Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Lynn Trail, GWNF

This posting is part of my effort to document trails in the North River District of the George Washington National Forest that don't have much in the way of online descriptions.  If you are interested in hiking trails in this area, I recommend obtaining the book, "Shenandoah Mountain Trails: A Guide to Trails on Shenandoah Mountain in Rockingham and Augusta Counties, Virginia." The book is written by Timothy Hupp of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and can be ordered from the Club's online bookstore.

The Lynn Trail (#426) is a short trail that connects the summit of Reddish Knob with the Briery Branch Road (VA 924, better known as the road to Reddish Knob).  When used with several other trails in the area, it is possible to hike trails from the Hone Quarry Campground to the summit of Reddish Knob. This trail is also great for hiking to the summit of Reddish Knob when you do not want to put in the miles all the way from Tilghman Road.

The Lynn Trail has one trailhead accessible by car (though you can plant cars at either end of the longer hike that is described here).  The trail's eastern end is on the Briery Branch Road (Va 924), better known as the road to Reddish Knob.  There is a brown hiker sign on the road, a little way past the lake formed by the Briery Branch dam.  There is a turnoff here, but the area is very wet, so it is usually better simply to park at a wide spot on the road unless you have a high clearance, 4WD vehicle.

Mile 0.0 - From the Briery Branch Road, head south (left off of the main road as you look up slope) on a gravel road that leaves the main road at a point marked by a wooden post (see below).  The road curves right quickly, and just before the curve is a wide spot that also makes excellent parking, though when I hiked here there was a muddy area between the main road and this parking.
Side road off of Briery Branch Road.
Parking area on side road.
Mile 0.7 - The road fords Briery Branch.  I had to take off my shoes and socks to ford this one.

Mile 1.0 -  Come to a red gate and multiple "No Trespassing" signs signaling the trail leaving the road and heading to the left uphill.  (You can park here if you have a high clearance, 4WD vehicle.)  Follow the yellow blazing to stay on the trail.  The trail follows a small valley made by a stream and ascends for the next two miles at a stiff 17.7 percent grade.

Mile 1.4 - Switch back to the right leaving the stream and then switch back quickly to the left onto a ridge.  It appears that the trail once followed the ridge all the way to the road, but was re-routed at some point.

Mile 2.1 - Switch back to the left, then within about 400 feet switch back to the right again.  By this point, winter views of the valley behind you should be possible.

Mile 2.5 - The Lynn Trail ends upon reaching the Wolf Ridge Trail (#378).  To the left, the Wolf Ridge Trail drops 2.2 miles to the Tilghman Road where there is a large parking area. Note that, while any of these trails may see mountain bikers - I saw one on the Lynn Trail - the Wolf Ridge Trail is particularly popular among bikers due to changes a biking group made to the WRT on its eastern end.  I took the trail to the right so I could summit Reddish Knob and continued to climb, this time on the Wolf Ridge Trail.

Mile 3.1 - The Wolf Ridge Trail ends at the Timber Ridge Trail (#431).  To the left, the Timber Ridge Trail also heads down slope to the road.  I turned right, heading towards Reddish Knob.  Shortly after this point is a false summit, and the ridge drops back down and stays level for a while..

Mile 4.9 - The trail begins to ascend again.  You should see evidence on the trail by this point that the summit of Reddish Knob once sported a fire tower - downed utility poles and some remaining metal lines in the woods.  There were once a lot of towers in this area - Hardscrabble Knob to the south, Bother Knob just to the north, and then High Knob a few miles further north.  Only High Knob still stands and is definitely worth hiking to.
Notice the wire to the right.

Mile 5.6 -  Pass over a rock talus where there are nice views to the south.

Mile 5.9 - Go straight across the Reddish Knob access road and continue following the trail to the summit. This section has trillium near the trail, if you hike it at the right time of year.

Taken May 3, 2017. 
Mile 6.0 - Summit Reddish Knob.  It can often be windy and cold at the top, and there are often others who ascended the wimpy way - via their motorized vehicles.  The views from the top are amazing - except for the blacktop, which will be covered with graffiti.

Mines Run Trail, GWNF

This posting is part of my effort to document trails in the North River District of the George Washington National Forest that don't have much in the way of online descriptions.  If you are interested in hiking trails in this area, I recommend obtaining the book, "Shenandoah Mountain Trails: A Guide to Trails on Shenandoah Mountain in Rockingham and Augusta Counties, Virginia." The book is written by Timothy Hupp of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and can be ordered from the Club's online bookstore

The Mines Run Trail (MRT) is a trail that connects the Hone Quarry part of the GWNF North River District to the Reddish Knob area.  When used with several other trails in the area, it is possible to hike trails from the Hone Quarry Campground to the summit of Reddish Knob.

The Mines Run Trail has one trailhead accessible by car.  The MRT's southern end is on the Briery Branch Road (Va 924), better known as the road to Reddish Knob.  There is a brown hiker sign on the road, a little ways past the lake formed by the Briery Branch dam.  There is a turnoff here, but the area is very wet, so it is usually better simply to park at a wide spot on the road.

Mile 0.0 - The MRT starts at Briery Branch Road.  Head downhill slightly into an area with a dirt loop from the main road.  This area probably gets some car campers, but was very swampy when I traversed it.  The actual trail is in the back of the loop and heads north, away from the main road.

Mile 0.2 - The MRT makes its first of three crossings (each way) of Mines Run.  None of these crossings are very easy, so expect to get your feet wet.  On my way back, I gave up entirely and simply walked through the stream, knowing that I had dry shoes in the car.

Mile 0.4 - The MRT crosses back to the south side of Mines Run.

Mile 0.7 - If your feet aren't already wet, chances are that they will become wet now, as you make the third, and final, crossing of Mines Run.  Even where the trail is not crossing the stream it is very wet, with water flowing through channels made by mountain bikes.  Bikers no doubt maintain this trail, but they also use the trail when it is wet and their tires form channels which contribute to eroding the trail.

Mile 1.2 - The MRT is really two types of trail.  Up until now, it consists of a trail that follows an old road bed through very wet woods with little elevation gain.  At this point it changes direction dramatically in every way.  It takes a sharp right turn (do not stay on the old road following the stream), dries out completely, and heads steeply uphill for the rest of its length.  Up until this point, you have gained approximately 240 feet over 1.2 miles.  The rest of the trail gains 830 feet over 0.9 miles.

Mile 1.6 - Continue to climb, but be sure to look behind you as by now you have gained enough elevation.  Walking through an area that has burned in the recent past, it is now possible to see Reddish Knob and other high points surrounding the valley where you started your hike.

Mile 2.1 - The MRT ends at the ridge of Hone Quarry Mountain.  Turning either right or left here takes you on the Hone Quarry Mountain Trail (HQMT).  To the right, the HQMT takes you along the ridge before dropping off via either the Heartbreak Trail or the Big Hollow Trail to the Hone Quarry Campground.  To the left, the HQMT goes west for 3.3 miles before ending at FDR 85, a dirt forest road that is also part of the Great Eastern Trail route.  I followed the HQMT to the right.

Mile 3.0 -  I followed the Hone Quarry Mountain Trail for 0.9 mile along the ridge in order to meet up with the Big Hollow Trail, which I had hiked last year, ascending from Hone Quarry.  The HQMT has several relatively small ups and downs along the ridge and very nice views both into the valley to the south that I came from, and the Hone Quarry valley to the north.

The map below shows, in black, the route I took with other local trails in other colors.  My total ascent in this 6.1 mile out and back was 1540 feet. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Bear Rock Trail, GWNF

The Bear Rock Trail (#635) is located in the GWNF Warm Springs District and ascends Warm Springs Mountain's eastern slope. The trail starts on Bath Alum Ridge Road and ends on top of Warm Springs Mountain.  Years ago, there were other trails up here linking to Bear Rock Trail, and the trail itself is sometimes incorrectly shown as continuing past the summit of Warm Springs Mountain.  This mountain's summit not only shows no indication of other trails, the upper reaches of the Bear Rock Trail are even difficult to locate.  This is pretty much standard procedure in the Warm Springs Ranger District, where I once experienced an inquiry from hikers about a trail I know that the rangers did not. They don't seem to know some of their trails, and the district's trails are seldom kept up.

The trailhead for the Bear Rock Trail is located here:


I came in from the north on Bath Alum Ridge Road.  The trailhead is marked from the road by a brown hiker sign, but no trail sign. There is a wide spot on the road that can hold a couple of vehicles.  Don't worry - there won't be anyone else here!  I came here during the Coronavirus pandemic looking for a hike that would not have me seeing other hikers.  Not only were there no hikers, there were no other cars on the roads for 10 miles before and about 8 miles after this trailhead.  This is remote country for Virginia.

Mile 0.0 - After leaving Bath Alum Ridge Road at the hiker sign, the trail climbs steeply up Warm Springs Mountain to the left of an intermittent stream.  Note that you will never cross that stream bed on the hike, though the trail comes close.  The trail starts out well blazed with blue blazes.

Mile 0.4 - The trail levels off some, but enters into an area with much Mountain Laurel that has overgrown the trail.  Because the area is well blazed, it is relatively easy to follow heading uphill, but it isn't as well blazed on the return - even though I had just been on the trail in the opposite direction, I had more trouble finding the trail on the way down than I did on the way up.

Mile 0.5 - The trail comes very close to the stream bed, which digs into the hillside.  Looking across the stream, it seems that the trail would be much better sited over there, as in April the land under the big trees was open, and the trail goes through thick Mountain Laurel.  It cuts left away from the stream bed, then quickly cuts right through thick Mountain Laurel.  Someone cut through a downed tree here to open up the trail - a little.
Mile 0.8 - The trail comes out of a Mountain Laurel stand just before it merges into an old woods road.  It does not stay on this road for long before cutting left uphill while the road continues level.  Watch for blazes uphill or keep an eye on your GPS track.
Mile 0.9 - The trail cuts right, heading directly uphill.  Starting here, the trail has been cleared out and cleaned up dramatically.  It gave me hope that there were maintained trails at the top - maybe someone had come down from the other side and run out of fuel when they stopped.   At the same time, the blue blazes became much fainter, and disappeared altogether before reaching the summit.

Mile 1.1 - The trail cuts left.  This turn is easy to see, because the trail has been maintained here.

Mile 1.3 -  The trail cuts back right.  This is harder to see from both directions.  It is a straight line from here to the summit, but the trail becomes increasingly faint as you finish the climb.  I'm not sure how anyone would be able to locate this trail from the summit.

Mile 1.4 -  Reach the summit shortly after passing a small boulder with a rock cairn on top, shown  below.  The ridge was wide and flat here. The summit's undergrowth was very open in early Spring, so it appears that it would be very easy to walk the summit southwest to link up to the Piney Mountain Trail where it crosses the summit, approximately 2 miles southeast.  If you plan to return down the Bear Rock Trail, carefully note where you summited.  There are no markings indicating the trail.
Rock cairn near summit.

View of ridge summit.
I walked around at length on the summit looking for blazes, depressions in the land, ribbons - anything that would mark a trail.  But there was nothing.  I had an approximate GPS track showing the Bear Rock Trail continuing west, but it was no help.  I'm not sure why this trail is still on the active list, but it appears to only go to the summit of Warm Springs Mountain and disappear - just as is shown on the Trails Illustrated Map #788. The Forest Service's FSTopo database shows more trails, as you can see from the detail below.  As stated, I found no evidence of the continued existence of any trail other than the Bear Rock Trail between the Bath Alum Ridge Road and the summit of Warm Springs Mountain.

On the other hand, the summit was incredibly and wonderfully silent!

This trail probably makes part of a good 11 or 12 mile long circuit hike that ascends west on the Bear Rock Trail, bushwhacks south along the summit of Warm Springs Mountain, heads west on the Piney Mountain Trail until it meets the Walnut Hollow Trail (not marked on current maps but a part of the Great Eastern Trail and cleaned up by the PATC Charlottesville Chapter over two worktrips in 2019), then back north on the little used Bath Alum Ridge Road.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Wallace Tract Trail, North River District, GWNF

 The Wallace Tract Trail is not one that I've rushed to hike.  It is remote and does not offer a big workout.  But I'm trying to hike every trail in the North River Ranger District, so I checked this one out in April after hiking another, nearby trail.  I'm here to tell you that, unless you are also looking to check off every trail in the district, don't bother with this one.

The Wallace Tract Trail connects Sugartree Road on the western slope of Shenandoah Mountain with the Cowpasture River south of Williamsville, off of Indian Draft Road. (Map.) I had the trail's supposed route loaded into my GPS receiver when I hiked this.  There is no way I could have followed the trail without it.

I started from the western end, at a parking area at the end of FR 282, south of Williamsville.

I passed a couple of roadside campsites, both surprisingly occupied (one looking like a long term stay), before coming to a parking area and a closed gate.

Mile 0.0 -  Start the hike by passing a closed gate.  You drop down to a field along the woods road.  Stay to the left and look for the suspension bridge over the Cowpasture River.

Mile 0.2 - Cross the suspension bridge.  As of this writing, that bridge is a little scary!  There was a gap in the footing that had been repaired in a very sketchy manner.  The bridge listed to the right as I crossed.

After the bridge, turn left and follow the yellow blazes along the trail, passing a field with a hundred or so plastic tubes protecting sapling plantings.
Mile 0.5 - The trail leaves the river in a place that wasn't very evident - my GPS route helped a lot.  It then cut across a series of fields that, judging by the growth of some of the trees, had been fields for a long time.  There were no blazes, and there was no bare line of dirt - likely because the trail gets so little use. I had to keep referring to my GPS receiver to stay on track.

Mile 1.0 - With the help of my GPS track, I eventually came to a road that started up towards Shenandoah Mountain.  The road was blazed yellow at regular intervals.  Looking to the right, it was evident that I could have walked straight through the field to get here, as I could see all of the sapling tubes at the other end of the field.  I returned straight from this point at the end of my hike.  Look carefully at the photo below for the white tubes.

Mile 1.3 - Pass an old road that comes up from the right. The trail actually goes left here, but it is impossible to tell as there is no marking or visible trail.  I came back this way and will describe it later, but continued up the road at this point.

Mile 1.6 - I had realized as I climbed that my route had separated from the trail track on my GPS. There were no yellow blazes.  The road curved back to the track, where I found evidence of an old road crossing.  I took the old road uphill, as shown in the photo below.

The trail itself, as shown in the photo above, was in nice shape.

Mile 1.7 - But it quickly merged back into the main road, making it really not worth pursuing.  The GPS track followed the road for the rest of the way, making me think that the trail has always been the road but that the road itself had been upgraded at some point in the past.  The yellow blazes continued along the road and there were occasional winter views back into the valley.

Mile 2.8 - The trail ends at a closed gate a couple hundred feet west of Sugartree Road.  Next to the gate is a metal trail sign.

The gate itself had a surprising sign.

This is what the Forest Service has apparently come to.  Instead of fixing the bridge, just put up a sign saying it was closed!  And, when I returned to the bridge, there was evidence of pink tape blocking the bridge at one point.  I'm guessing a citizen "jury rigged" the bridge to make it passable (not necessarily safe), and pulled the tape.

I turned around here, and further down went off the road to follow the original trail route, which was blazed and crossed a couple of streams deep in the woods.

It was actually very pretty down here, but the trail then climbed out through a treeless area that was covered with thorny raspberry vines.  No fun!  If you ever go here, stay on the road.  I'm guessing that the Forest Service, if they ever even think about this trail (a big stretch...) figure hikers would simply take the woods road.  Looking back from the road at the point where the trail splits off, there is absolutely no way to tell that a trail goes left off of the road, as seen in the photo below.  The trail's route goes right through the center of this photo.

Mile 4.6 - I reached the bottomlands again after descending on the road.  At this point, I cut left and headed straight for the line of sapling tubes I could see from about a half mile away.  Cutting straight through the field proved no more difficult than the supposed trail I followed on the way out, and I noticed an old home in the woods that I hadn't seen on the way out.  The views from the fields were actually very pretty.

Mile 5.2 - Recross the suspension bridge, fingers crossed.

Mile 5.5 - Return to the parking area.

As stated at the beginning of this writeup, I hiked this "trail" because I'm close to completing every trail in the North River Ranger District.  I cannot tell you what the best trail in the district is - there are several fantastic choices.  On the other end of that list is the Wallace Tract Trail - the current clear leader for worst trail in the district.  Not recommended.

Update: I questioned on this hike whether the trail follows the road on its eastern portions.  I have been playing with CalTopo and overlaid my GPS track on the USFS map. Shown below, the GPS track in black does not track the current trail, but the road does.