Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jump Mountain Hike

It has been a long time since I have updated this blog, though I have several hike reports in various stages of completion.  This is the first one to get finished, even though it is my most recent hike, as I wanted to test out a new camera/camcorder.  Please be sure to read the information below on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' proposal to charge hikers for entering WMA land in Virginia.  I doubt that such a fee will change their attitudes towards non-hunters or improve the trails for our use.  I recommend that hikers be sure to comment on this proposed regulation (click here).

I don't understand why Jump Mountain isn't considered among the premier hikes in Virginia.   I have great memories of this hike from nearly 15 years ago when I last hiked it.  I remember it being steep, with incredible views at the top, and I remember almost walking into a gigantic spider at face level.  Ugh!

The Kiosk in the parking lot warns you about the bridge!
I've been pushing this hike with the trail club for over a year, so it made sense to make the hike again so it was fresher in my mind.  I brought Gracie the hiking dog with me, and also brought my son's new Flip-type camera, which he received for his 11th birthday.  The specs make it appear better quality than either the current camcorder or digital camera I have been using, so I was excited to try this thing out in the field.

The hike starts at a parking lot just west of Goshen Pass.  If you have never driven Virginia State Route 39 west from Lexington you need to do so!  It is unquestionably one of the prettiest drives in the Commonwealth.


The scariest part of this hike is 100 yards into it.  To start the hike, you have to cross a cable bridge over the Maury River.  A sign in the parking lot says no more than 3 on the bridge at a time, and don't make the bridge sway.  So the bridge was not a lot of fun!  Gracie the dog was not keen on that crossing.




After crossing the bridge, the Goshen Pass Trail follows the path of the Maury River with nice views of the water.  The river was very high on this hike, sometimes flooding the trail due to rains the past several days.  There were some trees down on the trail, and a bridge had washed out over one of the side streams.  Eventually the trail became so overgrown that I turned back.  I had to hope that I had missed the turnoff for the trail up the mountain, so I wouldn't have to go back to the beginning.
The trail along the Maury River.

That turned out to be the case.  Hiking back towards the car I discovered that the Chambers Ridge Trail heads uphill just after a downed tree and before the washed out bridge.  This turned out to be the first of several times I lost the intended route on this hike.


The trail split occurred approximately 0.6 miles from the Swinging Bridge and is at approximately N37 56.489 W79 27.145.  (The Hikingupward site claims the turnoff is after 0.8 miles.  Maybe I should have read this before the hike!)  I added another .6 mile and 27 minutes to my hike by missing this turnoff.  There is no sign warning of the route change, but the trail uphill is marked by white blazes.  


The Chambers Ridge Trail heads uphill at a steep 26% grade for the next half mile.  It passes along some cliffs that must see rock climbers, judging from the sign.  


And it passes a nice little waterfall before climbing to a ridge and leveling out.  I don't remember this waterfall when I hiked in August of 1996, so it may be ephemeral.


Walking along Chambers Ridge gives some views of the mountains on the other side of the Maury River, and the first views of Lake Merriweather to the west.  Lake Merriweather is the site of a Boy Scout camp, owned by the DC area council.  This camp was the cause of much local controversy a couple of years ago, when the national Boy Scouts of America sought to purchase the property as a permanent location for its quadrennial Jamboree.  The BSA pulled out and purchased property near Beckley, West Virginia instead.  The Army Corps of Engineers has called into question the long term safety of the Lake Merriweather dam.

On the ridge was a small, brackish pond, then an intersection with the Little Peak Trail.  Over the next 0.44 miles, the trail averaged a 30% elevation gain, gaining 700 feet in elevation.  This trail literally went straight up the mountain!  At one point, Gracie the hiking dog had to wait for me (she hates to do that) to show her how to get up a rock scramble.  Here is a jumpy video of that scramble:

Until this point, the trail was inside or along the border of the Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve.  The trail crossed into the Goshen and Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area at the top of Little North Mountain, where it followed the ridge for a short distance before dropping down into a ravine between Little North and Jump Mountains.  Because a trail continues past this drop off to a campsite, it was difficult to tell at first that I was no longer on the main path.  I retraced the path back to the point where the trail dropped off of the ridge (N37 56.788 W79 25.798), then quickly lost the trail again.  Because I knew where Jump Rock's location, Gracie and I went off trail until we found the trail leading up to the mountain.  I later determined that my trail was difficult to follow because of downed trees and leaf cover.

I should note here the warning from the HikingUpward site, which I did not read in advance of this hike because I hiked this route with no problems 15 years ago:

From this point on, the trail and markings get a little sketchy for a good bit of the rest of the hike; which is why we recommend downloading our GPS track for this hike. Without the GPS track the hike can be done if you have a good sense of direction and orienteering skills. Doing this hike with others is also highly recommended. Be alert and try to follow the path as best as possible. Look constantly down the path about 20-30’ to ensure you are still on it.

Near the top of Jump Mountain
We found a trail leading to the top and the view was worth the effort!  We reached the top at 12:32, which was 2 hours and 20 minutes after crossing the bridge (including the extra 27 minutes along the Goshen River Trail).  Minus the extra mileage, the hike up was 3.6 miles, and my legs were jelly!  The view from Jump Rock at 3160 feet is very nearly 360 degrees.  It includes the Shenandoah Valley and Great North Mountain all the way to Buffalo Gap.  Even Elliot Knob can be seen peeking behind Little North Mountain.   Someday I would like to hike the Little North Mountain Trail all the way to Buffalo Gap or even to Elliot Knob.
Little North Mountain and Elliot Knob, looking north from Jump Rock.




We hung out up at the top of the rock for about 15 minutes, enjoying lunch and wondering about a geocache container in clear sight on the rock.  There were no listings in this area on the Geocaching.com website, and it was placed inside the apparent boundaries of the North Mountain Wildlife Management Area, which would not be permitted.  I looked at it more closely and discovered a big hole in the Tupperware container (a good reason to use the more expensive Army-issue Ammo Can in the backcountry).  I attached the Tupper to the outside of my pack and tossed it in the garbage when I reached home.
WMA boundary clearly marked, with geocache on the left.

On the return trip, I found another unmarked trail that went nowhere, but I was hanging tight to my topo map at this point and didn't wander too far off course.  I got back onto the ridgeline of Little North Mountain and followed that in and out of the edge of the Wildlife Management Area boundaries.  I think the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries can take credit for the difficulties following the trail.  They seem to barely tolerate non-hunting activities on their lands, and my hikes on WMA properties always seems a little like trespassing.  I bet they like it that way!

 I wonder if these boundary markers glow at night?
I would guess they also discourage trail markers on their lands, but they love to clearly mark their boundaries. Leave No Trace seems to be a foreign concept when it comes to boundary marking for Game and Inland Fisheries.  While I can see the need to mark the boundaries of hunting lands, piling a bunch of gold colored rocks on the boundary seems like overkill.  It is interesting to note that the Virginia DGIF is seeking right now to change their fee structure so that hikers like me would be charged $3 for the privilege of entering their lands.  (Can't really say they are MY lands, as I am sure the DGIF would be happy to tell me.)  Information on the fee change is found here.  If they want to charge me for using their land, don't I have a right to demand that they properly sign their trails?

Viewing Rock Trail splits off of the Little North Mountain Trail, with Jump Rock in the background.
I continued on the Little North Mountain Trail, following the ridge line until I  reached the Viewing Rock Trail.  I had coordinates for this trail as a Cub Scout Pack placed a geocache at Viewing Rock.  (I am not sure that this is a legal geocache, though it is listed on the website, as it appears that Viewing Rock is within the boundaries of the WMA, and geocaches are not permitted on these properties.)  Dropping down to Viewing Rock, there are suddenly lots of signs, with each crediting the Cub Scout Pack that created it.

The view from Viewing Rock was to the west, overlooking the Boy Scout camp.  I bet hundreds of Scouts make this trip every summer, and the trail below the rock shows the wear from this use.  But the rock itself has a view that makes the scramble up the mountain worthwhile.  And the trail to viewing rock is not as steep as the trail I took up to Jump Mountain.



Descending from Viewing Rock, I attempted to follow the same loop that I hiked back in 1996.  I took the Viewing Rock Trail to the Hunter's Trail, and intended to take the Hunter's Trail back to the car.  At the intersection of the Chamber's Hollow and Hunter's trails, my gut told me that I should follow the Chamber's Hollow Trail towards the Boy Scout Camp.  But I wanted to complete the same hike I'd taken in 1996.  At some point I lost the Hunter's Trail completely.  This was merely irritating, not scary, and I climbed to the top of the ridge I was hiking near, eyeballed the Lake Merriweather dam, then descended the ridge to the Boy Scout camp.  From there, I easily found a trail that linked back up with the Hunter's Trail.  I was glad I had a topographic map, however, so I could be sure of my general direction at all times.  My gut was right - I should have taken the main trail, which is the trail the HikingUpwards guys took.

Near the car was a final Cub Scout sign, set high up on a tree so it could not be easily swiped.  I thought it was ironic that a big sign with a bunch of scouts' names would tell me to "Leave No Trace!"  It seems like a backhanded way to leave your name on a tree.

To sum up, this hike would be one of the best in the Commonwealth if it were better marked.  At the same time, there are some tough climbs, so it is not a hike for everybody.  It appears most similar in difficulty to the White Oak Canyon/Cedar Run loop hike I took back in July, 2010.

Will's camera worked great!  I think the picture quality was better than what I had been using and I like having both a camcorder and a camera in one tiny package.  Maybe I'll save up and get my own.

Details:
PATC Difficulty Factor 228.5 
 Total Altitude Gain 3000 ft. 
 Total Distance 8.7 nukes
 Low Point 1336 ft.
 High Point 3173 ft.
 Time of Hike 5:12