Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ramsey's Draft Loop: November 10, 2010

Ramsey's Draft is a federally designated wilderness area west of Staunton and just off of U.S. 250.  It is named after the creek, or "draft" that flows through the middle of the wilderness.  I have hiked several of the trails in this wilderness area over the past few years, but because some sections of the wilderness are so far away from roads, there are major portions of trail I have never experienced.  And since one of my favorite trails skirts the wilderness - the Shenandoah Mountain Trail - I have wanted to get deep into this trail system for a while.
Ramsey's Draft is very dry this time of year.

Normally, this is an overnight backpack trip.  That is how all of the guidebooks describe it, and usually they are describing a shorter loop.  I prefered not to do this as an overnight and hoped I was still in shape for the hike after this summer's 19 mile Half Dome ascent in Yosemite.  I calculated this hike to be a little over 17 miles.  I asked a friend who through hiked the A.T. a couple of years ago to come along, and we were on the trail by 10 AM, dressed in orange because you never know when hunting is in season in Virginia.  The season seems to be different in each county!

I've been on several parts of this loop in the past where access is straightforward from various trailheads.  But parts of this hike are so remote that access is really only possible by backpacking overnight or by a long dayhike.  I was excited to experience these parts of the hike.

View from Bald Ridge Trail towards the east.
The loop started near U.S. 250 and the Mountain House Picnic Area.  We cut right (east) and ascended the Bridge Hollow Trail for 51 minutes, just over 2 miles, and 973 feet elevation gain before reaching the Bald Knob Trail.  The Bald Knob Trail took us along a ridge that, over the next 4.5 miles, took us over or alongside The Peak, Bald Ridge Knob, The Pinnacle, and Gordon Peak.

We briefly stopped at an overlook near Bald Ridge Knob for a snack and to place a new geocache two hours into the hike and just outside the boundaries of Ramsey's Draft Wilderness.

We reached the Leading Ridge Trail at just before 1PM.  At this point, we were 6.5 miles into the hike and concerned that we might not have enough daylight to complete the loop.  Neither of us had a flashlight, but we elected to move fast and complete the loop before losing light.  Maybe one of the campsites near Hiner Springs wouldn't have been a bad option, but we were equipped only for a day hike.  Gone was the opportunity to take the one mile side trail to the top of Hardscrabble Knob, the highest point in the wilderness and the 44th highest peak in Virginia.  We passed this trail at 2:41 PM, and reached the Shenandoah Mountain Trail at 3:00.
Elevation Profile of the Ramsey's Draft Loop

The Shenandoah Mountain Trail is a wonderfully level trail that constitutes the western edge of Ramsey's Draft Wilderness.  We needed a level trail, and moved quickly over the next 5.7 miles, reaching the Road Hollow Trail in less than 1 hour, 50 minutes.  The Road Hollow Trail took us back to our car, 2.5 miles by trail.  We got back to the car at 5:43, within 5 minutes of total blackness.

Clearly, I'm going to have to get on the trail earlier or choose shorter hikes until we start getting longer days again.

Ramsey's Draft Loop 
 November 10, 2010
 PATC Difficulty Factor 364.9
 Total Altitude Gain 3622
 Total Distance 18.4
 Low Point 2248
 High Point 4119
 Time of Hike 7:31
Hemlocks still live in Ramsey's Draft.


  1. Great trail description! We're planning a backpack trip there in the springtime. I'm glad you guys made it back safely to the car before full dark!

  2. Thanks! You may be the first ones to find the geocache I left on Bald Ridge Trail if you go up that way. I love the geocaches that require long hikes, and there are a number of them in GWNF west of I-81. I plan to plant some more if I can find a store selling the metal ammo boxes.


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