
Instead, Ridgepole Mountain remains just another 5,000 foot peak in a sea of similar and mightier summits in the state of North Carolina. As it stands today, Ridgepole Mountain is merely a worthy 5er surrounded by wilderness and bear habitat. As things are, Ridgepole Mountain remains an island of solitude in a sea of forests and a great wildlife sanctuary, one of dozens of fine mountains in the Standing Indian Basin, the highest ridges south of the Great Smoky Mountains.
There is no quick ride to the summit of Ridgepole. One has to access the Appalchian Trail and enter the Southern Nantahala WIlderness. Then you have to bushwhack your way through doghobble and rhododendron and mountain laurel to find a jumble of mossy rocks amidst the oaks and poplars to find the high point.
If it's true, I want to thank the angry Cherokee warriors who put off a band of European surveyors a few hundred years ago and ensured the current saftey of this patch of green heaven.
The easiest way to get to Ridgepole Mountain is to take Wallace Gap Road off of NC 64 to Forest Service Road 67, and then to Forest Service Road 83 to the Appalachian Trail crossing at Mooney Gap. There, hike the AT for about three miles to the highest point along the slopes of Ridgepole. Then one must bushwhack to the summit--and there are two peaks on Ridgepole, both of which top the 5K foot mark. Both are non-descript and forested with no views.
AT route over Ridgepole.
No fees. The peak lies within the Southern Nantahala Wilderness and all wilderness rules apply. No campsites within 100 feet of springs or streams; no open fires; no parties in excess of ten.
When To Climb
All year. Winters can sometimes be harsh here, but rarely. Summer days can produce some very intense thunderstorms, and these peaks are notorious for lightning strikes. Take cover when the boomers hit.
Camping is allowed all over the Nantahala National Forest. There is a developed camgground at Standing Indian Campground, at $14 per site, per night. There is a lightly developed campground on FS 67 at Hurricane, at $6 per night. Elsewhere, camping is free wherever one can find a suitable site. Some fields are marked as "no camping".
Standing Indian Campground.
Check the weather for Franklin, NC. Subtract about ten degrees for the highest peaks around Standing Indian Basin.
Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory.
When one is in the Standing Indian Basin, or driving the forest service roads searching for campsites, you will notice extensive and complicated sets of gauges along some of these roads. These are all part of an ongoing process to measure rainfall, water flow, earth movement, and species diversity in this area, and is officially known as The Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory.
This area was established many decades ago, initially to try new experimental methods of conservation forestry practices. Over the years, the experiment widened and this semi-protected area is now a laboratory for many important ongoing experiments in forestry and conservation.