virginia hikes: Devil’s Marbleyard via Belfast Trail, November 4 2018

The fall foliage hiking season seems to be getting shorter and shorter each of the last couple of years. This year it was nearly all green one week, peaked for one week, and gone the next. During the beautiful and fleeting peak weekend this year, Whitney and Matthew joined me for a hike and scramble up Devil’s Marbleyard. For future updated foliage report for in SW VA, check out Virginia Department of Forestry Report.

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This report is supplemented by pictures of my past hikes.

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maryland hikes: Catoctin Mountain Park & Cunningham Falls loop, March 10 2018

Maryland? Yes, this is a hike report about a local Maryland hike as we start to transition to the D.C. area.

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information

report

Looking for some local hikes in the D.C. area, Catoctin Mountain Park seems to be one of the more popular areas. Looking on Hiking Upwards and Alltrails, there seemed to be a nice loop that covers the main viewpoints of on the east side of the park. Being a popular area, it was recommended that to get there early if you’d like to have solitude for the main viewpoints.

An advice I did not heed as we arrived at the park around 1pm. The parking lots were full around the visitor center and we parked on Foxville Road.

After a bathroom break, we started on our loop in a counterclockwise direction heading for Chimney rock first on the trail paralleling Foxville Road for about a mile before turning left and uphills at the next junction. There were additional parking lots found along the road and at the park headquarters in case you want to get a jump start in the morning for Chimney Rock. An interesting feature of the trail here is that there is a decent amount of rocks to hop over on the trail.

The steepest climb of the day starts at this point over the next half of mile. On the way up, you pass a few large boulders before turning left at the next junction as you reach the ridge.

The trail along the ridge is a wide and easy half mile walk. Through the trees, you can start to see a buildup of boulders making the base of Chimney Rock. The trail circles around the base before another incline to the spur for the viewpoint.

Chimney Rock consisted several outcrop of rocks separated by varying sized gaps.

Hopping over a sizable gap and climbing up,

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you get a view of the last outcrop that I’d assume is where the Chimney name comes from. To get onto the rock, you have to go back, bushwack and loop around to the left (facing the outlook) to the base of the outcrop before scrambling up. An additional benefit of getting up here early may be a possible of nice sunrises, something I’ll have to see in the future. Be sure of yourselves if you do decide to scramble around these rocks as this can be dangerous.

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We then continued along the ridge for less than half a mile toward Wolf rock. The trail declined for a short distance before curving around a rocky ridge protruding out of the ground on the right. At the spur for Wolf Rock, you’ll hike up onto the rocky ridge.

To continued along the Quartzite ridge with many deep crevices, minor scrambling is needed. This area is a place where you can climb around and it looks like there are possible caves that maybe possibly be explored. Again, be mindful of the dangers of the crevices.

At the end of the area, there is a wolf looking rock where the area gets its name from. I’d say it looks more like a dog. A couple vultures were hanging around waiting for food scraps dropped by those having lunch in the area.

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We returned to the trail and continued on toward the next view point. Before the next viewpoint, there is a trail junction that you can take back toward the visitor center 0.3 miles from Wolf Rock should you want a shorter hike. From the junction, it is 1.5 miles back to the visitor center. It seems like this shorter loop is what majority of hikers were doing as the number of people we saw on the trail dropped as we continued straight on our large loop.

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The next viewpoint is the Thurmont Vista and we reached it after 0.7 miles. The view is of the town of Thurmont with a bench to take a break on.

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From the vista, the trail descended for 0.4 miles toward another 4 way junction. From the junction you can turn left to return to the visitor center, straight for a parking lot off the Park Central Road, or turn right toward the next viewpoint along the north side of the mountain. We took the last option. The trail starts to descend further among many fresh downfalls, possibly from a windstorm during the previous month, before climbing back up. There were also some more large boulders. It wasn’t the most interesting section, but we didn’t see any other hikers as we

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reached the Blue Ridge Summit Overlook after 0.7 miles, which refers to the town of Blue Ridge Summit, PA and not the immediate summit of Piney Mountain.

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Shortly after the overlook, the trail crosses the Park Central Road and continues toward Hog Rock. There are again some cool boulders in this section. Hog Rock is part of a small nature walk loop with labels of the trees in the area. The loop itself was only half a mile, but wasn’t very interesting other than chipmunks scrambling around.

A little over a half a mile from the road cross, there is one more overlook at Hog Rock looking east.

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The trail then started to descend over the next mile while crossing a stream and passing more rock features toward Foxville Road with the last portion the steepest and covered in leaves. There is a junction right before the busy road with a left turn back toward the visitor center and our car. However, we crossed over the road with great care and into Cunningham Falls State Park. As you can tell by the name, the Boardwalk Trail on the other side of the road continues along a creek

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toward the Cunningham Falls. It’s always cool to see the icicles among the falls in the winter.

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The boardwalk ends with warning signs about climbing up on the rocks around the falls and no swimming signs. A gate use to be part of the railing, but now has been boarded up. From all the signage and a bit more trash I picked up around the falls, I imagine this is a pretty popular area in the summer and someone might been stupid and got hurt. The maps are very clear that the Boardwalk trail does not connect with the Lower Trail on the other side of the creek even though it would have been only a few rock skips to cross.

After the falls, we backtracked to the junction crossing over Foxville Road again and hiking the last mile or so back on the Falls nature Trail amongst hauntingly beautiful trees still with their wilted leaves in the golden hour sun

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toward the visitor center and our car.

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ratings (1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)

  • views:  3. The loop we took through the eastern portion of Catoctin Mountain Park took us to several overviews, but it was the rock formations as part of the vistas and along the trail that makes for the best views in the park. My favorites in the park was Wolf Rock and the Chimney Rock. If you don’t want to do the 9 mile loop, a short loop to see those two are worth it. The edge mountain ridges doesn’t have the elevation profile and layering seen in the Virginia so vista are just ok. What pushes it just into a 3 rating for me is the addition of Cunningham Falls. The negative of this hike is the crowds of being near D.C., but we didn’t find it overwhelming at all on this 40-50 degree fahrenheit Saturday in March. You won’t find solitude on this hike, but you can definitely enjoy yourself in the wild if you plan accordingly.
  • difficulty: 2. The loop had a good amount of elevation change, but that’s spread out across a long distance mostly undulating on the ridges. There are 2 main elevation changes going up to Chimney Rock and down from Hogs Rock.
  • technical: 1.  The trail itself was well marked and easy to follow. There are also plenty of people to ask. Be mindful of your own abilities and the conditions if you plan to scramble and climb around the rocks.

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virginia hikes: Wilson Mountain Trail & Sprouts Run Trail Loop, March 4 2018

One aspect of my hike and trip reports is that I keep my personal ratings of the hikes, mostly for myself as part of the reflection process. Well, my whole purpose of this blog serves as an outlet for reflection, but the need to quantify the experience serves as a nice short cut for me to sum up the experiences and compare them for future planning. So my rating system developed meticulously with the rating representing an exact meaning. Of Course, just reading a definition of a rating can be hard to nail down the exact meaning and examples are always nice. So I present to you the perfect example of a 2 rating in views category, the little known Wilson Mountain Trail & Sprout Run Trail Loop.

Note to self, I really should change “views” to “experience”.

information

  • name: Wilson Mountain Trail & Sprout Run Trail Loop
  • type: loop
  • distances: 8.3 miles
  • elevation change:  2007 ft ascent and descent
  • time: 3.5 hours moving
  • location: Jefferson National Forest, near Arcadia, VA (direction to trailhead)
    • While I hiked this in the winter, there are many reports of ticks and even possible bear sighting in this area. This is a very lightly used trail from what I can tell, so those are to be expected. Check yourselves and pets after hiking here.

report

The means I found this hike was through alltrails.com as I was looking for local hikes I hadn’t completely in the area. I was looking for something novel as this week is a week we’d usually be traveling since Virginia Tech goes on spring break and facebook has not failed to remind me. But trying to finish my dissertation has put all travel plans on hold. As an aside, I understand working on my blog isn’t helping, but I have to have some escape.

Anyways, it’s rare that I find a route that’s not listed on Hiking Upwards or trailhead finder. Both the Wilson Mountain Trail and the Sprout Run Trail seem to be pretty new as neither are on OCM gps maps or the day hike trails for the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest page. I did find it partially on their topo map, but it was incomplete. On alltrails, it was also listed as 4 stars on alltrails with decent reviews and it was in the same mountain chain as Apple Orchard Falls and Cornelius Creek Trail Loop — a my favorite hikes in the area, so I decided to explore it on a sunny sunday.

The trail starts right past the outlet of Sprout Run is it enters the James River and the first portion is through private property. So please be respectful through their lands. There also isn’t any direct parking area around the trailhead, so I just squeezed by the side of the road. There was a little bit more open space before you cross the bridge over Sprout Run, but I didn’t see it until I left.

I was the only one at the trailhead as far as I could tell as I hopped over the stile. The path trail immediately crosses Sprout Run and is marked by yellow blazed pylons. You’ll cross it once more before a private trail branches off to the left as marked by “no trespassing” signs. After crossing Sprout Run again (you seeing the theme here yet?)

You’ll come to the junction for the Wilson Mountain Trail and the Sprout Run Trail. Most of the other reviews on alltrails and the one other trip report I ran into while writing this started with the Sprout Run Trail and returned on the Wilson Mountain Trail.

I decided to turn left and head up the Wilson Mountain Trail first, after crossing Sprout Run again, because I started late and decided to get my elevation gain out of the way first and not risk coming down in the dark. I’ll leave my discussion of the direction to do this hike later.

The Wilson Mountain Trail began to gain elevation right away with a few switchbacks that were composed of rocks, I think.

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The reason I add the qualifier I think was because I was hiking through pretty thick leaf covering all the way up to the ridge. Even on the first couple of ridges, the leaves really piled up. At certain points, the drift piles of leaves on the trail was up to my shins and I felt like I was hiking up soft snow as I tried to not to slip on the leaves and not to “post hole” or twist my ankle as I couldn’t see the rocks on the trail. I also had worn my hiking sandals for the stream crossing and were beginning to regret it with all the leaves and branches getting stuck in them. I also could have used a hiking stick.

Clearly, this was a not oft used trail. I continued trudging onward as the trail reached the ridge with trees all around.

Since I was here during the winter season, I was actually able to see past the trees a bit at the mountains ridges surrounding the fields and the James River winding through them.

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The ridge continued onward and undulated up and down past 3 peaks toward Wilson Mountain. Deer and squirrels can be seen running away from me with all the sound of leaves crunching I was making. The trail cuts to the right just before the peak of Wilson Mountain. I wasn’t having any of that and bushwhacked up to the top. It was similar to most Virginia peaks it was covered in trees.

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I bushwhacked back to the trail and started on the much gentaler descent with much less piles of leaves drifts on the trail. In the distance to the southeast, I could see Devil’s Marble Yard in the distance, which was pretty cool having scrambled it many times.

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While the many trees damped any vista views, I can imagine this being pretty section in peak foliage season with the tunnel of yellow leaves of if you want to see the tunnel of green that Virginia is known for in the spring. It, along with the isolation, allowed me to be reflective and have some me time, which was much needed and one of the things I love about hiking.

The trail slow down through more forest and after a open meadow, came to the next junction of the loop, a dirt road (FR-907). The trails are connected by a dirty road (FR-907). At the junction, there was another gated trail to the right that leads to a small peak over the Sprouts Run drainage based on my gps in 0.2 miles. I assumed it was just in the trees since there was no indication of an actual overlook.

To continue on the loop, I headed down the dirt road (FR-907) to the right just past the other gated trail from where the Wilson Mountain Trail ended.

The road will come to a 3 way junction that you take the right to come to one more junction after about 0.7 miles. The road junction is with another dirt road FR-812. Directly to your right heading down the drainage is the Sprouts Run drainage.

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After getting down to Sprouts Run, the crossing start again. The creek is pretty small when I was there at the head of the drainage, but the first few crossing was a bit annoying as the leaves hid the muddy areas a little bit, at least I had sandals. In addition, there were several downfalls you’ll have to climb over or go around. I wasn’t too impressed at that point, but at least you are actually next to the stream running unlike the Bear Church hike. The running water sounds are always so soothing for me.

So at this point, I was ready to give it a 2 — a lower ranking 2 since hiking next to the stream was nice though all vistas from the ridge were blocked by trees with really no outlook. The trail was enjoyable enough that I didn’t regret coming out but that I wouldn’t really care to come back for. It was going to be on the lower end because there really wasn’t anything interesting.

After a few crossings, the rock formations that created really unique pour overs and cascades started to catch my eye. At the largest of the cascades, the rangers put in a bench there. Perfect for some contemplation time. Too bad I have no yoga skills or Meg with me to make a viral instagram picture.

I guess this highlight will have to do. I really like how the layers of the rocks formed pool steps that the water cascaded over. The golden hour soft sunlight and green moss really created a picturesque scene.

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These cascading elements really completed the solid 2 rating for me. It was an enjoyable hike with some good views, but I probably wouldn’t come back here without others that would want to do it.

As I continued out the drainage, the stream crossings and cascades also continued.

Just before the junction, there were some cool layered rock formations outside of the water.

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From the junction, it was an easy backtrack to the car across a few more water crossing and a nice view of the field with the sun going down to conclude the hike.

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If I was to do this hike again, I would recommend to hike going up Sprouts Run Trail first. Hiking upstream allows you to take in the interesting elements of the creek without turn around every few second. The ascent is also spread over a longer distance making it easier. However, extra care is needed to account for drifts of leaves on the trail coming down.

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ratings (1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)

  • views:  2. This hike was the definition of a 2 rating for me. To reiterate, this hike was enjoyable with the rock formations and cascades in Sprouts Run that provided for some good aesthetics. However, there wasn’t enough for me to say I’d do this again unless motivated by others. Part of my enjoyment was that I had the trail all to myself with nobody on the trail. It was easy to get lost in my thoughts among the views, trees, and creek.
  • difficulty: 2. In the 2000 feet elevation change and 8.3 miles, the really only tiring part is the initial uphill to Wilson Mountain. Much of the difficulty there after the initial switchbacks was because the massive drifts of leaves that blanketed the trail.
  • technical: 1. This wasn’t overly technical as it required no scrambling or route finding. However due to the lack of use, you have to pay attention to the trail of downfalls and the blazes may be a little further spread out that you are use to.

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