|Group shot at the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter|
A somewhat hard-core guide to a random selection of the Commonwealth's lesser known hiking trails, with some gear reviews and lightweight backpacking info thrown in, by a central Virginia based hiker, backpacker, bushwhacker, explorer, Scoutmaster-emeritis, GPS data addict, and Appalachian Trail maintainer.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Appalachian Trail from Chester Gap to Manassas Gap
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Best Shenandoah Hike for Kids: Bearfence Mountain Loop
Today's hike got me to thinking that Bearfence Rocks just may be the best hike for a boy to take, as I can think of no better views to be had with such little effort in Shenandoah. There are 360 degree views from the top, and lots of great rocks to climb. Of course, it may not be such a good hike for moms to take with sons, as they might be just a little nervous to see the real love of their life climbing out on rocks with a steep drop.
|It really is a scramble to the top.|
|Checking out the big sky from BFR|
|Enjoying the view west towards Massanutten Mountain. |
As son approaches teen years, dad realizes that events like this one may be limited in number.
There are a couple of return options taking a short section of the Appalachian Trail. From the A.T., little eyes can look up and see the rocks they climbed. This is a popular hike, and for good reason.
|Bearfence Rocks Elevation Profile|
|Topo map of the Bearfence Hike.|
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Morning hike of The Priest, May 11, 2011
The trailhead is just down the road from the Crabtree Falls trailhead, which is a 5 star hike for many folks in Charlottesville. It takes about an hour to get there, driving past the turnoff for the Wintergreen Ski Area. Here is the quickest way there from Charlottesville: Map.
The last time I hiked this, I was on the trail around 8:30 and back down by noon. We got there a little later today, and the parking lot was really rutted, so I had to be careful parking the car.
Marit left some "trail magic" at the trailhead for the thru-hikers. In this case, trail magic was a ziploc bag full of Starburst and Hersey's candies, and a gallon jug of water.
Gracie the dog came with us, and I kept her on leash for much of the lower elevations. There was abundant poison ivy off the trail, and I wanted to make sure she was under control. She fell into a good pace behind me, though she clearly would have rather run free. When we got about 2500 feet the forest understory seemed to clear out, and I let her off leash. After getting her "ya ya's" out (as Marit called it), she again fell into lock step behind me, despite the lack of a leash.
When we reached the top of The Priest, we turned around. There is no spectacular overlook up there, so one just has to decide, "this is the spot to turn around." We could have kept going to the shelter, but we didn't see the point.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
AT/Little Cove Mountain Trail Loop
I climbed up into the mountains from Buchanan on Route 43, parking for the hike within sight of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This section of Route 43 is a pretty spectacular drive, as the slopes are steep and the road is windy. There are few routes through the Blue Ridge in Virginia that are this impressive. Just outside of Buchanan, a sign warns off tractor trailers and GPS users.
The A.T. has been rerouted where it meets Route 43. Unfortunately, the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club, which does a spectacular job maintaining this section of trail, has not built a trail between the re-routed A.T. and the only viable parking area. (Even this spot only fits three or four cars.) I did not want to walk along the road with my canine hiking companion, so I bushwacked through the woods to find the trail crossing.
The NBATC tells me they have no plans to connect the parking area and the trail, as traffic volumes are low on this road and sight lines are good. But a fog rolled in at the end of my hike, and I don't believe walking the road was safe. It would certainly not be a walk I would take with my son's Boy Scout troop.
|The Little Cove Mountain Trail's southern terminus |
at the Appalachian Trail.
Heading north, the A.T. climbs Cove Mountain from the parking area, gaining about 450 feet before hitting the first of two summits of this mountain at about 8/10ths of a mile. The second summit is nearly the same elevation, and is about twice as far from the parking lot, as the mountain is actually a ridge. After topping the second summit, the trail drops down a couple of switchbacks before coming to an intersection with the southern end of the Little Cove Mountain Trail at the 2 miles.
I had a decision to make here. I wanted to take each trail, but figured that the Little Cove Mountain Trail might be less likely to be properly maintained. If so, I wanted to be able to turn back early in my hike. There is nothing worse than being 2/3 of the way through a long circuit hike only to find a trail that is impassible.
|At the point where the Little Cove Mountain Trail crosses the|
Yellowstone Road, this sign attempts to justify a previous clear cut.
Also here was a sign talking about clear cutting that had occurred at some point in the past. The sign looked pretty old and had clearly been edited when more clear cuts had been made after the original sign was erected. The trail continues on, just west of a ridge, before crossing the ridge and crossing a grassy roadway. For the next 3/4 of a mile, from 3.75 to 4.5 miles, the trail is exceptionally scenic. It is the prettiest part of the entire hike as the trail drops somewhat steeply into the valley created by Cove Creek and Little Cove Creek. The trail crosses a creek three times on its way south - something to consider if you are hiking in wet season.
|Descending the Little Cove Mountain Trail there are nice views to the west of Cove Mountain, which the A.T. Climbs. |
Photos do not do justice to this exceptionally scenic section of trail.
|A bridge crosses Jennings Creek at the northern terminus of the|
Little Cove Mountain Trail, at Rt. 614.
From the bridge I turned left on the road and walked along a road that was once a section of the Appalachian Trail. According to a topo map I have, the A.T. intersected with the road right where the Little Cove Mountain Trail comes out, though it had come down from another mountain. I wonder if that is why there is such a nice bridge over Jennings Creek here. I walked 0.8 miles to the present A.T. road crossing at the Panther Ford Bridge. Local legend has it that a woman and her child were killed eons ago by a mountain lion here, giving the bridge its name. There is a parking area here, at the lowest point on the hike - 951 feet. It is important to note that this is also the last part of the trail with a reliable water source. There is a conspicuous sign on the trail letting hikers know that the section's trail hut does not have a spring - a rarity along the Appalachian Trail.
The A.T. climbs swiftly for 4/10ths of a mile before leveling off somewhat, but the trail generally climbs steadily from the road for 1.75 miles, reaching 1720 feet. During this climb, the trail first passes through a couple of horse stiles where it intersects the Glenwood Horse Trail (at 6.7 miles) then it intersects with the Buchanan Trail (at 7.0 miles).
|View from the Appalachian Trail looking southeast towards|
|Looking south from the Appalachian Trail as it climbs Cove Mountain. |
Route 43 can be seen winding its way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Between 9.5 and 10 miles into my hike, the view switched back over towards the valley created by Jennings Creek, and I found myself on the edge of a forest that no longer existed, clearly due to a forest fire some years back. As happens after all forest fires, the land is slowly healing itself, and I estimated that the fire had occurred more than two and less than five years ago, based on the growth I was seeing.
|Elevation Profile of this hike.|
|Trail map showing the A.T./Little Cove Mountain Trail loop. |
My trailhead on Rt. 43 is off this map to the lower left.
My GPS Data:
|PATC Difficulty Factor||264.1|
|Total Altitude Gain||2947||feet|
|Low Point||1007||feet above sea level|
|High Point||2724||feet above sea level|
|Time of Hike||4:53||hours: minutes|
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Guillotined on the A.T.: Hiking Apple Orchard Mountain
The A.T. weaves in and out of the Thunder Ridge Wilderness, leaving the Wilderness to enter the National Park Service's Blue Ridge Parkway land, then going back into the National Forest Wilderness land. It may seem obvious, but a lot of people miss the fact that the National Park Service is part of the Department of Interior, while the United States Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture. This difference reflects the essence of how each type of land is administered - USFS land is not parkland, while NPS land is not intended to be farmed, hunted, or mined.
|Under the Guillotine!|
|Dreamcatcher and Spartan heading south to Georgia.|
|The view looking to the west from Apple Orchard Mountain.|
|The Appalachian Trail crossing Apple Orchard Mountain.|
|PATC Difficulty Factor||340.0|
|Total Altitude Gain||4104||feet|
|Time of Hike||5:58||hours|
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Shenandoah National Park's South End - How an Apple Affected the Park Boundary
My friend Bryce (of the wonderful website Hiking Upward) asked me the other day about one of my favorite spots on the Appalachian Trail - the old tractor seats on top of Bear Den Mountain a few miles north of Interstate 64.
I had always wondered who put them there, and put out the word to my hiking buddies and soon got the answer via the trails supervisor for Shenandoah National Park's Southern District. He told us that the tractor seats are up there because the family that owned this property used to have picnics and cookouts and bonfires up on the top of Bear Den Mountain, particularly to watch the fireworks on July fourth. As the family patriarch got older, the family brought bench seats and the tractor seats to the mountaintop so the family could enjoy the views while seated. The bench seats are no longer there, though they were observed there as recently as 1988.
|The mysterious tractor seats. Thanks to Bryce Allison for the photo.|
The family that owned the property was identified as the Bocock family, and were major shareholders in Royal Orchard. Eventually, they sold their property on Bears Den Mountain to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which operates the land as National Park Service land separate from Shenandoah National Park.
This is part of an interesting history of this part of the mountains. Take a look at the bottom end of this map of Shenandoah National Park. Park Map. You will notice that SNP hardly exists for the southernmost few miles of the Skyline Drive. All of the land in here was part of a large landholding called Royal Orchard.
The orchard grew a type of apple called the Albemarle Pippin that was presented to Queen Victoria in 1838. According to legend, the queen loved "Albemarle Pippins" so much that for decades thereafter they were allowed to enter the British Isles duty-free, and they were a large export for Virginia during much of the 19th Century. The orchard became known as Royal Orchard.
Albemarle Pippins are still available locally, but do not really ripen until November. They may, however sell out as early as mid-October locally. Here is some information on the apple's history.
In 1903 Frederic W. Scott of Richmond purchased the 388-acre Royal Orchard for $3,900. Scott was a founder of the Scott and Stringfellow Brokerage firm, and perhaps most famously in Charlottesville, is the namesake for the UVA football stadium, as a result of a 1930 donation of $300,000 towards the stadium's construction. The Scotts continued to add to their land holdings, eventually enlarging the property to nearly 4,000 acres. This was the family's summer home, when they weren't living in their Richmond mansion.
At the same time, the Scotts constructed a mansion that looks like a castle that still stands on Scott Mountain just north of Interstate 64. You can see the castle from the interstate if you look real carefully at the exact right time. I think it is only visible for about 30 seconds of driving. (Photo of the Scott Mansion from behind, showing Humpback Mountain.) The property received some notoriety recently when workers killed a rabid black bear that attacked them, only a short distance from the A.T.
Around the same time that Scott was getting his name etched on UVA's football stadium, the U.S. Government was acquiring lands that would eventually comprise Shenandoah National Park. If you remember from watching the Ken Burns series, national parks in the East are generally newer than those in the West. The Feds didn't put eastern parks together using land that was already public, as it did in the west. It also did not construct a park from a wealthy philanthropist's land donation, such as Rockefeller donations that became Acadia and Grand Teton National Parks.
The land was instead bought by the Commonwealth of Virginia and then transferred to the National Park Service. Virginia's interest was in creating a park that would encourage tourism spending. These land purchases were generally from small landowners who lived as mountain folk, and many felt they were not given the true value of their holdings.
The original plan was to have Shenandoah National Park end at Jarman Gap; the Skyline Drive would dead end here. The final southern boundary of Shenandoah National Park as accepted in deeds transferred by the Commonwealth of Virginia to the Department of the Interior in December, 1935, stopped at Jarman Gap.
However, in August, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited CCC camps in Shenandoah National Park and approved the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway to connect the Skyline Drive with the proposed Great Smoky Mountains National Park over 400 miles to the south. This meant that the federal government would take responsibility for obtaining the remainder of the park south of Jarman Gap.
The feds negotiated with the Scott family and eventually reached an agreement where the Drive would not use the ridge top heading south of Jarman Gap. Instead, the Drive was moved to the west side of Scott Mountain (the Scotts called this "the back side"), away from the Castle. The Scotts gave an easement covering 400 feet on either side of the roadway, all the way to Rockfish Gap.
|Topo map showing the position of the AT relative to the Scott Mansion. |
Note that it is on the other side of the ridge top from the mansion.
Note the ribbon of land comprising Shenandoah National Park (orange next to the Skyline Drive).
So, the fact that Queen Victoria really liked some apples given to her in 1838 meant that the land where those apples were grown was too valuable to purchase for Shenandoah National Park 100 years later. This explains why the park abruptly becomes a tiny ribbon south of Jarman Gap.
But the story doesn't totally stop there. It is important now to note that the Park Service is now statutorily prohibited from acquiring additional land for Shenandoah National Park by direct purchase or condemnation. (Source.) So what do they do with the Appalachian Trail over this section? There isn't enough room to put it next to the Skyline Drive.
The AT north of Rockfish Gap is on National Park Service (NPS) land, but it is part of the NPS's Appalachian Trail corridor, and not part of Shenandoah National Park. The land that includes the summit of Bear Den Mountain and Little Calf Mountain was owned by the Scott/Bacock families (one of Scott's daughters married a Richmond attorney named Bocock, as is recounted in this memoir: Never Ask Permission). The Bococks sold portions to the National Park Service, bur retained rights to use of the land on horseback. This explains the zig-zag stiles at the A.T.'s road crossing at Beagle Gap. It is important to note that none of the land was obtained by eminent domain.
Those tractor seats stay on top of Bear Den Mountain because they pre-date public ownership of the land. They stay, even though they don't really overlook anything anymore - the trees have grown up around the summit so views are limited now. But I am glad they are there, and never pass up the chance to sit on them a spell when I am walking by. Check them out next time you are in the area - it is a delightful short walk from Beagle Gap!
If you liked this posting, please check out the rest of the blog and don't forget to subscribe! Thanks for reading.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Hiking Charlottesville's Rivanna Trail
I have hiked nearly all of the trail in sections, but never done the entire thing in one day. Hiking the entire trail is actually pretty tough to do, at least legally, because there are three railroad crossings that are considered trespasses. In addition, sewer expansion in several areas of the city and surrounding county have decimated former sections of the trail, and most of these sections have only recently been reconstructed. And it seems that the trail's route is constantly changing as the foundation that maintains the trail negotiates better routes, and landowners on other sections revoke access to their property. (The most famous example was a woman who incredibly strung razor wire across the trail to keep people off her property, which caused the City of Charlottesville to take her to court. We avoided the trail here, but reportedly the razor wire still exists.)
The scouts met up at 8 AM on Saturday, October 6th next to one of the railroad crossings - on Old Ivy Road over near the back side of the UVA Baseball Stadium and the University Village Retirement Home. Meeting here meant that we could end the hike only a few feet away, on U.S. 250 west of the UVA campus, and not have to cross the railroad tracks (involving either a trespass or a long detour). I had developed work-arounds for the other railroad crossings, as described below.
We started off just after 8:15, heading north on the trail. Our hike initially took us past the Leonard Sandridge Drive, which is the newest road in Charlottesville and connects the U.S. 29 Bypass and UVA's new basketball arena. Then we threaded past the Business School, Law School, and JAG School along a route that passed some very old building foundations and over a brand new wooden bridge built for the Rivanna Trail. It is the first ever bridge I have seen with an integrated flower pot and even had a watering can attached to the bridge. Nice job! (It turns out that this bridge was built by a group from a nearby all-girls school, as profiled here. They deserve to put a plaque on this work of art taking credit for their achievement!)
|Descending steeply near the U.S. 250 bypass.|
We were back on trails again after passing the English Inn, and were soon passing under the U.S. 250 bypass on concrete blocks in a culvert. This is always a big adventure spot for a group of boys!
|Tricky stream crossing.|
At Hydraulic Road we stopped briefly to pick up two additional scouts and a dad, then continued north on the trail. The trail here was a little confusing in sections, because it had been recently rerouted, though a tricky stream crossing I remember from past hikes was still there. The sewer reconstruction closed the trail completely 4.0 miles into our hike, just as the trail crossed Brandywine Drive. We had anticipated this because of an alert on the Rivanna Trails Foundation (RTF) website, and took neighborhood streets back to the bypass so we could take a side trail through McIntire Municipal Park to meet up with our first mom next to the baseball field at Charlottesville High School, at 5.1 miles. Here, the boys refilled water bottles and devoured homemade chocolate chip cookies for 15 minutes.
After that, we walked down Melborne Street to rejoin the trail at Park Avenue. The sewer project had been completed up here, and the trail followed the denuded path of the sewer pipe until after we crossed Holmes Avenue. The trail weaved through woods behind several neighborhoods until it dumped us onto Locust Avenue so we could avoid the razor wire. We lost two boys and a parent, who had sporting obligations that afternoon. After passing that neighborhood, we were back on the trail and strolling along side the trail's namesake Rivanna River. The trail here actually becomes paved and is much more crowded relative to other parts of the loop. At the 10.6 mile mark, roughly halfway through our hike, we met Mom Number 2 and ate lunch at Riverview Park from 12:45 to 1:15, taking off again after the requisite group photo. We lost an adult leader here.
|Group photo halfway through the hike.|
The only way to continue on the Rivanna Trail at this point is to trespass over a railroad bridge - something we weren't going to do with a bunch of boy scouts! So we walked city streets for the next 1.7 miles, going past the region's sewage treatment facility, a large mobile home park, and the local stockyards.
We were back on the trail at 2:00, 12.3 miles into the hike, and would closely follow the western progression of Interstate 64 for the next several miles, until we reached Azalea Park at 3:30, 16 miles into the hike. Here we met another mom, lost a boy due to foot problems, and gained another boy and a dog. We skipped a small section of the Rivanna Trail during this part of the hike, choosing to walk the sidewalk of 5th Street rather than taking the trail behind Hardee's. They both end up at the same place, but we wanted to get to Azalea Park sooner, for the sake of the hurting scout.
|Stream Crossing just before reaching Azalea Park.|
At Fontaine we took our last snack break, a full 18.6 miles into the hike. The final 1.8 miles was through the UVA-owned O-Hill section, scene of many trail runners and mountain bikers. Some of the boys were really dragging here, while others broke into a run in order to get their ordeal over sooner.
I did receive one report very quickly. Here is another perspective on the hike:
Start (Old Ivy Road): 0.0 miles
Emmet Street: 2.1
Hydraulic Road: 2.7
Brandywine Drive: 4.0
Charlottesville HS: 5.1
Locust Avenue: 8.1
Riverside Park: 10.6
Monticello Ave: 12.3
Avon Street: 13.5
5th Street: 14.5
Azalea Park: 16.0
Fontaine Ave: 18.6
U.S. 250 20.4
Monday, September 17, 2012
Trail Maintenance Workshop: September 16-17, 2012
|Peter gives instruction to the crew early in our weekend.|
|The Thornton River Trail crosses the Skyline Drive a|
few miles north of Mathews Arm Campground, near Mile Post 25.
We never made it more than a half mile down the trail. The trail drops steadily, which creates runoff during storms. Left unchecked, erosion can occur which can create ruts in the trail and risks for the hiker, particularly one with a heavy backpack.
|Having several rocks to choose from|
did not guarantee the right fit.
|Noel makes sure that the rocks are buried|
to the right depth.
|The rock seen by the next hiker on the trail|
is the tip of the iceberg.
After spending a day and a half volunteering to upgrade a small section of trail in Shenandoah National Park, (the National Park Services states that Shenandoah National Park has over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the A.T.), I have a new level of respect for the effort that goes into keeping the trails in good shape. And I'll probably look at the trails I hike in a slightly different way from now on.
After finishing up on Saturday there was an hour until dinner would be served, so I decided to take a quick hike. The group campsite at Mathews Arm is also the trailhead for the Mathews Arm Trail, which descends to the Overall Run Waterfall and is shown on the map above. I did not have time to make it all the way down to the falls, but a trail runner told me that there wasn't any water in the falls anyway. This must have been a big disappointment to a lot of folks, because I was amazed at the number of people on the trail - I am not used to seeing so many people out hiking! This is clearly a trail that attracts a large number of novice hikers, and had numbers that compare with Shenandoah hotspots like Old Rag, Stony Man, and Dark Hollow Falls.
|My trail crew, at the end of the first day.|
I was able to manage a 3.6 mile hike in an hour and seven minutes, with an ascent/descent of just over 700 feet. I was late for dinner, but fortunately there was plenty to go around! It was a good workout.