Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sprouts Run/Wilson Mountain Loop: Jefferson National Forest

The Sprouts Run/Wilson Mountain Loop is a hike found in the Jefferson National Forest a little south of Natural Bridge and is another example of this blog's quest to report on trails not found in detail elsewhere online.  Considering the fact that the trailhead is very accessible from Interstate 81 it might seem somewhat strange that there is little information online about this route, but it is probably because the first half mile of the trail runs over private property. Although this may scare some folks away, the National Forest Service has secured an easement, and access is very well marked.  Access could change in the future, but the fact that it is clearly marked by the USFS gives this access some security. You can also access the loop from forest service roads near Cave Mountain Lake, but the common access is from the trailhead described below.

To get to this trailhead, take Interstate 81 to the Arcadia exit, Exit 168, between Natural Bridge and Buchanan.  The most notable landmark at this exit is the Wattstull Inn motel, high on the hill overlooking the interstate.  Take Arcadia Road (Rt. 614) east over the James River and past the Breeden's Bottom campground, which is used by boaters floating down the James.  Look for Rt. 622, Solitude Road, on your left shortly after crossing the James, and take that.  Solitude is an appropriate name for the approach road, because that is what you will find on this hike!  Take the road for approximately 2.2 miles before coming to a gravel turnout on the left side, just before the road crosses Sprouts Run (N37° 34.034' W79° 36.228'). Park here, and walk north about 100 feet to the trailhead.
View along Solitude Road near trailhead.

Park on left side of road heading toward trailhead.
Trailhead on other side of bridge.
Trail starts with stile over livestock fence - clearly marked.
The trailhead meets Solitude Road at a point marked by a Forest Service sign and a stile that climbs over a wooden fence.  For me, this was the biggest obstacle of the entire loop, as I had to grunt to get my 70 pound dog up and over this fence.  It wasn't easy!
Lifting a 70 pound GUHD was the hardest part of this hike!

Trail signs at trailhead.
Trail starts out marked with blazes on metal posts, and crosses
Sprouts Run almost immediately.
After crossing a field and passing a hay barn, the trail enters woods.
The trail starts by crossing Sprouts Run almost immediately. Kind of strange, when you think about it, because I had just crossed the creek in order to get to the trailhead, only to cross back to the south almost immediately. It is curious that the stile would not have just been on the south side of the creek. Follow several posts with yellow blazes through an open field and past some farm outbuildings, before entering the Jefferson National Forest and crossing Sprouts Run a second time.  Cross the creek a third time after passing a fence with prominent yellow No Trespassing signs (stay on the trail and you are fine), and you will come to a trail sign at the intersection of the Sprouts Run and Wilson Mountain Trail.  The Wilson Mountain Trail crosses the stream and heads up the mountain, but I stayed on Sprouts Run.

There are a total of 14 crossings of Sprouts Run over the first 3 miles of the hike, along with a couple of feeder creek crossings.  There are many beautiful views along Sprouts Run, especially in early Spring when I hiked the trail.  At one point, someone built a wooden bench to sit and contemplate the water.
Sprouts Run offers many beautiful spots.
Note the bench to sit and contemplate water cascading over rocks.
One of many stream crossings.

The trail was very well marked, with yellow diamonds nailed to trees, and was in great shape.  For most of its route, the Sprouts Run Trail followed an old woods road.

Looking back to the west, the trail takes a sharp turn away from Sprouts Run
as it heads towards Wilson Mountain.  If low, get water here, because once
you leave the stream, there are few water options until the end of the hike.
At about the 3.2 mile mark, the trail took a sharp left and climbed 150 feet over 0.2 mile to reach an intersection of National Forest roads at Hoop Pole Gap.  This intersection is the other major access to the loop trail, via a dirt road coming from Cave Mountain Lake to the north.  See map below for access:

Sprouts Run Trail's eastern terminus, as seen from the intersection of National Forest roads at Hoop Pole Gap.
Note the Hiker Sign and the horse stile, which signal the trail.
Coming out onto the National Forest roads from the trail, the hiker should be aware to turn left and follow the dirt road. There is a yellow blaze on a tree a little up the road, but it is not easily seen from the point where the trail meets the road. There will be roads to the right, straight ahead and to the left - the trail heads to the left. This road appears to be seldom used - I only saw a single Bud Light can, and the only traffic I encountered was a National Forest pickup truck.

Follow the blazes on the road for nearly a mile before coming to a turnaround point with two metal gates. Behind one of the two gates is the trail sign pictured below. The Wilson Mountain Trail begins here and follows an old woods road past a couple of open clearings. This trail follows the ridgeline of Wilson Mountain, an area that has been assessed for, but never achieved, special protection status (logging prohibition, no new roads constructed).

This trail sign signals the start of the Wilson Mountain Trail.
There are several limited views along the Wilson Mountain Trail,
at least before the trees leaf out.
The only water along the Wilson Mountain Trail is a nasty looking wildlife pond.
At one point, you will encounter the wildlife pond shown above. There are several trails in this area, but you should stay on the ridge.
The view from the Wilson Mountain Trail down to the James River and the two
train routes near the river.
The old woods roadbed eventually disappears and the trail follows a route etched into the side of Wilson Mountain, as shown in the photo below. The trail descends off the ridges along the very edge of National Forest land, switchbacking away from the boundary within only a few feet of the boundary trees with red paint, marking the start of private property.

The Wilson Mountain Trail drops down to Sprouts Run again, crossing the creek just before intersecting with the Sprouts Run Trail about a half mile from the trailhead. Retrace your steps through the open fields before coming to the stile at the end of the hike.

Trail Map: Link.

Hike details.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 203.9 (this is a comparatively easy hike - I took another hike after this one.)
Total Distance: 8.7 miles (This is my GPS measurement, which is probably a little high.)
Total Time: 3:17 hours (I took a lot of photos.)

Total Elevation Gain: 2389 feet 
Starting Elevation: 824 ft.
Low Point: 811 ft. 
Highest Point: 2071 ft. 
Difference: 1260 ft.

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

The New Boy Scout Product Catalog

I came home yesterday from a 3 day backpacking trip on Virginia's Appalachian Trail with some of the older Boy Scouts in my troop feeling very blessed that we have a core of exceptionally strong 16 year old hikers who generally know what they need to bring on such a trip. This trip provided some great experience, as they were able to thrive in the wildly varying weather conditions the Blue Ridge experienced over three days in early April, including several wind storms and one night where we went to bed in temperatures in the 50s and woke up to temps in the low 20s. 

I arrived home to find a scout product catalog in the mailbox, which had me remembering fondly of the hand-me-down square canvas backpack I owned in my youth that contained the Scout trefoil, and my scout pocket knife and my scout compass. I miss those days, when a trip to the downtown department store in my home town could have me dreaming of roughing it in the Illinois wilderness! I loved seeing that they still sell similar looking pocket knives and compasses to those I owned as a scout, plus they have new items that I have recommended to my troop, like the UCO flashlight and Luci Lux inflatable lantern

So it is with some sadness that I report that BSA National must be pulling a cruel April Fools joke on us all. This is because prominently displayed on page 3, in a full page treatment, is the featured backpack (made by quaint 70’s era manufacturer JanSport) that loads of new scout families will likely purchase for their 11 year old sons.  This backpack has a whopping 70 Liter capacity, and will no doubt crush the legs and the spirit of that poor Tenderfoot on his very first backpacking experience. The offer other packs, but this one gets the highlighted treatment. I would not purchase a 70 liter pack for myself, much less for a boy that has yet to go through puberty! What were they thinking? A boy with a pack that enormous is going to want to fill that monster, and then will never want to go out again.

I am Scoutmaster of a troop that is proud of its outdoor tradition. Because we know that new parents can sometimes make mistakes in outfitting young scouts (I was guilty of same), we tell those parents to avoid places like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart for camping equipment. It really bums me out that I have to add (at a minimum) a caution to the BSA store.

Below is the page I am describing.  Note that the scout has a nice compass.  But it is totally inaccessible! So is the water bottle (a heavy Nalgene is shown). And the scout could store a Weber Grill in that pack. It all makes me ask again - what were they thinking?