Brasstown Bald–The Highest Mountain in Georgia

Buzzing bees weaved through the blooming mountain laurel as I ascended the half mile trail leading to Brasstown Bald, the highest elevation in Georgia at 4784 feet above sea level.  A fragrant aroma from the laurel flowers permeated the air, though in some places the smell was a bit funky as if fallen flowers were composting.

Mountain laurel alongside the trail leading to Brasstown Bald.  I took all the photos for this blog entry.

Oppressive 95 degree F heat wilted most of the rest of the state, but I was cool here, a pleasant breeze provided a natural fan that wasn’t even necessary because the thermometer on the mountain top read 70 degrees.  Last week, I incorrectly supposed that, unlike in Russian’s far east, Georgia’s temperatures never fell to -40 degrees F, even during severe glacial cycles.  I stand corrected–the record low at Brasstown Bald since man has recorded temperatures here is -27 F, so surely Ice Age temperatures at this location fell even lower, perhaps colder than -40 F.

Brasstown Mountain is a heath bald and has a different origin from grassy balds which likely were created and maintained by a combination of severe climate and megafauna trampling and grazing.  Heath balds grow in areas with thin acidic soils.  Trees become stunted and shrubs dominate.  Mountain laurel and sumac cover much of Brasstown Bald.  Birch, white oak, hemlock, and maple grow here and there but few are more than 30 feet tall.  Even so, they’re not nearly as stunted as trees that grow in alpine meadows.

Exposed paleozoic age rock.  Thin soils grow over the rock layer on the top of Brasstown Bald, partially explaining why it’s dominated by shrubs.  Tree roots just can’t grow deep enough to facilitate growth.

View from Brasstown Bald.

Another view from Brasstown Bald.

The name, Brasstown Bald, is based on a complete mistranslation of the original Cherokee name for the place.  The Cherokee Indians named the village here where they lived, “Unripe Vegetation.”  The Cherokee word for unripe vegetation sounds much like the Cherokee word for brass.  A European mistranslated the name from the Cherokee language.  Brass has nothing to do with the mountain.

At the top of the mountain is an interesting museum.

It took the early pioneers a whole day to fell a tree with a saw like this.  Nevertheless, by the early 1900’s, most of the original forest in the southern Appalachians had been clear cut.  Although covered by forest today, this is second growth.

Mounted black bears at the Brasstown Bald museum.  Supposedly, bears still roam the north Georgia mountains.  I’ve never seen a live one, nor any sign of one.

Mounted bobcat at the museum.  I did see a live bobcat once, across the street from my house in Augusta, Georgia.

Indian weapons.  That atlatl is much longer than the one I have.

Quartz arrowheads.

I would like to commend the National Forest Service for making Brasstown Bald handicapped accessible.  A shuttle van runs up the mountain every 15 minutes or so.  The man let us follow him up there in my car.  The museum has an elevator, wheelchair ramps, and nice clean bathrooms.  My wife was able to wait for us in the cool shade, while my daughter and I hiked up and down the trail.  The trail is steep requiring a hiker to be in good shape.  I jog 3 miles 4 or 5 times a week, so it wasn’t hard for me, but out of shape folks will want to take advantage of the shuttle van.

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7 Responses to “Brasstown Bald–The Highest Mountain in Georgia”

  1. James Robert Smith Says:

    I’ve always found the development of Georgia’s highest peak to be rather hideous. Just because it’s the highest point of land in Georgia, it had a road gouged out to the summit and an intrusive building slapped on top of it. Not everyone needs to be able to go to the top of a mountain by way of anything other than foot power.

    Georgia’s border was originally to have been struck several miles farther north, but the surveyors settled on the present border because of restive Cherokees to the north. If not for that, Georgia would have several 5,000-foot summits in its borders and Brasstown Bald would have been just another 4,000-foot peak, probably devoid of a horrible road and concrete parking lot. And the peak that would likely have been our highest? That would likely have been Ridgepole Mountain, a tad less than 5100 feet and just another 5Ker in NC. Where it is in a wilderness area and luxuriously free of any development whatsoever other than a few trails. A much better fate than if it had been Georgia’s highest peak, ruined by roads and buildings.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    Hideous maybe…but it is wheelchair accessible. Otherwise, my family could never have visited it.

  3. Elaine Reiff Says:

    Please, let everyone enjoy this opportunity. Just because you are physically able to hike to the top does not say we all are able to do that. Have some compassion and try to understand that we are not all as healthy and physically fit as you are NOW. That can change in an instant.

    • Henri Williams Says:

      You present an excellent point Elaine and I agree that everyone may not be physically able to hike to the top. Also regarding the original statement of restive Cherokees to the north and that Georgia’s border is 5 miles more southern than originally planned. Maybe Georgia wasn’t suppose to have 5,000 ft summits. Never the less the Cherokee were here before we arrived.

  4. DcHiker Says:

    There is nothing “supposed” about the presence of Black Bears in North Georgia or the southern appalachians in general. The two black bears mounted in the visitors center on Brasstown Bald were hit by cars and killed on HWY 180 near the access road to Brasstown Bald. Although it has been some years since I have hiked off trail on the mountain, the last time I did I found bear scat (poop) in multiple places. I have personally encountered Black Bears on several occasions in the North Georgia mountains; On Brasstown Bald, on the Appilachian Trail, in Cohutta Wilderness Area and in my back yard. Black Bears are wild animals and typically are very good at avoiding contact with people. Their behavior can be unpredictable and they should not be approached.

  5. Relict Ice Age Microfauna of Georgia’s Boulderfield Forests | GeorgiaBeforePeople Says:

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