There is one trail in the Rich Hole Wilderness, and it has parking areas at either end. The northern parking area is on old U.S. 60 right next to Interstate 64. I cannot think of any other wilderness areas in Virginia that are this close to an interstate exit. To get there, take Interstate 64 west past Lexington to Exit 43, the Goshen exit, then follow Route 850 (the old U.S. 60) to the northern trailhead. There is a pulloff on the right side of the road, a wilderness sign, and a large kiosk about 50 yards up the trail that is visible from the road.
|Interstate 64 as seen from a rock overlook in the Rich Hole Wilderness|
After this climb, the trail goes around the top of the mountain (it does not crest the mountain), and then drops 2100 feet over the next 5 miles to its low point at the southern parking area. The trail follows the North Branch, Simpson Creek between Brushy Mountain and Mill Mountain and crosses Simpson Creek so many times you sometimes think the creek IS the trail. The challenge is to get across all 16 stream crossings (plus two side streams) with dry feet. I failed. And then, unless you have a car shuttle, you have the same challenge on the return trip. I failed again on the way back.
|Straightaway trail through the wilderness.|
|One of many stream crossings.|
Talking with Mark confirmed why I rely on his book. The book is valuable because Mark has walked the areas he covers, he knows them well and it shows in the book. He told me how he loves Rich Hole, and how the Virginia Wilderness Committee is working to expand this wilderness (Map). He talked about trails he has uncovered through is explorations off of the one trail that bisects the wilderness, trails that he hopes can be mapped and maintained in the future so that Rich Hole Wilderness may someday have 14 miles of trails. Mark feels it is his duty to go out to the Rich Hole Wilderness on his off days to make sure that this wilderness has an accessible trail. He was out there when I hiked - with just his dog and several saws and loppers - the only guy responsible for about 5.6 miles of trail. I felt like a slacker for only maintaining 2.5 miles of trail in Shenandoah, and doing it with a co-maintainer!
This is not an easy trail to maintain, in part because Rich Hole Wilderness experienced a large forest fire back in April, 2012. This fire closed the Rich Hole Trail for a while, and even caused a temporary closure of Interstate 64 because of smoke. (Trail Closure Map.) Even nearly 3 years later there is much evidence of that fire, as shown in the charring of the Yellow Poplar in the photo below.
|Charring on tree trunk from April 2012 fire, taken January, 2015.|
Normally, after a wilderness hike, I might think that I was inspired by the peace and serenity that getting away from other humans might provide. In this case, I was inspired by my interaction with the only other person I met that day. Mark Miller is an inspiring guy to come across on hike!
There are currently 24 different wilderness areas in Virginia. Rich Hole is the 8th largest, but it would move up to the third largest with the addition. Mark showed me that there is still a lot to explore in this area. I won't take so long to return for another visit.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 359.1 (both ways)
Total Distance: 12.3 miles
Total Time: 5 hours, 44 minutes (including stops) Moving time: 4:53
Low Point: 1423 ft.
Highest Point: 3412 ft.
Elevation Difference: 1989 ft.Like what you see? Check out my other blog postings! LINK.
Hey, thanks for the blog! We just completed a backpacking trip of Rich Hole, overnighting along the way. We went from south to north and then hiked the road back, completing the circuit. There is so little info on this trail, your blog was helpful for sure! We made a video of our trip on our YouTube Channel Ott Mountain, if you want to check it out. Link below. Thanks again for your blog, I don't think we would have done this hike without your info. We also took note of the great trail maintenance that you mentioned. Recent work had been done that we noticed. You'll see that on the vid too. Take care!ReplyDelete