Monday, March 29, 2010

REI Quarter Dome T3 Tent

REI is having a sale where members can get a single item at 20% off.  Add in my recently received $60 dividend from last year's purchases, and a tent becomes a good deal.  I found myself in Richmond on Saturday after dropping Lucy off at the airport and heading over to the Richmond Council's Cub Scout Camp for an overnight with my son's Pack.  At REI, I bought my first tent in nearly 25 years.  I went for the REI Quarter Dome T3 tent, a 3 person "ultralight" which is considerably lighter than my current 2 man tent (which was state of the art back when I got it as an employee at Eastern Mountain Sports).  One of the great upgrades in the past quarter century is the brilliant idea that the tent attaches to the poles using plastic clips, rather than being fed through sleeves sewn into the tent.  So now, the poles go up and the tent is clipped to the poles, instead of hoping the poles do not catch on something as they are fed through the tent sleeves.

I got this tent in part due to some glowing reviews.  Outside Magazine said it had the "best space-to-weight ratio."  Backpacker Magazine gave the tent an "Editor's Choice Award" a couple of years ago.  I bought a 3 man so that I could sleep with Will and a friend, or with Will and a couple of backpacks.  I noted that one website review said the tent "advertises a three person sleeping capacity, but realistically it can only fit two fully grown adults comfortably."  Hopefully this is not a problem with a couple of ten year olds.  And the tent appears to be one that can be used by a future Boy Scout as he becomes more adept at backpacking.  A cyclist's blog sums it up, stating, "We both love our tent. It’s a little spendy, but well worth it. So far, in two years of use, it hasn’t let us down once.”

It is now set up in the living room.  What I like is the high headroom of the tent.  And the design is very well thought out, so that two of the poles don't even fully extend across the tent.  They use the tent's tension to keep everything up.  Very ingenious and saves weight.  And it looks like I can share it with a couple of boys, at least for a couple more years.  After that, it will make a good two-man tent.

Two concerns.  First, it seems just a tad short for this six footer.  Several reviews have discussed this, while others claim that taller folks don't understand why there is a problem.  There is a taller version (that I didn't know about when I bought the tent), but it is heavier and more expensive.

Second, I am not sure what I am doing with the rainfly.  The tent itself went up easier than I thought it would, considering there are no instructions included or on the website.  But the fly doesn't seem quite right and I have a 6 inch pole left over that I do not know what to do with. I found a great site online with pictures of the tent's setup, but the writeup does not include instructions on the fly.  So the question becomes, why doesn't REI have instructions or a video online describing the features of the tent?  I look at various cloth loops and wonder what the designers intended.  A quick video on these features and on setup would be a great help to new purchasers and would help REI sell more of these things.

I look forward to testing it out soon.  And to living in it this summer as Will and I road trip to California.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Old Rag Circuit - March 25, 2010

My niece Lucy was in town this week on spring break from Tufts and wanted to take a hike.  Because I had read that the old parking lot at Old Rag was closing in April, I picked that circuit for us.  I really have no interest in adding a mile each way on the local road from the new parking lot, so I thought it would be a great time to get one last hike out of the old lot. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club purchased land for a new parking lot (Shenandoah is prohibited by law from adding to its boundaries) that is a mile out from the old lot.
If you haven't ever lived in the Mid-Atlantic region, you might not be familiar with Old Rag. The upper reaches of the mountain remind me a lot of the White Mountains and of Katahdin, though this mountain is not nearly as high.  The top of the mountain has much exposed granite and the boulders are gigantic!  The mountain is also very accessible to the D.C. metro area, so it is often very crowded.  The combination of crowds and a large number of novice hikers with the difficulty of sections of the ascent means that traffic jams sometimes occur on the ascent!  I will never hike it on a weekend, but it is worth it to take a day to climb it mid-week.

We got up to the new lot only to find a sign saying that the old parking lot was closed and the road was reserved for local traffic only.  So I turned around and came in from the south, using the Berry Hollow Parking Lot, which is near the trailhead for White Oak Canyon.  NPS Map of Old Rag Area  The hike from the Berry Hollow Lot is 0.8 miles to the Old Rag circuit, but it is through very pleasant woods that had blooming daffodils.

We chose to complete the dull portion of the loop first, taking the Weakly Hollow Fire Road back to the closed parking lot.  I have memories of earlier circuits and getting to this road sore and battered from my ascent.  The road seemed to go on forever!  At the beginning of the hike it was a pleasant stroll, slowly dropping almost 850 feet in elevation over nearly 2.5 miles.  And reaching the old parking lot (which was still open for parking!), there were a couple of porta-potties at the perfect point in our trip.
The Ridge Trail weaves through large granite boulders.
From there, we take the Ridge Trail and our trip heads steadily upward.  For the next 2 miles, the grade is consistently at 15% before reaching the rocks and jumping to about 20%.  And for a brief tenth of a mile just before the top, it is an extraordinarily difficult 33% grade.  Anyone who has taken this trail remembers the section - it is both the reason for hiking the trail and the trail's curse when you are climbing!
Gotta get up over that rock somehow!
Lucy and I were lucky we could go during the week in early spring because the trail was relatively deserted.  During the entire hike we encountered:
1) Two climbers and a dog in the parking lot,
2) A ranger in a truck on the fire road,
3) A young couple at the porta-potties,
4) A family of 4 racing up the Ridge Trail, and
5) A man with a boy about 10 and a girl about 13.
That's it!  It was very peaceful - not something that can often be said about this trip.

Lucy is about 5'2" and found the boulders to be demanding both physically and emotionally.  When you are scared of heights, even going boulder to boulder can be exhausting.  And the trail is more physically demanding, for a longer time period, than I remember.  At one point we moved less than half a mile in 47 minutes, though we kept moving the entire time.  We transferred our hiking sticks, removed my backpack and crawled our way over, under and through to get to the top.
I hope that rock holds!

Even the boulders at the top can be a difficult traverse for someone scared of heights like Lucy.  But we took it slow and made it to the summit where we gobbled down our Bodo's bagels.

At the summit we met up with a man and his two children. The boy was lagging pretty badly by that time. We exchanged cameras so that each of us could return to the bottom with a souvenir photo of our ascent to the summit.

The trip back down was less dramatic than the ascent. It was a 13% grade with a couple of day use shelters along the way. Views were to the north. My current profile shot for this blog was taken along the trail here.

We were back in Charlottesville by 4 PM, after a stop at the country store in Graves and a quick geocache in downtown Madison. At the end of the day, I did not feel as battered as I had been when I took the hike previously (I remember hiking this with Cullen and Suzie during the Fall before I was married, and have done it at least one other time, but not for years). My post-hike condition makes me think that I really am getting in better shape! On the other hand, that 17 mile roundtrip dayhike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite this summer doesn't seem quite as appealing...
Hike details.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 219.6
Distance: 10.0 miles
Total Time: 5 hours, 22 minutes, including stops.
Steepest Uphill: from 2.7 miles to 2.8 miles after the old parking lot; 33% grade.
Starting Elevation:  1565 ft.
Highest Point: 3309 ft.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Humility Lesson - March 21, 2010

I am arrogant when it comes to maps and directions. There is always a map in my head and I am always cognizant of where I am in the world in relation to every other place I have ever visited. I began collecting maps when I was in 2nd grade - back then they were free at gas stations - and I still have a large gas station map collection. Next to my desk at work is an original map of the United States from 1855 that is over five feet long. I think I can find my way anywhere.

And I believe that people are either "Map People" or they aren't. If you aren't, you can skip this post. I won't be offended.

When my wife was pregnant with our only son, I maintained that he could and should have every one of her superior attributes. If he could have just one thing from me, it would be my sense of direction. Instead, I believe he got my lack of patience. He is generally not that interested in where he is, and has no sense of direction that I can tell. Can this be taught or is it innate? I've spent hours pondering the question.

So it is with some humility that I admit that I got us both lost on Sunday. Sitting at the ice cream place in Colleen, thinking about our bike trip along the Tye River, it occurred to me that the Tye meets the mighty James River right across the James from one of Virginia's newer state parks - the obviously named "James River State Park." I had heard about friends that camped there. It might be a good place to take the Cub Scouts for an overnight. And since we were already in the area...

Official Commonwealth of Virginia Map
I got out an older edition Official Commonwealth of Virginia State Map to check it out. It didn't look too far. And I memorized that I needed to take Rt. 655 to 626 to get to U.S. 60, then hop over the James and head north to the State Park. I knew that I couldn't count on my son to help me get there, but how hard can it be? The park seemed real nearby.

See for yourself. This is the relevant section of the Official Commonwealth of Virginia State Map, with both Colleen and the State Park circled.

My first mistake was looking at the map on the picnic table while eating my soft serve. A breeze made sure that the map collected evidence that my order was a chocolate and vanilla swirl. Probably my second mistake was not looking at the map carefully and noting that there was a more direct route (739) if I would drive south a few miles on U.S. 29. But I wanted to see Arrington and avoid as much of U.S. 60 as possible - U.S. 60 between Amherst and the James River is some of the most amazingly ugly countryside I have ever encountered. And my third mistake was not following my own route in my head - I turned off of the route at Arrington, and took a southeastern road that was in great shape and headed in the right direction. Big mistake.

We followed that road for 5 miles before it passed a cemetery and we came to the sign with the dreaded words, "End State Maintenance." We backtracked to Arrington, and looked at the map again before staying on the original route through town. We eventually made it to James River State Park, an hour and 8 minutes after leaving Colleen. And JRSP wasn't even that pretty!

I then compounded the mistake by returning to U.S. 60 and heading east. (I really hate that portion of U.S. 60 to the west!) We could have gone on 60 to Rt. 20 and gone home via Scottsville. But I've driven Rt. 20 a bunch of times and wanted something new, so I headed towards Rt. 56. I am familiar with another part Rt. 56 as it goes along the Tye River up to Crabtree Falls near the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it has to be more scenic than other local roads, and I'd never before been on this part of the road.

We eventually got to 56 after going through Mt. Rush. There really is no mountain. No town, even. But there is a laughable Virginia sign there stating that the geographic center of the state is a couple of miles away. ("Really? Is that the best you can do?")
Downtown Mt. Rush

Around 40 minutes after leaving JRSP we passed a sign telling us we could turn left and find a state park after 10 miles. Undoubtably this referred to the park we had left 30 miles ago. And we drove through the curiously named "Wingina, Virginia." This is a place that makes me wonder if residents really admit that they are from there. Or maybe they lie.

We finally rolled into the Lovingston McDonalds (just off of the wonderfully four laned U.S. 29) an hour after leaving the State Park boundaries. The kid deserved a happy meal after that drive. And I now believe that Arrington, Mt. Rush and Wingina form the Virginia equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.

Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail - March 21, 2010

I took the bikes out this weekend and convinced my 10 year old that he could have a fantabulous time forgoing hours of rebuilding his Star Wars Lego sets to explore a brand-new section of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail.

The Blue Ridge Railway Trail is a 7-mile gravel surface recreational trail used for biking, hiking and horseback riding which utilizes former railroad right-of-way abandoned by the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway, which operated a railway spur that ran to a quarry in Piney River from 1915 to 1981. It is located about 45 minutes south of Charlottesville, with the main trailhead on Rt. 151 near the Nelson County/Amherst County line.

The Blue Ridge Railway Trail has opened in segments. A 2 mile section was completed between the settlements of Piney River and Rose Mill in September 2003. The trail was extended 2.5 miles to the Naked Creek Bridge in 2009 and the final 2.5 miles to Tye River Depot will officially open in Spring 2010. Although the trail is not currently open past Naked Creek according to any website I could find, my barber told me that he had taken the trail over the Tye River and east under the U.S. 29 bridge over the Tye River. This was considerably further than the trail end we found on Fathers Day when I convinced my family to last ride there.
End of the Trail Sign Stays, Trail Continues

So Will and I headed down there, mounted our bikes, and checked out the previous end of the trail. We still found a sign that said the trail ended, but the gate was open and behind that was a straight line of new limestone bedding. And we found that the completed portion of the trail now crosses the Tye River and runs east along the north side of the river under the U.S. 29 bridge.

Parts of the trail were pretty washed out, and there was evidence along the Tye River that water levels had recently been much, much higher. I believe this was a couple of weeks ago when the James River was reported locally at nearly flood stage.

Along the north side of the Tye River, there were a number of cliffs along the edge of the trail, possibly indicating blasting when the railroad was originally laid. The trail ended abruptly a little east of U.S. 29, and Google Earth appears to show that the original line merged with the Southern Railway tracks. It will be interesting to see how the trail eventually ends and whether the path is ever extended west into the mountains.

Will and I placed a Geocache on the new portion of the trail. There were plenty of opportunities for such placements so we took advantage and placed our cache at the most interesting spot along the trail.

After we loaded the bikes back on the back of the car, we headed to the Colleen Drive-In (pronounced cu-leen) with the giant soft serve cone on U.S. 29 to cool off. It made the trip worthwhile to one 10 year old.

Our details.

Distance: 10.7 miles
Total Time: 2 hours, 7 minutes, including stops.
Steepest Uphill: from 9.76 miles to 9.99 miles; 3% grade.

Rivanna Trail - March 20, 2010

A 10 year old's birthday party up in the Dunlora neighborhood off of Rio Road freed up an hour to check out a new section of the Rivanna Trail in Albemarle County. The Rivanna Trail originally was a greenbelt trail that encircled the City of Charlottesville. It has now branched northward and this portion of the trail was laid out only a couple of months ago, in January 2010.
A fox left his calling card.

There was no one else on the trail, though I did see evidence of wildlife. Using my newly-obtained knowledge of scatology, I determined that a fox had left his calling card on a trail step.

(On my Austin Mountain Trail hike the previous week, I learned that pointy poop + prominent location = fox.)

Although this section of trail still needs some cleanup, it is a nice benefit for these residents to have a trail that drops down from between their houses and into the woods. And though it didn't always exhibit the beauty of a mountain trail, there was much solitude on the trail. I felt like I was much further from civilization than I really was. And I had time to find two of the three geocaches placed back there.

My details.

Distance: 3.0 miles
Total Time: 1 hour, 13 minutes, including stops.
Steepest Uphill: from 2.22 miles to 2.42 miles; 8% grade.

Austin Mountain Trail - March 13, 2010

The weather in Charlottesville has been wet the past few days, giving me an opportunity to join the PATC's Charlottesville Chapter for a Saturday morning hike. My son's soccer game was cancelled due to wet conditions, and I bolted from the house to meet with the group at 9 AM.
Madison Run 
There were only 5 hikers at the regular meeting place, with another hiker, a Harrisonburg resident, joining us at the trailhead. Was it the weather, or did I scare away everyone else the previous week's brutal bushwack to the 50 year old wreckage of a commercial airplane? Only veterans this day, and all were men.

We split into a couple of vehicles and met back up 43 miles later on the western edge of Shenandoah National Park just east of Grottos, Virginia. U.S. 340 provided views of numerous swollen streams heading to the South River, so we were not surprised to find Madison Run roaring next to us when we parked at the trailhead. A hike on the Furnace Mountain Trail would be out of the question today, as we could not possible cross Madison Run safely. Even a normally small stream becomes somewhat treacherous in March, as shown in the photo below.

The hike was up the Austin Mountain Trail - one of my favorites in the Southern District of Shenandoah National Park because I have always thought that the trail is one of the steeper ones in the park. I was excited to record the trip on my GPS so I could confirm my belief about the steepness of the trail.
The highlight of the trip was the lessons in scatology we received from Michael, who is a professor at James Madison University. We saw several examples of fox scat, which has pointy ends and contained much hair. Michael taught us that fox usually deposit their scat on a prominent object like a rock to mark their territory. He also said that fox are much more prominent than we think, because we seldom encounter them.

We took the Austin Mountain Trail all the way to the Appalachian Trail, which we then took south to Brown's Gap and the Madison Run Road. After lunching at the intersection of the AT and the Madison Run Road (where we surprisingly ran into a backpacking JMU student who spent some of his Spring Break at the Blackrock Hut), we walked down the road back to our cars.
Constipated bear, perhaps?

Our details.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 200.3
Distance: 10.7 miles
Total Time: 4.5 hours, including stops.
Steepest Section: from 0.87 miles to 1.45 miles; 21% grade.
Starting elevation: 1340 ft.
Highest point: 2839 ft.

Bucks Elbow Hike - March 6, 2010

March 6th hike with the Charlottesville Chapter of the PATC was one I'd been looking forward to for a while - because I picked it. We traveled to western Albemarle County, a total of maybe 15 miles, to Mint Springs Valley Park. Our objective was off-trail and outside of the park boundaries, but was one that had been done by others as recounted in the HikingUpward website.
I had previously inquired with the administrator of another blog that had made this hike about whether we would be on public property on this hike. He responded,
You are correct, a good part of the trail is not on Albemarle County Park property. As soon as you get near the High Power Voltage lines and get off the county trail I assume that is "private" property. As per the recent write up in The Hook (excerpt below), even the gentleman who owns some of Bucks Elbow Mountain is not sure if it is on his property or if it belongs to an adjacent Lumber Company. We saw no "No Trespassing" signs anywhere on the hike. I think due to the public nature of this crash site that whoever owns it is OK with people going to it. The minute I receive any kind of notice not to go onto that property I would pass on that information through my blog...

The fact that we had a group approaching 20 hikers made this trip more difficult, especially because some hikers got ahead of the group. I missed the turnoff by a few hundred yards because I was so immersed in conversation. We backtracked and went off trail. Immediately after leaving the established trails in Mint Springs, we found ourselves under high tension wires. The land is basically denuded, but there are several trail options under these wires. The lead hikers logically took the steeper path, but this was the wrong option. We ascended at a 30% grade to the overlook rock listed on the map, then traversed across the mountain maintaining the same elevation from that rock.
Slogging through the snow near the crash site.
The problem in early March was that there was still substantial snow at that elevation. And when we traversed to the wreckage, we came across random ribbons and even a cairn, which led us to believe we were on an established route. Five of us eventually made it to the wreckage, and descended more directly so as to miss the snow.

The map shows where we should have gone (in purple). Our uphill route is the dotted line to the left, and our descent was the dotted line to the right. Because I use a GPS almost exclusively only to record my trip and not for navigation, I discovered after two-and-a-half years of ownership that it can guide me on a route! I just discovered it a little too late.

Our decent took us to an old roadbed which led directly into someone's backyard. Our group decided to trespass and hope for the best - you never know what might greet you coming down a mountain! But we made it to the driveway and down the mountain without incident. And when we saw a sign proclaiming that the property had been named "Stairway to Heaven," we figured we were pretty safe. An old Zep fan couldn't be too threatening, right?
Lunch next to the debris.
I cannot imagine that I could find many trails in Virginia to match the steepness of this route. More on that in another post.

Our details.

Distance: 4.8 miles
Total Time: 4 hours, 10 minutes, including stops.
Steepest Uphill: from 0.97 miles to 1.51 miles; 31% grade.
Starting elevation:  1002 ft.
Highest point: 2836 ft.

Jones Mountain Cabin - December 10-11, 2009

My nephew Ned was in town, so I rented a PATC cabin I'd never done before.  Larry had been to the Jones Mountain Cabin with his son's scout troop and amazingly wanted to do the trip again.  I had done the hike to nearby Bearchurch Rock back in the 1990's with Cullen and Suzie - I remember being amazed that Cullen could make a cell call from the trail back then!

This overnight occurred on a Thursday and the Skyline Drive was closed due to snow, so we figured we wouldn't see anyone else once we entered an empty parking lot.  We parked just up the road from Graves Mill at the end of the Graves Mill Trail.

We had read descriptions in other blogs claiming that this was a killer hike, but they must have been written by D.C. flatlanders. It was a nice workout getting up there, but by no means the toughest hike I had taken in 2009.  The Graves Mill Trail followed the Rapidan River upstream to the Staunton River Trail.  We took the Staunton River Trail until we reached the Jones Mountain Trail to the cabin.
Rapidan River

The cabin itself was a disappointment. It was actually unlocked! Most of the wood left by the previous group was soggy. Since we weren't supposed to take occupancy until 3PM, we were fortunate that the cabin hadn't been rented the night before.  Otherwise we would have been in real trouble, arriving 90 minutes before sundown.

 We never did figure out how to regulate the woodstove so it wouldn't be burning full bore. As a result, it burned out by midnight and I woke up in the morning next to a frozen Nalgene bottle.

The next morning we were up early, collected and cut a lot of wood, then headed back down the mountain.  The trip back was slightly different, as we took the McDaniel Hollow Trail back to the Staunton River Trail, instead of the Jones Mountain cutoff.
Hiking back past the lone sentinel.

Our details.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 106.3 (uphill only)
Distance: 3.9 miles each way
Total Time: 2 hours, 05 minutes up, 1 hour, 44 minutes down, including stops.
Steepest Uphill: from 2.94 miles to 3.2 miles; 18% grade.

White Rock Tower Trail - April 3, 2009

Less than two months after my Rough Mountain Wilderness Hike, I had to head out west for Boy Scout leader training so I decided to explore the Rich Hole Wilderness.  Both wildernesses overlook Interstate 64 west of Lexington.  Although I originally intended to hike the Rich Hole Trail that bisects the Rich Hole Wilderness, I quickly abandoned that trail when I encountered the raging North Branch of Simpson Creek, which the Rich Hole Trail crosses  virtually immediately.  Time for an alternate route.

The White Rock Trail didn't seem very interesting, but it had a major aspect in its favor - it left from the same parking area.  The trail starts off on a roadway, and eventually reaching a gate where the road turns into a trail.  The trail climbs in a remarkably consistent manner to the site of an old fire tower, now dismantled.  From the bottom to the top, the trail is 2.12 miles long and the grade is 14%.  Yet the steepest portion of this trail is only 16%.  No doubt this consistency can be attributed to the trail's former life as a road to the fire tower.

The trail, though skirting the edge of a federally designated wilderness area, was never quiet because it overlooked Interstate 64 and road noise was constant. I was also in sight of cell towers and received a call from a friend during the hike, allowing me to describe to him a potential campsite as I walked.
The land below levels out and this is clearly an established campsite.
The campsite was nice and flat, though the rest of the mountain was not. I wonder if it has some relation to the fire tower and was constructed in the distant past, rather than a natural feature. This would be a nice place to spend a night, assuming you can sleep though the traffic noise through the night and do not mind going 2/3 of the way up the mountain only to possibly find that someone has gotten there before you.

At the top of the mountain, the trail rides the crest for a while before descending the ridge and, maps claim, turning into another road.
A view from the top of the ridge.
The dark ridge is the Rough Mountain Wilderness.
The two ridges beyond are in Douthat State Park.
It would seem that the Forest Service could easily create a loop trail, as the road system on the other side comes within a mile or two of the original trail.  Since I had a commitment, however, I made this an out-and-back hike.

It is possible that all of the area hiked may someday be part of a wilderness area.  The Forest Service in 2009 has been working on a revision to its Forest Plan for the George Washington National Forest that proposes adding wilderness acreage to the present Rich Hole Wilderness western boundary.

Hike details.
Distance: 4.6 miles
Total Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes.
Steepest Uphill: from 0.9 miles to 2.12 miles; 16% grade.
Starting Elevation:  1533 ft.
Highest Point: 3098 ft.

Crane Trail - February 8, 2009

The Crane Trail is the only established trail in the Rough Mountain Wilderness. The trail cuts over Rough Mountain, which is the mountain just east of Douthat State Park. Although the Rough Mountain Wilderness is relatively close to Interstate 64, it is very difficult to access. Combined with the fact that the only reliable water sources exist just outside of the Wilderness’s boundaries and there are few flat spots suitable for camping, you can just imagine the odds of coming across another user outside of hunting season.

The Crane Trail has possibly the most remote trailhead in the George Washington National Forest. The trail itself only 3 miles long, but requires an out and back hike because private homes and hunting camps block access to Virginia State Route 42 at the western end of the trail. The eastern trailhead is located next to railroad tracks leased by the Buckingham Branch Railroad from CSX Transportation, so access to the trail from either terminus may not be possible without trespassing.

And what a chore it is to get to this trailhead! Take I-64 to Exit 43 west of Lexington, then take U.S. 60 west a mile to S.R. 780. Take 780 north towards Goshen, but turn off pretty quick onto S.R. 633. Here the road turns to dirt and forms ♦the northern boundary of the Rich Hole Wilderness before reaching Forest Road 129 and heading south past Bubbling Springs Campground.  I have never seen anyone camping here, though it seems like a nice place.  Complete with privy!
Bubbling Springs Campground
About a half hour since your tires last saw pavement, you'll need to ford Pads Creek. This ford was built for vehicles with high wheel bases, and it scares me every time I need to ford it (I have done so at least 3 times each way).

About a half mile after fording the creek, a side road heads steeply uphill. This is F.R. 6029. The gate here is likely closed, but I've found that it usually isn't locked. Open that gate (and literally hide the padlock - you don't want someone coming along and locking the gate with your car inside!) Head up a steep incline to a meadow where I leave my car. If you have the right vehicle and feel brave, you can continue on this road, but it deteriorates quickly and I always walk this part. After about 20 minutes the road ends and you have to walk along the railroad tracks. This is the same rail route that Amtrak's Cardinal takes from DC to Chicago, but it is generally pretty quiet.  On one trip an Amtrak train went by just as I came out of the woods, all sweaty and full of burrs.  I wonder what those people thought!
Buckingham Branch Railway at Crane, Virginia
I had made it as far as the tracks twice before, but never found the trailhead. The first time I gave up, and the second time I went off trail to the top of the mountain. I was determined to find the trailhead on my third trip.  Turns out, the map's location of "Crane" on the rail line and the actual location from walking down the tracks are two different places.  I headed further north this time and came to the trailhead, which was marked by a signpost and an old bulletin board.
Crane Trailhead

But as you might imagine, a trail this remote is not often maintained.  I searched all around behind the signpost for evidence of an actual trail heading up the mountain and struck out.  Fallen leaves were everywhere, and they covered up any evidence of trail usage.
Dejected, I started walking back down the tracks to my car.  It wasn't too long, however, before I came across two men, a woman and a dog heading towards me.  We talked, and it turned out that they were looking for the same trail.  What are the odds?

We returned to the trailhead and snooped around looking for clues.  Before long Pete found the way, and the trail was obvious once we started climbing the mountain.  I was elated!

The trail itself was beautifully constructed and enjoyable to hike, with well constructed switchbacks.  Because of the season, we were able to see views virtually the entire way up, though views would be limited during the summer.  We climbed to the top of the mountain and had lunch, then returned the way we came. And driving back, I knew that if my Subaru decided to drown itself in Pads Creek, friends were right behind to get me out. This turned into one of my most enjoyable hikes ever and helped me decide that I should try hiking with groups more often.  I hope I will be able to hike with these folks again.
View from the top
Hike details.
Distance: 8.4 miles (The trail to the top of the mountain and back from the trailhead was 3.4 miles.)
Total Time: 5 hours, 38 minutes, including stops, searching time, and backtracking after giving up.
Steepest Uphill: from 0.75 miles to 1.24 miles after the trailhead; 21% grade.
Starting (Trailhead) Elevation:  1379 ft.
Highest Point: 2543 ft.