Friday, September 24, 2010

Doubletop/Wilhite Wagon Trail Loop - September 21, 2010

I joined the PATC Vigorous Hikers Group for a second outing on September 21st.  There was very little overlap in attendance from the first group because many of the folks hiking this week had just gotten back from hiking California's John Muir trail when I joined them the first time.

We met at the trailhead, which was off of Rt. 649 (Chapman Mountain Road), a road I had never taken before.  The PATC map made it look pretty sketchy, but it turned out to be in great shape.  It splits off of the road to Graves Mountain Lodge near Criglersville and would eventually pass Hoover Camp and ascend to Big Meadows Campground if Shenandoah National Park permitted traffic that far.

This is the map the hike leader sent me for the hike,
showing our parking are near the southeast corner.
Nobody in our group ended up taking the entire route highlighted above,
as none of us reached Monkeyhead.
(Monkeyhead is the westernmost section of the loop, on the left.) 
We started out at 8:50 AM, heading north on the Chapman Mountain Horse Trail.  I believe that this trail is primarily used by guided groups from Graves Mountain Lodge, because it is not marked well.  This was not a problem for the first half of the hike, as the trail was clear.  But we traveled through a gate onto pasture land, and cattle trails crisscrossed the land, which was on the edge of fields and woods.
Time to agree that we are no longer on the trail!
Maybe the trail continues over here.
At one point we were in some woods and the trail ended, with cow bones strewn all over the ground.  And when you are on a cow trail and the only cows appear to be long dead, it is time to look for a new trail!  We eventually made our way north to the W Trail (not shown on the map), and then to the Doubletop Mountain Trail.

The Doubletop Mountain trail is not for the faint of heart!  For the first half of the ascent, it climbs at a 29% grade over a little over a half mile.  The entire ascent lasts 2 miles and averages over 975 feet of elevation gained per mile.  And these guys could move.  The trail was quite overgrown in spots, particularly on the top of the ridge.  Several times I looked down at my feet only to be able to see nobody when I looked back up.  I was glad I had done this hike before.
At the top we stopped for lunch very near a spot where I had hiked back in April.  Right at the intersection of the Wilhite Wagon Trail and the Doubletop Trail was a large rocky area where we could sit and have lunch.

Having Lunch.
Our view at lunch.
The group lunched for over a half hour while it deliberated about the rest of the hike.  Some of the group was very anxious to explore the Staunton River Trail, and nobody seemed jazzed to check out Monkeyhead.  I wanted to go as far as the summit of Doubletop so I could retrieve a geocache I left when I'd hiked some of this trail in April.  So the rest of the group went west on the Doubletop Trail to the western section of the Wilhite Wagon Trail (which a website says is misspelled on the map), then off of Doubletop to find the Staunton River Trail.  I stayed on Doubletop, retrieved my geocache (looking good, though it had fallen out of the tree).  I felt like I was Apollo 12, which retrieved part of an unmanned Surveyor spacecraft from the surface of the moon.  I doubt anyone had been near my geocache since it had been placed 5 months earlier.

Can you see the cache on the ground?

Heading back to the car, I decided to take the Wilhite Wagon Trail's eastern section.  The map says that it is not maintained, but one of my fellow hikers told me that he had taken the trail in the Spring, and it was definitely in good shape.  The trip down the Wilhite Wagon Trail from the Doubletop Mountain Trail back to the Chapman Mountain Horse Trail took about an hour, and it was a delightful trail.  I believe the map says that the trail is not maintained because it is one of the few trails in Shenandoah National Park that the PATC does not maintain.   But though it needed some work and one section was tricky to follow, the trail is in good shape.  It was originally a road that was closed when Herbert Hoover bought his camp on the Rapidan River in 1929.  It is wonderfully constructed, with rock walls securing the downhill portion of the trail along large portions of its existence.  And it drops at a consistent 8% grade, as shown on the right side of the elevation profile above.  It had only one difficult section to follow, but after I figured out that the trail was marked via pink ribbons on the trees, had no problem negotiating it.  I would recommend this trail wholeheartedly, except during hunting season as it ascends into the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area.  It is also somewhat difficult to find at the bottom of the trail, so I have listed GPS coordinates at the end of this report.  It looks like an old road here, but there is no trail sign.
Wilhite Wagon Trail, with rock construction.

Upon returning to the parking area, I found 2 of my fellow hikers had taken off in their cars, and the carpool van had another hiker waiting for the Staunton River hikers.  Mike told me he had twisted his ankle, but reported that the section of the Wilhite Wagon Trail I did not take was also in great condition.  Using the Hoover Camp Road, this makes a nice little loop hike that I am going to have to recommend to the PATC Charlottesville Chapter.

GPS Coordinates:
Parking:  N38 27.355 W78 21.662
Eastern Wilhite Wagon Trail/Chapman Mountain Horse Trail Intersection:  N38 27.528 W78 21.557
Lunch spot with great view: N38 28.879 W78 22.693
Eastern Wilhite Wagon Trail/Doubletop Mountain Trail Intersection:  N38 28.898 W78 22.687
Western Wilhite Wagon Trail/Doubletop Mountain Trail Intersection: N38 29.188 W78 22.957

Hike Details.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 286.9
Distance:  11.5 miles
Total Time: 6 hours 15 minutes, including lunch and brief stops.
Steepest Uphill: from 4.13 to 4.64 miles, 29% grade.
Average Uphill: 18% grade
Average Downhill: 8% grade
Lowest point: 745 ft. 
Highest point: 3216 ft.
Total uphill:  3588 ft.

In an attempt to get a hike in before mid-week rains, I joined a couple of other hikers for a loop hike here a week after this description.  We did the Wilhite Loop, which is described below.  Highly recommended during non-hunting season!  It starts from the parking lot described above.

Directions:  Take 29 north through Madison, then turn off on Rt. 231 towards Sperryville.  Turn left in Banco at the sign for White Oak Canyon.  Just after Criglersville and the Stonewall Jackson historic marker, turn left onto Rt. 649 and an immediate right.  Follow Rt 649 past the End State Maintenance sign and up a couple of hairpins, to a parking area right at the SNP boundary.  (You also can drive further, to the WMA boundary where there is a kiosk, and start and end the hike with a walk on the Rapidan Road.).  The road, though not paved, is in great shape.

Elevation profile for Wilhite Loop

Start the hike by taking the gated road to the right (North) for 5 minutes (1350 feet) to a road that comes in from the left.  There is an SNP boundary sign on a tree here, and it is the first road or trail entering from the left.  This is the Wilhite Wagon Trail.  Follow this road another 5 minutes to a slight fork, and stay left, where it becomes a trail.  The trail rises to an overlook just below the intersection with the Doubletop Trail (not obvious unless you are looking for it, but it is only about 20 feet before the intersection), where we stopped for lunch.  This section is 2.2 miles long and took us 1:08.  We stopped for lunch, then then followed the Doubletop Trail for a little over 10 minutes (2200 feet) then cut left on the other part of the Wilhilte Wagon Trail (1.4 miles, 38 minutes) to the Rapidan Road.  All sections of trail were in good shape and easy to follow.  The Rapidan Road is used to return to the car. The road was 3.1 miles long and took us 1:12, including a stop to look at the RWMA kiosk at the boundary between SNP and the RWMA.  Though this is a road, we did not see a single vehicle (other than a parked one) the entire route.  There are a number of established campsites along the side of the road, with fire pits.

Wilhite Loop
September 29, 2010
PATC Difficulty Factor
Total Altitude Gain
1813 ft
Total Distance (miles)
Low Point  (ft)
High Point
Time of Hike

(includes about 20 minutes for lunch)

Ragged Mountain Reservoir - September 12, 2010

The Cub Scouts of Pack 222 took their monthly hike just west of Charlottesville at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.  After this hike, 3 scouts were awarded their 30 mile staffs at the next Pack meeting.  These were the first scouts to get such awards.

After 1/4 mile uphill, this scout wanted to rest.
The Ragged Mountain Reservoir hike was a little over 3.5 miles.  I am not a big fan of the place because there are too many rules thanks to the Ivy Creek Foundation which has taken over managment.  No running.  No loud noises.  No collecting.  No dogs.  No geocaching.  Even the national parks allow dogs on most trails!  But it was close and convenient.

And to make it worse, I find out a couple of weeks later from an official with Albemarle County that a benefactor wants to donate land adjacent to this property for parkland, but has not done so because she thinks the Ivy Creek Foundation imposes too many rules.  So we don't get to enjoy that land.  Thanks Ivy Creek Foundation! 

Back to the hike.  We had a new dad who is a forester, so we got to learn about stinkweed and newts. And the boys got to see the earthen dam and wonder about the strange house in the water.  It was a good afternoon journey.
Get out the maps, boys, and tell us where to go next!

Group shot on the dam with the crazy house behind us.

Mary's Rock - September 11, 2010

It was the last Saturday before soccer season, so Will and I joined the PATC Charlottesville Chapter for a relatively short hike on the Appalachian Trail in a section of Shenandoah National Park that I have never hiked.

Here is the trail club's description:

September 11 Jewell Hollow to Marys Rock: Iva Gillet. 6.8 miles. Walk the AT north from Jewell Hollow to a short side trail to the magnificent view at Marys Rock. Directions: Route 29 north to Madison, then route 231 to Sperryville, route 211 to Thornton Gap, then about 5 miles south on Skyline Drive, parking on right.

There was a good crowd for this hike, though no other hikers from the 10 year old set, which disappointed Will.  We drove past Sperryville to get to the trailhead, bringing us into the DC hiking sphere, which is why I don't come up this way often.  But it was a great day for a hike, and the trail wasn't too crowded for the most part.  There is not a lot of elevation gain here, as the lowest and highest points on this hike are within 500 feet of each other.  But it was great for taking kids hiking, and the view from Mary's Rock is a great one.

Most folks seem to hike to Mary's Rock from the north, just off of U.S. 211.  It is a much steeper hike this way, and made me think that this is the DC/NoVa equivalent of Charlottesville's favorite hike: Humpback Rocks.  There was a big crowd on Mary's Rock, and it was always changing.  But the view was worth braving the crowds.

On the way out and back we passed the Leading Ridge Trail.  I am very anxious to try this hike sometime, as I am told it may be the steepest hike in this part of the state.  That makes it worth trying!
Mary's Rock
Lunching on the Rock.
On the way home, the entire group stopped for ice cream in Sperryville before driving back to Charlottesville.  It was a great day for an easy hike!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Three Peaks in Shenandoah - September 7, 2010

I have not posted in a long time on this site because I have not been hiking in Virginia.  I spent a month traveling, some with my son, some with my son and wife, some with a friend, and some by myself.  I drove to San Francisco and back and managed some life list hikes during the trip - hiking below the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for an overnight with my son, scaling Half Dome and the 4 Mile Trail in Yosemite with my wife's niece, and climbing the 13,000 foot summit of Mt. Wheeler in Great Basin National Park with a friend.

I returned to Virginia in late August and had little incentive to go to the gym until I noticed the calendar for the PATC's Vigorous Hiker's Group.  There were a number of appealing aspects to joining this group.  First, they hike on Tuesdays, and I work 9 hour days so can take a day during the week twice a month.  Second, they go on aggressive hikes with elevation gains in excess of 4,000 feet, which would force me to stay in shape.

I checked out this group's calendar and found that some of their hikes are in Pennsylvania, but probably 1/2 are near enough to Charlottesville so that I could meet them at the trailhead.  The next hike was on September 7th, the day after Labor Day, and started and ended at the White Oak Canyon parking lot.  I decided to join them.

Here is the group's description of the hike:

To celebrate the return of sub-90s temperatures we'll take on a tough hike. This hike hits three of the biggest peaks in SNP in almost 17 miles and 5600 feet of ascent in the Central District.  
We'll start at White Oak Canyon parking at the entrance to Berry Hollow.  Our route starts with a straight-forward ascent of Hawksbill via the Cedar Run Trail.  After regrouping, its on to Stony Man summit for lunch via the Salamander Trail, the AT, and the Summit Trail.  After lunch we return to Stony Man parking, cross the Skyline Drive to find the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail, which we can take a mile or so to the Old Rag Fire Road.  Turning left on ORFR, its again less than a mile and a half to the Robertson Mountain Trail, where we turn left and ascend our third peak for the day.  Continuing on we eventually descend to the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, turn right and follow it and the Berry Hollow Fire Road back to the cars.
This dog hiked with us and is a full blooded Walker Hound.
Gives me hope that the family pup will someday be a hiker.
The others all came down from the DC area, so I met them at the trailhead.  I was the first to arrive, at 8:30.  Shortly afterward, a woman arrived in her car, then a van full of five men showed, along with one dog.  A couple of the men did not actually hike with the group as they are in their 80's and can no longer keep up.  So they took their own hike. The rest of us started up the Cedar Run Trail, ascending over 3000 feet in 3.6 miles to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain, the tallest peak in Shenandoah National Park.  The ascent took me an hour and 55 minutes.  

At the summit of Hawksbill was a group of Princeton students.  I didn't actually go to the summit because of the crowd of students, and instead hung out at the Byrds Nest day use shelter 100 feet from the overlook to wait for everyone in our group to arrive.  We didn't wait long, and were quickly back on the trail.

From Hawksbill, we descended to the Appalachian Trail and headed north to Stony Man.  I remember last climbing Stony Man on my first trip to Shenandoah, back when I was about 12.  I had never bothered to hike it as an adult, and had forgotten how beautiful the views are from this mountain.  Stony Man is not as tall as Hawksbill; my GPS measured it at just under 4000 feet high.  We stopped here for lunch and talked with a nice young couple from Austin Texas.  The Vigorous Hikers are not ones to stay in one place long, however, and we were back on the trail after exactly 10 minutes.  We descended the way we came up, then cut across the Skyline Drive to a horse trail that led to the Old Rag Fire Road.  

View from Stony Man summit.
I spent most of the rest of the hike talking with Bob, a retired researcher for the Feds in their weather department.  He is quite an accomplished hiker, having completed the entire A.T., the Long Trail, and vast sections of the Pacific Crest Trail.  I learned about how weather prediction is related to physics, and the history of the Vigorous Hikers.  Together, we scaled the final mountain of our hike, near the 3296 summit of Robertson Mountain, and caught views of Old Rag.  From there we descended to the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, which is part of the Old Rag Loop.  We saw our first hikers since the summit of Stony Man on the fire road.  This road took us back to our cars.

We returned to the parking lot at 4:12 PM, 7 hours and 23 minutes after beginning the 17.7 mile hike.  I enjoyed the day and look forward to joining these folks again when they return to this part of the park.  A future hike will allow me to return to Monkeyhead, which is a particularly appealing destination.  

Hike Details.
PATC Difficulty Factor 418.8
Distance:  17.7 miles
Total Time: 7 hours 23 minutes.
Average Uphill: 17% grade
Lowest point: 1141 ft.
Highest point: 4028 ft.
Total uphill: 4954 ft.