|I help clear a section of the Ramsey's Draft Trail. |
Expand this photo to see how bad the debris is
behind me on the trail!
|Hiking that same section, several weeks later.|
I have hiked this wilderness for many years, dating back to when I first moved to Charlottesville twenty years ago. It was a vastly different place back then, as it was famous for its old growth hemlock trees that gave the draft valley a primeval, dark feeling. An evil little bug called the woolly adelgid has killed off many of these magnificent trees, opening up much of the forest floor to sunlight, probably for the first time in hundreds of years. For those of us who remember the way it was, it is still a bittersweet place to visit these days.
|Second trip for trail work on the Ramsey's Draft Trail,|
this time with Dan and Iva of the Charlottesville
|Signing in at the trail register at Mountain House trailhead |
before a 3 day backpacking trip.
Case in point: a friend told me he saw miles of string on the Shenandoah Mountain Trail in Ramsey's Draft, and told me one of his group had taken a photo of a bird that had died when it became tangled in the string and placed this photo on Facebook. I emailed one of the SSVC members. Not only did she know about the string, but she told me why it was there, that her group had already picked up miles of the stuff, complained to the Forest Service, and seen the same photo and emailed it as evidence that such string should never be used to determine trail mileage. Wow.
Both work trips concentrated on the Ramsey's Draft Trail, which generally follows the path of the old road mentioned above, and crosses the stream known as Ramsey's Draft multiple times over the first 2.5 miles. These trips went a long way towards making the trip on this trail much easier. So much easier, in fact, that we met a mountain biker illegally using the trail. Mountain bikes are not permitted in wilderness areas, and as a result the local mountain bike community has fought expansion of wilderness in Virginia. This guy, though he claimed to be a Richmond environmental consultant, claimed ignorance of the wilderness boundaries, and even that bikes were prohibited in the wilderness.
The true test of trail conditions, however, was in my third trip up the trail when I led a group of Boy Scouts on a 3 day backpacking trip in the wilderness. We had been working for several weeks on obtaining lightweight backpacking skills, and this would be our test. The boys had come to an earlier meeting with fully loaded packs, which we analyzed for further weight savings. When we collected in Charlottesville to carpool to the trailhead, we weighed packs but did not dump each pack's contents. Given the fact that the boys' packs weighed anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds, we probably should have checked a few loads.
We started out on Friday evening, and hiked as far up the Ramsey's Draft Trail as possible before total darkness forced us into a small campsite next to the stream. I am pretty sure I ended up camping in a bit of poison ivy, but have suffered no effects. There is quite a bit of poison ivy on this trail, which is seeing much more sunlight than it has in many years, thanks to the deaths of the hemlocks.
|The first of several stream crossings Saturday morning.|
We eventually made it to the intersection of our trail with the Jerry's Run Trail by 11:10, taking 1 hour, 50 minutes to travel about 1.5 miles. We then took Jerry's Run uphill to our Saturday campsite, at the site of an old PATC cabin called the Sexton Cabin. Surprisingly, that distance was about the same, as was the time it took the group. There were no major stream crossings here, but the hike climbed from about 2250 feet up to about 2720 feet.
At the Sexton Cabin site we met a group of younger scouts from our troop, who hiked in on Shenandoah Mountain from the Confederate Breastworks Historic Site, on U.S. 250. The Sexton Cabin site has its own interesting history, which I read that night to the scouts. The history of this site comes from an article printed in October, 1937 in a newsletter printed by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. It was written when the trail club was constructing the cabin on this site, and was based on a story by a man who had lived here 56 years before that, which takes us back to 1881. That man’s name was George Armstrong.
He said that the original clearing here had been made probably about a hundred years before that. Jerry Hodges had lived here, and his house was at the upper clearing, near some Lombardy Poplars that were dying back in 1937. This is the Jerry that gave the name to the stream: Jerry’s Run. Jerry planted the poplars, and also planted some apple trees around here. He cleared land so that he could graze stock animals.
|The remains of Sexton Cabin in the foreground, |
with the troop tents in the background.
|Photo of Sexton Shelter from 1940's era PATC Newsletter.|
|Sunday morning: hiking up the Jerry's Run trail toward|
the Shenandoah Mountain Trail.
|Hugging a tree and the trail along the Road Hollow Trail.|