Saturday, April 24, 2010

Narrowback Loop - April 23, 2010

On a warm, sunny April Friday I went back west of Harrisonburg to do a loop I've wanted to check out for at least 10 years.  The Narrowback Loop consists of a group of trails up and down Narrowback Mountain (2500 foot elevation) on the eastern edge of GWNF west of Bridgewater, and up the Sand Spring Trail and then down the Timber Ridge Trail, which ascend Sand Spring Mountain (3720 elevation) and eventually summit Reddish Knob (4397 elevation).  This was my Apollo 10 hike - a test run to see if I am in good enough shape to take a trail all the way to Reddish Knob without actually "landing" there.  This hike went great, so the next hike I hope to take the plunge and summit Reddish Knob and back on a day hike.
Brand new clear cut.

The Narrowback loop started on the Tillman Trail, which summited Narrowback Mountain.  The Tillman Trail heads east from the Tillman Road (FS 101), climbing through a section of reputed old growth forest (see link), and passing by a fresh clear cut.  The Tillman Trail was the southern boundary for the clear cut, though who knows where it will be if I return, as the clear cutting does not appear to be over.
The Tillman Trail continues to climb until it comes to a road, where hikers turn left.  The trail follows the road until it reaches a tower owned by Clear Communications.  The route becomes a legitimate trail again on the other side of the tower, and stays on the ridge for a while longer before dropping back down to the road again.
At the top of the Tillman Trail.
At the road I ran into a couple of turkey hunters decked out in full cammo gear - even cammo shoes!  They were interesting to talk to, and I found out that Turkey Season in Virginia in April ends at noon daily, so the hens have some of the day to find food.  Of course, it is the toms they are after.  These guys really knew the mountains.
Heading up the Sand Spring Trail was a real slog.  The trail wasn't as steep as others I have taken, and it is wide enough for a truck to drive up, but it is all uphill and it is relentless.  The entire uphill averages 10% and has a section at 16%.  The uphill section lasts for 3.3 miles and lasts virtually the entire portion of the Sand Spring Trail until its intersection with the Timber Ridge Trail.  
Heading up Sand Spring Mountain
I headed back downhill after meeting up with the Timber Ridge Trail and eating an apple - my only food on the entire trip, thanks to some poor planning.  This trail follows the Hearthstone Ridge back to the Tillman Road and my car.  On the way down, there were a lot of spring flowers coming up, including bluet, dwarf iris, and star chickweed.  A large stand of mountain laurel was getting ready to pop, as well.  
Overall, this hike wasn't nearly as difficult as the nearby Hone Quarry Loop I did a couple of weeks earlier, though it is several miles longer.  A nice aspect to this loop was the fact that there were eight geocaches within 20 yards of the trail and several others a little further away.  I found them all, but passed a 9th that was two tenths of a mile off the trail - 1000 feet is too far to go off trail, in my mind.  The trail itself doesn't have a lot to recommend for a return trip, other than to get me up to Reddish Knob.
Mountain Laurel along the Hearthstone Ridge.

Hike Details.
Distance:  11.0 miles
Total Time: 5 hours 29 minutes, including geocache searches.
Steepest Uphill: from 4.67 miles to 5.06 miles; 16% grade.
Average Uphill: 10% grade
Lowest point: 1751 ft.
Highest point: 3727 ft.
Total uphill: 1960 ft.

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