New Year’s Resolution:

South Beyond 6,000 Challenge

By: Lydia Noonan

Photo by: PJ Coleman, taken in the Roan Highlands

With the new year right around the corner, why not consider taking on a resolution that’s both exciting and adventurous. Challenge yourself by trekking to some of the regions most rugged peaks in the South Beyond 6,000 Challenge. Doesn’t that just sound better than giving up chocolate?

The South Beyond 6,000 Challenge is a great way to experience the Southeastern Appalachian Mountains by committing to hiking 40 peaks that are above 6,000 feet in the region. It was crafted by the Carolina Mountain Club in 1967 and has since pushed new hikers yearly. Climbing all 40 peaks is not only physically demanding but requires technical skills as well. Almost half of the summits do not have trails leading the way, requiring map and compass skills to navigate while bushwacking to the top. Reaching the summit is only half the battle on these peaks, as hikers still have to find their way back down after the climb. On top of these challenges, the wide range of weather conditions found in the Southern Appalachians often times makes the treks more difficult. Many people take years to finish the challenge; however, if you want to finish them in a calendar year, be aware of weather and trail conditions in winter months. While multiple peaks can be completed in one day hike, over half can only be done individually.  

A majority of the peaks are located in the Roan Highlands, Great Balsams, Black Mountains, Smokies, Craggies, and Plott Balsams regions.    

In order to be recorded as a completer of the challenge, you must record and submit all hikes and routes to the Carolina Mountain Club for review. Routes to the peaks require criteria that must be met in order to be considered acceptable for the challenge. The rules include hikes being at least 5 miles with ascents of at least 500 feet. Click here for the offical guidelines. After you have reached all 40 summits, you can apply to be recorded as a SB6K completer. Less than 200 people have reported completing this adventurous challenge.

Debbie Adams is 5 peaks away from being a SB6K completor with hopes to finish in April 2020. She started the SB6K challenge in 2017 after completing the Georgia 4,000 list. Adams was intrigued and motivated to take on the bushwacking required for this challenge after attempting Mt. Democrat in 2016 and having to turn back 500 feet from the summit. She looks at that moment as a profound failure that changed her life. When asked what she has learned from her SB6K adventure Adams said, “I’ve learned that if you want to change for the better, find what truly motivates you and makes you feel alive. I’ve also learned how much I am truly capable of.” Her advice to aspiring peakbaggers is simply to buy a topo map and start exploring the old fashioned way. 

Adams on Mount Le Conte

Flora on Mount Le Conte

Adams solo climbing the chute route on Reinhart Knob

Zachary Robbins completed the SB6K challenge and the Carolina Lookout Challenge in 2018. He was inspired to take them on after realizing he had already climbed about one third of the peaks on the list. In regards to the experience, Robbins commented “Most of the mountains on the 6K list are completely covered in trees devoid of any views, but that doesn’t take anything from the enchantment of hiking these mountains. The southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests that don the highest elevations in the Southeast are beautiful, and often appear untouched by humans. It is crazy to think that surveyors hiked these mountains in the 1800s without any roads, trails, electronics, or trip reports and kept returning to explore more. Sometimes the shortest bushwhacks are the toughest, and usually the toughest peaks are some of the lowest elevation peaks on the list. This is because when they’re closer to 6,000 feet they’re much more likely to have huge thickets of shrubs, it’s annoying to bushwhack through that stuff.”  

Robbins on the top of Sams Knob.

Robbins finishing the challenge on Clingman’s Dome.

Before attempting this adventure, it is very important to make sure you have the proper navigation skills and can accurately use a map and compass. Skipping out on these skills can easily result in getting lost on the summits that do not have trails. Carrying a map and compass and knowing how to use them is essential when unforeseen circumstances arise, which often happens in the backcountry.   

Go the extra mile by bringing a trash bag on all your hikes to pack out whatever trash you may find. This is an easy way to help protect the trails and mountains we love. Remember to be as respectful to the trails as possible. Please take the time to learn how to identify sensitive flora so you can avoid trampling it should your trek include areas with no trails. It is popular for hikers to mark their way with flags or ribbons, lessen your impact by leaving those markers at home or making sure to get them all on your way down the mountain.

After you gear up and go out, stop by our shops and share your adventure with us!