South Mountain Peaks and Sea Level Feet: Notes on different South Mountain Peaks

Working at South Mountain State Battlefield and assisting in the daily operations of Gathland State Park and Washington Monument State Park, I have the opportunity to do something else that is included in my work plan. Last year I was asked to assist in checking several shelters located off of the Appalachian Trail. This means that during a set schedule I am required to go out and walk the A.T. at various points and hike to the shelter that is nearby. I record the shape of the site and then report that information back to my supervisors. I like doing this, because you get to know the mountain.

The best way to research is not only to read about it, but to go out and see it. This is also a great way to inadvertantly educate people you meet along the way. Most people are very surprised to learn that even in what may seem like the middle of no where, such as Black Rock for example, that there were Civil War soldiers positioned there after the Battle of Gettysburg. In speaking with hikers and park visitors, many are very inquisitive about the area . For example: “What is it like to hike the A.T. in Maryland,” “Is this spot worth seeing and if so, how high is it,” and “How long of a hike is it?” There is one question that I receive a lot, from hikers, tourists, and Civil War buffs alike is how high are we standing above sea level?

These are all very good questions, and as an interpreter these are common areas of public interest that should be researched in order to provide your park guests with correct answers. Another aspect that should be researched in anticipation of the public asking about them are roadways, and other mountain gaps and passes. When first hired a few years ago, the first thing I did was research the whole mountain range in Maryland, since it composes, and makes up the larger recreation area known as the South Mountain Recreation Area. The recreation area is about forty-one miles in length and is comprised of 16,600 acres.

Since I have had a few questions asked about the subject of peaks on South Mountain in Maryland as well as in Pennsylvania, I am going to give you, the reader, the approximate heights of some of the major ones using several topography maps that were drawn up in 1890, and updated during the early 1900’s. South Mountain begins as Short Hill, near Hillsboro, Virginia and it rises in Maryland, and extends into Pennsylvania where it ends at Dillsburg in a series of hills near the Susquehanna River. South Mountain is roughly 70 miles in length.

Starting at the southern point of South Mountain near the Potomac River, in Maryland you have Weverton. The Weverton area climbs to about 1,000 feet above sea level, and rises to about 1,033 feet once you get to Brownsville Pass. From that point to Crampton’s Gap the mountain range begins to descend to 930 feet above sea level. From Crampton’s Gap, the mountain climbs to about 1,772 feet above sea level to the peak of Lamb’s Knoll near Fox’s Gap. Fox’s Gap itself, just north of Lamb’s Knoll is about 1,064 feet above sea level.

North of Fox’s Gap is Turner’s Gap, which holds pretty steady at roughly around 1,100 feet above sea level. The heights surrounding Turner’s Gap can range upward to about 1,300 to 1,400 feet above sea level. Washington Monument stands on a knoll known as Monument Knob and is about 1,000 to 1,200 feet above sea level. The hill in front of the Washington Monument is about 825 feet above sea level.

Following the South Mountain ridge northward toward Greenbrier is an area called Bartman’s Hill, or what is believed to be Oiler’s Gap that is about 1,000 feet above sea level. Three miles north of Greenbrier is Black Rock. This is a mountain cliff, and the eastern side rises to about 1,800 feet above sea level. The Appalachian Trails passes below this point to the west. If the A.T. was located a little more toward the east this area, it would be the highest point of the A.T. Passing this area the mountain elevation drops where the old Black Rock Road once traveled over the mountain to about 1,600 feet above sea level.

As the mountain follows northward, from Wolfesville Pass to Warner Gap and Raven Rock Pass, it holds steady at an average of 1,300 to about 1,600 feet above sea level. From Raven Rock Pass, South Mountain climbs to about 2,145 feet above sea level at a peak known as Quirauk Mountain. It is in this area where the Catoctin Mountain and South Mountain come together. From that point, the ridge begins to descend to about 1,500 feet and crosses into Pennsylvania near Pen Mar Park.

In Pennsylvania, South Mountain ascends to about 1,600 feet above sea level at Mount Dunlap. Mount Dunlap connects to Clermont Crag, near Monterey Pass where Monterey Peak rises. Monterey Peak sits at about 1,600 feet above sea level. This area also has several peaks with individual names. Wildcats Rocks is about 1,500 feet above sea level, Virginia Rocks is about 1,700 feet above sea level, and to the east you have Pine Mountain, which is about 1,300 feet above sea level and Jack’s Mountain at about 1,500 feet above sea level.

From Fairfield to Cashtown, the South Mountain range appears to be even in heights when looking at it from it from the direction of Fairfield. However, from Waynesboro to Greenwood, near Cashtown Gap, you can see several peaks on the western side of South Mountain. Near the Mont Alto and Waynesboro areas these mountain peaks are the highest on South Mountain in Pennsylvania. Buzzard Peak is about 1,950 feet above sea level and Snowy Mountain climbs to about 2,090 feet. The highest South Mountain peak in Pennsylvania is called Big Pine Flat Ridge and it stands at 2,100 feet. Near that is the peak of Big Flat Ridge, which stands at 2,065 feet above sea level and East Big Flat Ridge rises to about 2,070 feet above sea level. As you work northward to Dillsburg, with all of the peaks, South Mountain averages about 1,100 to 1,500 feet until it ends as a series of little hills near the Susquehanna River.

I know that to the reader, these numbers are just that, numbers. But if you add in the layout of South Mountain, the roadways and the agriculture, South Mountain is very impressive. During any Civil War invasion of the north, whether it be in Maryland or Pennsylvania, to the invaders as well as to the defenders, South Mountain, in most cases, had to be dealt with. If you look at the much larger picture of South Mountain, every mountain gap or pass and every high ridge that covered from the Potomac River to Cashtown, had some type of Civil War activity, whether it was a battle or skirmish or used as an observation point.

This, to me, makes South Mountain a very important resource that is very much worth preserving. Thanks should go out to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources as well as Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for preserving such a wonderful mountain range. There is so much Civil War history on South Mountain, from the Underground Rail Road, to Union soldiers deserting the army and hiding out in South Mountain, to the Confederate invasions and those battles that took place there.

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