The High Knob Hellbender is an approximately 6.2-mile race that begins in Norton, Va., the smallest incorporated city in the entire state. The elevation is 2,200 feet above sea level at the starting point behind the city’s municipal parking lot. Runners head northeast behind downtown to Coeburn Avenue where they turn right and continue to the Kentucky Avenue intersection. The route turns right onto Kentucky Avenue, and a few early climbs might seem like the ascent has begun, but the best is yet to come! Runners pass beneath U.S. 23 and begin climbing in earnest at the city’s Legion Park. Following a stout climb past the park, local landmark Benge’s Rock will be on the right. The rock is named for Chief Benge, a murderous raider who terrorized early settlers.
Farther up the road, runners pass by the entrance of Flag Rock, a city park named for an impressive overlook of Norton and the Virginia-Kentucky state line. The park is named after German immigrant Karl Matuszczyk who, in the 1920s, planted an American flag on a large rock outcrop beyond the overlook. Following a few more twists and turns, runners reach the city reservoir.
The climbing only continues until runners reach the turn for U.S. Forest Service Road No. 238. After turning left, it’s only half a mile until the final push to the parking lot and 4,200-foot summit where the new observation tower offers a 360-degree view of distant peaks as far away as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and West Virginia.
Total elevation gain: 2,046 feet.