|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.) Here is a map showing the progression of the fire between April 12-16, 2012 (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.|
USGS Topographic Map: Map of Rich Hole Trail.
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.