Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kennedy Ridge Trail: October 17, 2010

I joined a group of folks from Charlottesville for a hike on Sunday. I have hiked with many of these folks through the PATC's Charlottesville Chapter. The parameters of Sunday's hike were that it needed to be close by, and to the south or west of Charlottesville. Two of the hikers wanted to make it to a party that started around 3 PM. And I needed to be home to help my son sell popcorn for the Cub Scouts.

The group was 6 people, which meant we needed to take two vehicles to the trail, but we could handle all hikers in one vehicle for a short distance. So a hike with a car drop became a parameter, because the opportunity presents itself so rarely. And closely connected was the requirement that it be a trail we had not hiked before. There are actually a number of these trails still out there!

We settled on the combination of the Kennedy Ridge Trail and FDR-162, a forest road that is one of the boundaries of St. Mary's Wilderness over by Wintergreen Ski Area. We would drop one car on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Bald Mountain Overlook (MM 22), and the other on the Coal Road over near Sherando and the town of Stuart's Draft. Didn't look too far on the map, but ended up being about a 45 minute drive from point to point, ultimately adding an hour-and-a-half to the hike and meaning we got back to town later than we'd planned on. Sorry Iva!
On the Kennedy Ridge Trail.

The other end of this hike is on the Coal Road, which heads off of the Sherando Road  (Va-664) near Lyndhurst (south of Waynesboro).  My old Hiking Guide to the Pedlar District (Second Edition), copyright 1990, recommends taking Va-610 (the Howardsville Turnpike) to Va-660 (Lake Road) past Shenandoah Acres campground.  Va-660 becomes FDR-52 at the NF boundary.  Turn left onto FDR-42 (the Coal Road) and park at the second road on the right.  The trailhead (unmarked) is the third road on the right.

The group chose to hike this from higher elevations to lower, robbing us of true aerobic benefit. This meant that we started out on the Blue Ridge Parkway. FDR-162 is open to traffic, but is so deeply rutted that we saw little use. We were passed by only a couple of vehicles on the hike. Trails from FDR-162 access St. Mary's Wilderness and Sherando Recreation Area, but you have to know where you are, as we saw no trail signs anywhere on this hike except for on one side trail. Campsites and apparent roads head off from FDR-162 at regular intervals, making it difficult to determine for sure where the trails intersect with the road.
Elevation Profile

Fortunately Ken had hiked this road as a part of a circuit in St. Mary's fairly recently (my only experience on the same loop is over 15 years old), and he had some readings on his GPS. The St. Mary's Loop is a popular one (see here and here), which probably accounts for the majority of the hiking traffic on FDR-162.  I am glad we had Ken's coordinates, and recommend that anyone trying this hike should have GPS coordinates to make sure they are on the right trail.

According to my guidebook, the Bald Mountain Trail intersects on the left at 0.7 miles.  The Torry Ridge Trail intersects on the right at 1.0 miles, and the Mills Creek Trail intersects on the right at 1.3 miles.  None of these trails are marked with signs, though the latter two are pretty evident as roads leading towards Sherando.  The Kennedy Ridge Trail intersected at a wide spot in the road at 4.1 miles, and shortly after that a rock cairn signaled the Saint Marys River Trail on the left.

Partridge Family or Into The Wild?
The highlight of FDR-162 was the abandoned bus we came across and used for our group photo.  There were a couple of campsites with views, but nothing particularly memorable.  I liked the bus because it must have a story, though we could not know what it was.  Who drove it there?  Why was it abandoned?  And why did folks bring paint up here to alter its appearance? The bus held tight to answers.

Green Pond in Saint Marys Wilderness
At 4.1 miles we reached the intersection with the Kennedy Ridge Trail and the Saint Marys River Trail.  We took a left and had lunch a little ways off of FDR-162, down the St. Mary's Trail at Green Pond.  Ken claimed that this is a glacial tarn, but I do not believe glaciers ever touched this part of the country and could not find any support online for this assertion.  It appears instead to be a bog.  The Pedlar District Hiking Guide states that this is a bog and adds that it had shrunk by one third between 1980 and 1990.  It would be interesting to camp here sometime and have a chance to observe the wildlife attracted to this unique location.

Sassafras in Autumn.
After lunch we hiked .3 miles back to FDR-162 and crossed over to the start of the Kennedy Ridge Trail.  No sign here, either.  The Pedlar District Hiking Guide describes the Kennedy Ridge Trail has having "no special feature to commend it," other than one view from a rock outcrop.  Fortunately, Autumn makes any outside trek a great experience.  The Blackgum trees had already shed, but the leaves were still crimson on the trail.  And the Sassafras trees were turning bright yellow.  Parts of the trail looked nearly free of overhead leaves, while others were still so leafy that the trail was still dark.

The single overlook was actually two overlooks very close to each other, and the downhill one had more room.  The view was great from there.  You can see where the overlook is on the elevation profile, it is the notch to the right of the profile, before we begin a steady descent.  I calculated the descent to be 14%.  The trailhead is unmarked at the Coal Road, but we came out at these coordinates:  N37 58.731 W79 01.536.
Kennedy Ridge Overlook view.

I am not sure I would recommend this hike, though I certainly enjoyed it.  The drive between car drops takes a long time.  And if I did this hike by myself, I think I would have found it pretty dull.  But it was enjoyable for me because of the company and the time of year.  And the Kennedy Ridge Trail portion would be a good workout if going uphill.

I am glad I crossed this one off of my list, but doubt I will return anytime soon.  I should do the St. Mary's loop again sometime, though.  Maybe over the holidays; especially since Devil's Backbone Brewery is on the way home.  A great way to end a hike.  Thanks, Ken and Marie, for the beer!

Heading downhill.
Kennedy Ridge
October 17, 2010
Total Altitude Gain 819
Total Distance 7.7
Low Point 1797 (at the very end of the hike)
High Point 3525
Time of Hike 2:29 (including lunch)

If I had gone the other way and hiked uphill...
PATC Difficulty Factor 186.5
Total Altitude Gain 2273
Total Distance 7.7
Time of Hike ?

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