Surveyors on a Busman's Holiday

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What surveyor is not fascinated with quad maps?
How about a 2000′ offset in a state boundary?
Add some neat labels like "Montgomery’s Corner" and "30 Mile Post", a few good friends, a love of the mountains, and a plan is born. 

This "offset" is on the north slope of North Georgia’s Hightower Bald, some 4,000 feet in elevation. Its tale is a continuation of the story of the Camak Stone, described by Bart Crattie in the Nov/Dec 2009 Georgia Land Surveyor. In 1818, mathematician James Camak, surveyor Hugh Montgomery, and others headed east from the incorrectly positioned Camak Stone. Though intending to follow the 35th parallel to the corner of Tennessee on the northern boundary of Georgia, their entire line is south of that parallel. They also continued well past the Georgia/Tennessee boundary to set a mark that became known as "Montgomery’s Corner". In 1819, Camak and a different group headed west from Ellicott’s Rock, which had been accurately set in 1811 at the NE corner of Georgia. They veered south of the 35th parallel but still found themselves nearly a half mile north of Montgomery’s Corner. Rather than correct the error, they merely marked a north/ south line connecting the new "30 Mile Post" and the previous year’s Montgomery’s Corner. This caused the entire northern boundary of Georgia to be south of where it was intended.

Inspired by recent visits to Ellicott’s Rock and Ellicott’s Mound, a spot on the map, and the recent publication The Story of Georgia’s Boundaries by Dr. William Morton, surveyor Max Davis proposed a trip to visit this offset. On April 1, 2011, surveyors Max, Phillip Brown, and myself, along with GIS Professional Brian Lackey and Max’s brother Bill converged from several directions on Blue Ridge Gap. One came straight from a mine survey inside a north Georgia mountain, and several came from middle Georgia by an unintentionally convoluted route through the Athens area. It would seem two surveyors in a pickup could follow road signs while chatting about old cars and former coworkers. Not so.

The intention was to follow the Appalachian Trail (AT) north from Blue Ridge Gap for several miles, then spend the night in Hightower Gap after a short off-trail walk. With high winds and dropping temperatures, the flat campsite with flowing spring along the AT at Bly Gap just inside North Carolina was too inviting. Hightower Gap would wait until morning.

This was the perfect date to watch a surprising number of AT "Through Hikers", a week into their walk to Maine, pass by. A considerable subculture has formed around this spring event, with as many personality quirks among the hikers as you’ll find in the field crew room of a survey company during the height of a building boom. It was great fun to watch, and difficult not to envy them a bit.

After a brief but unexpected late night snow flurry, morning came. We headed for the offset. The GA/NC sign on the AT seemed noticeably north of the state line on the quad map. At the first off-trail gap the surveyors in the group were attracted to a bright yellow sign on a knoll. The uphill walk, in the wrong direction, came to a wilderness area sign. Don’t wave brightly colored signs or flagging unless you want to lure surveyors.

The simplest route was over the top of Rich Knob. Several in the group were hatching a scheme to visit all of Georgia’s peaks over 4000 feet. This would be the first on their list. The walk down to Hightower Gap revealed one flat spot about twice the area of a hood of a Chevy Suburban. High winds funneled over it. Yesterday’s choice to stay in Bly Gap now seemed very smart. The walk continued west along a slender ridge, past occasional early spring flowers and views through the leafless trees to both north and south. After ascending part way up Hightower Bald to the estimated elevation of Montgomery’s Corner, we turned northwest and out of the wind. A wildlife trail led under low-hanging rhododendrons and onto Sharptop Ridge. Again, there was a wilderness area sign. Standing on a natural rock outcrop, it was clear we were near Montgomery’s Corner. Both paper quad map contours and Smartphone GPS agreed. While wandering about hoping to find a monument, mark, or something to indicate the corner, we found ourselves on top of Hightower Bald. 4000’+ Peak Number Two.

Back at the rock outcrop, options were discussed. We were near the point but had no official coordinates. A photo of a geocacher claiming to be at Montgomery’s Corner showed this same rock. Coordinates from geocachers and the quad map both pointed here. Could they be off like the GA/NC sign and the wilderness signs suggest? No mark of any type was visible. What next? The way north toward the 30 Mile Post looked real steep, nearly as steep a downhill slope as our surveyor friend, Jim Preston, predicated. (He had chosen not to come.) The contour map showed it getting even steeper near the 30 Mile Post. We would have to come back up this slope! The day was late with one of us facing an early morning flight. With a bit of relief not to be walking down that hill, the group retraced its route back to the trucks.

As we finished a good meal in town, Preston called to hear about our results. We had three answers: First: He was right. It was steep, really steep! Second: If this was a paying job, it would be a spectacular failure. We simply did not recover the points. More research is required. Third: If the goal was fun with friends in the mountains, it was a complete and wonderful success.

Either next month or next year, we will be back. With renewed energy, a better description of the points and, hopefully, with State Plane coordinates. Except where noted all of the photos are by Phillip Brown.

Paul Hoinowski has worked for several surveying firms in central Georgia. He is currently pleased to be surveying for the Bibb County Engineering Department.

A 1.545Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE