I can't think of another trail in the national forest that so obvious to the the driver. Other trails are in the area, but you need to know where to go to find the trailhead; you need to know which intersecting dirt road contains a parking area. The Chimney Hollow Trail (CHT) is right out there with a big brown sign for everybody driving 250 to see. And it had always been in my trail queue, but somehow never made it to the top of the list.
About a month ago I took my 11 year old son part way up this trail for the first time, and since have been on it three more times. I feel like I know the trail now.
|Chimney Hollow Trail from US 250 (at the top of the map) to the top of Crawford Mountain. |
Note the phantom road crossing the trail about a third of the way down from the top.
It was at this point that my son decided he had climbed enough, so we headed back down the mountain. I was holding on to secret hopes of circling around to another one of the Bigfoot caches, but my GPS indicated that it was still several miles off and the distance wasn't changing very quickly. Walking along these trails, who knows how far the geocache really is.
I found out how far a couple of weeks later. This other geocache had not been found in over 3.5 years, though the owner had checked on it early last year and found it present. The previous finder had claimed that there was virtually no chance of it being taken by non-cachers, as it is in such a remote location. The possibility of obtaining a find that had been unclaimed for so long proved irresistable, so on the last day of December I decided to make this my last find of the year, a find which would make that month my biggest month for geo-finds in my history.
I finally decided the best access would be via the Chimney Hollow Trail. One map (the latest edition of the National Geographic Trails Illustrated map #791 for Staunton, Shenandoah Mountain) even claimed that a dirt road intersected with the CHT that would take me to the cache area. The same road shows up on the Garmin's Basecamp map. I didn't remember a road, but I've missed bigger things when hiking, and the cache owner claimed the road existed in his description of his hide.
So I again drove the 60 miles out to the trailhead after using software to waypoint the location of the road intersection. About a half mile up the trail, powerlines crossed the trail high overhead, but no road. Since an older edition of the Trails Illustrated map indicated the road ended at the base of the transmission tower to the east, I bushwacked up to the next ridge to see if there was a road. Here I found Forest Road 1761 at its western terminus.
FR 1761 turned into FR 1764, which wound around the transmission towers and eventually took me to the cache site after a long walk. After reaching the area, I noted right away that the previous cacher's comment that the cache "has virtually zero chance of being muggled" was wrong, as I found a makeshift hunting blind within 20 feet of the cache coordinates, along with several fresh looking Keystone Light beer cans, no doubt left by one of Augusta County’s finer citizens. I spent over 20 minutes looking around for this cache – I had come too far to give up easily on this find! But no luck. Bummer – it was a long walk back to the car! I ended up spending five hours hiking over 14.7 miles and, though the views were nice, the return to the car was a little disappointing.
About a mile into the hike, though, the trail leaves the ravine and starts up the mountain slope at an amazingly consistent rate of 16%. We topped one ridge, walked along it, then traversed the western slope of the mountain until we reached Coalpit Knob and another ridge. After leveling out for a while, we were back to the 16% grade until we reached the top of the mountain and the end of the trail. The trail's consistent climb had to be by design, and the trail was very nicely built.
It was well maintained, also. There were very few blowdowns and there was evidence that some folks had taken saws to several large trees that once blocked the trail. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a mountain biking group, as a Google search of "Crawford Mountain Virginia" turns up multiple tales of folks screaming down this trail on two wheels. We were fortunate not to run into any of that (or, more importantly, have any of that run into us!)
At the top of the mountain we all settled in for lunch. Bryce bid us farewell as he had to be back at JMU for his daughter's music performance, and not 5 minutes later we saw Nancy coming up the trail from the opposite side of the mountain. We decided to go back the way we came rather than using Nancy's car for a shuttle, and headed back down the mountain with Nancy after promising her we would give her a lift back to her car. Bryce later put several very nice photos of the hike on Hiking Upward's Facebook page for all to see.