Monday, January 22, 2018

Shenandoah Mountain Trail, Northern Portion

Many of my recent hikes have centered on Shenandoah Mountain, a ridge mountain west of the Shenandoah Valley that extends for over 70 miles and forms part of the Virginia/West Virginia state boundary.

Early last year, I climbed the highest point on Shenandoah Mountain, Reddish Knob, and recounted that trip in Hiking Upward.  Link.  More recently, I hiked to the top of High Knob, just south of where U.S. 33 crosses the state boundary west of Harrisonburg. This is also on Hiking Upward.  Link.  The hike described here follows Shenandoah Mountain between these two points.
The southern end of the SMT, where it meets the road from
Reddish Knob to Flagpole Knob.
I returned to the area  later in the year to join the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club's Southern Shenandoah Valley Chapter for a shuttle hike on the Shenandoah Mountain Trail from a road access south of Bother Knob to U.S. 33. We also used this hike to cut back on vegetation and to assess the equipment needed to relocate larger blowdowns across the trail.  This hike would be really hard to do on my own, as the trail is long and amazingly tough, and the alternative is a very long car shuttle. The SSVC had arranged a member to pick the hikers up at the north end of the hike, saving much time.

This hike is further complicated as, once you reach the ridge of Shenandoah Mountain on the road to the southern trailhead, you turn right at an intersection where, if you turn left, you summit Reddish Knob.  After this intersection, the quality of the road drops dramatically as it climbs towards Flagpole Knob.  It was a long slog to the trailhead, using a four wheel drive pickup truck.  I'm not doing it in my Outback.

And once we got out of the truck at the trailhead, we spied a large RV that was so new that it still had a paper temporary plate, camping next to the trailhead.  The owner came over and talked to us, and told us how he was going to need to repair parts of the RV's undercarriage after bringing it up to the trailhead.  He had brought it up there as a dry run for a June event being held for ham radio operators. So, maybe I could do it in my Outback, but not without pain to the vehicle!
Bother Knob summit.
To head north on this part of the Shenandoah Mountain Trail, you begin by heading south. Like a fishhook, the trail curves west, then north to summit Bother Knob about 1 mile into the hike, the high point of the journey, at 4344 feet elevation, only about 50 feet lower than Reddish Knob.  Nearby trees keep Bother Knob from having the spectacular views of its southern neighbor, but the summit itself is not wooded and very open.
North of Bother Knob the trail steeply drops and climbs and drops again while riding the ridge of Shenandoah Mountain. The overall average elevation is dropping ass you head north, so I recommend hiking the trail in this direction.  After summiting Bother Knob, the trail's elevation drops from 4344 down to under 3500 feet before experiencing several short and exceptionally steep ascents.

At the five mile mark, the trail reaches an old woods road, which it uses to traverse the ridge for almost exactly a mile.  At the six mile mark, the trail drops off the ridge to the west (left), as the road continues onto private property.  Off the road, the trail continues the theme of steep ups and downs until it reaches the High Knob Trail at 7.3 miles.  The High Knob Trail drops steeply down to the USFS Brandywine Campground, or it heads up to the ridge and a stone fire tower that is worth seeing! 

While it adds another mile to the hike, High Knob has a wonderful fire tower at its summit and it is an awesome structure with a fantastic view. High Knob is most often reached coming from the north - the portion of the trail at the end of this trip.   The Shenandoah Mountain Trail continues straight one mile to a large parking lot on U.S. 33, just below the summit on the West Virginia side. This small portion of the Shenandoah Mountain Trail is by far the most popular hike in this part of the national forest and likely to be the only time you will see other hikers on this route. 

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