|Turkeybeard growing right next to the trail.|
The first time I tackled this entire trail was in 2012 and I started too late in the day and too early in the year. As a result of an 8:30 start on March 15, 2012, my hiking partner, hiking dog, and I found ourselves hiking in the dark for the last couple of hours in our hike, and we did not finish until 9:30 at night after 12 hours and 49 minutes of hiking. (Link.) The GPS measured our distance at 27.4 miles and our ascent at 7951 total feet.
My second hike of the entire trail was with only my hiking dog was the following year, and we finished the trail on May 15, 2013 in 11 hours and 38 minutes, though the distance was measured at 27.9 miles (a half mile longer) with about the same total ascent. So I carved over an hour from my previous total, though my actual moving time increased, meaning I moved slower than the first time when I was not stopped. I hiked the loop in a clockwise direction this time, just to see how it might affect my time. So what made this hike longer? There had been a reroute of the trail around the summit of Lookout Mountain. Since I had hiked this portion in the dark the year before, I never noticed a difference until comparing my GPS tracks.
One of the changes I made was to start the hike in a different place - parking on the Braley Pond Road rather than further east near the Girl Scout's Camp May Flather in Stokesville. I figured that the new start location would allow me to get the two big climbs out of the way early in the hike - climbing the Dividing Ridge portion of this loop up to the edge of the Ramsey's Draft Wilderness is especially steep, and I would get this checked off first thing on my latest loop. I recommend starting here, and will do so for any future attempts at this loop.
After the first climb I skirted the edge of Ramsey's Draft Wilderness before dropping down to a Forest Service Road at "Camp Todd." From there I took a new route. Studying another backpacker's GPS data, I discovered that, by walking about a half mile up the forest road (west), I could cross a bridge over the North River and turn right onto a trail which took me back to the main WOT loop and allowed me to avoid a swollen stream crossing. Though longer, this was a nice route and I didn't have to worry about coaxing the hiking dog over the river. This alternate route appears to have been in place since around 2010 (Link).
|View looking southeast from the trail as it climbs Little Bald Knob.|
This is probably the best view of the entire hike.
What I always forget, however, is just how long a hike it is from this point to the eastern edge of this loop. And then back again! I didn't cross the road until 12:45 PM, reaching the 16.3 mile mark upon this crossing. At least, I figured, I only had about 10 miles left and still had a good chance of crushing my old time.
After I crossed the road, I came to a suspension bridge over the North River and started climbing again. There have been a few changes to this part of the trail since I last hiked it. A switchback has been lengthened to smooth it out - I think this was done to improve the mountain biking experience. And further on, the trail has been re-routed so that it no longer climbs Lookout Mountain (mentioned earlier in this post) - a change that occurred between my hikes in 2012 and 2013. (Link.)
|Crossing the North River near Camp May Flather.|
|View northwest towards Little Bald Knob.|
|See the trail sign here? No sign of the actual White Oak Draft Trail, |
which heads down to U.S. 250 from the ridge top - way too overgrown.
The detour probably added 0.2 miles to my hike, and where the WOT meets the second branch of the Dowell's Draft Trail things got even more surprising. I had hiked the remaining portion of this loop last Fall, when hiking a 16.7 mile loop that nudged Ramsey's Draft Wilderness and passed by Braley Pond. (Link.) Since October, however, the entire remaining portion of the WOT, between the second Dowell's Draft intersection and the Braley Pond Road, has all been rerouted, eliminating the single steepest section of the WOT.
The WOT is longer now, and more gentle, with a total elevation gain that no longer matches what it was five years ago. The trail changes definitely helped me feel less fatigued when I finished up the hike, compared to my recollection in previous years. I am told that the renovations are the result of federal funding for mountain bike use. It is clear that the new route is designed to turn this part of the trail into a mountain bike playground, as you can see from the photo below showing a cut log just ripe for some Mountain Dew laced wild man to hit when bombing down the mountain, video camera attached to his helmet. If you choose to hike this trail, be alert for company - I saw a couple of bikers at about the 22 mile mark and they were my first human contact that day. I gave out quite a scream when they came speeding my way, and appreciated that they slowed up and didn't laugh at me!
|A new portion of the WOT near the Braley Pond Road has a number of|
mountain bike fun zones.
|Old WOT route to the left and new route to the right, between the intersection with Dowell's Draft Trail |
at the bottom and Braley Pond Road at the top.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 808.3 (a new record)
Total Distance: 29.4 miles (another new record)
Total Time: 11 hours, 57 minutes, including stops (17 minutes total).
Low Point: 1939 ft.