Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Torry Ridge/Mills Creek Loop: June 30, 2010

Sherando Lake and beach from Torry Ridge.
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs along the ridges in the background.
Thursday, June 30th looked like the best weather day for some time to come, so the dog and I dropped my son off for camp at 7:45 then headed out for Sherando Lake, south of Waynesboro and west of Wintergreen Ski Resort.  Sherando is probably the most popular place in the entire George Washington National Forest, with a beautiful campground, popular beach and steep hiking trails.  It always amazes me when people from Central Virginia tell me they have never visited this gem of a place.

There are several hikes in the Sherando area I have done numerous times.  I had hiked much of the Torry Ridge Trail as part of loops I have taken dating back almost 20 years.  There was one hike I had never taken. The Mills Creek Trail goes up the valley on the other side of Torry Ridge from Sherando.  It is a 7 mile trail that doesn't begin or end at a trailhead, so it requires a long hike to complete.  In the past, 15.3 miles just seemed a little too long to take, but since I had done 20+ earlier in the week, I figured I was in shape for this hike.

Rocky trailbed

To get to the Mills Creek Trail, I had to take the Blue Loop Trail up Torry Ridge from the Sherando Campground.  This is a steep climb, as the trail ascends at a 20% grade for the first mile, climbing from 1866 feet to 2733 feet over exactly a mile.  From there, there is another ascent then it is a long and gradual descent over rocky terrain, past the intersection of the Torry Ridge Trail and Mills Creek Trail at 4 miles, to a stream crossing at 5.6 miles. At this point, the trail heads back up a valley in the opposite direction I took descending on the Torry Ridge Trail.
Mills Creek Trail

It is interesting to think that the Mills Creek valley is probably very similar to what the Sherando Lake area once looked like, before the WPA dammed up the stream to form Sherando.  The trail showed areas where there had been mining years ago and was a pleasant forest walk, but didn't have much to make me anxious to return.  Although several guidebooks mentioned nice campsites along the trail, I did not see any that looked too inviting.  The elevation gain was very gradual until I hit the 9.8 mile mark.  At this point, the trail ascended via switchbacks at at 17% grade, going from 2462 feet to 3406 feet in elevation over just over a mile.  At the end of the climb, I am in a campsite on the edge of St. Mary's Wilderness, on a road I hiked last year with friends.
Elevation Profile

I hiked FR 162 for only about 3/10ths of a mile, but it was far enough to confirm that this road is not for my Subaru.  It is open to the public, but advised for high clearance vehicles only.  For good reason.

We left the main road onto a side road to get back to the other end of the Torry Ridge Trail.  None of these areas are marked with signs - a guidebook was essential.  In fact, I had enjoyed the view from the campsite at the end of the Mills Creek Trail last November, without knowing that I was within 20 feet of the trail.  Where the side road intersected with the Mills Creek Trail was the high elevation point of our hike - 3563 feet.
Mills Creek valley, with Torry Ridge towards the right
and Humpback Mountain in the background.

We hiked 2.9 miles on the Torry Ridge Trail until we reached the trail back down to Sherando.  At this point, I again attached the dog to a leash, and we returned to the campground where the dog could get a big bowl of water.  We then hopped in the car, drove back to Charlottesville, and arrived back in town just as my son's camp bus was pulling in.  Did we cut it too close?  It would seem we measured it out perfectly!

Hike Details
PATC Difficulty Factor 322.7
Total Altitude Gain 3408 feet
Total Distance 15.3 miles
Lowest point 1782 feet above sea level
Highest Point 3563 feet above sea level
Time 7 hours, 26 minutes

1 comment:

  1. Good post! I've been thinking of leading a Torry Ridge hike next month with a swimming stop at Sherando...


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