RSS Feed

Tag Archives: shenandoah valley

Tuscarora Trail to Kepler Overlook – George Washington National Forest

Posted on

Hike Summary

This particular day for this hike was forecast to be such a nice day that I felt it was criminal to not go for a hike. So, despite a little bit of ankle pain (from ODH training) I picked a region I hadn’t been in a while.

Good old George Washington National Forest. You are my old and I think bestest friend, followed closely by Shenandoah and the AT.

GWNF, with your obscure trailheads, your barely visible blazes, your rules allowing me to let my dog off the leash. Your rustic sensibilities, your frequent campsites, your dirtiness. Who knows what manner of moonshiner or pot grower lives within you, as long as they don’t decide that I’m an intruder.

Finding the trailhead was an adventure, as trailheads usually are here. There are some really nice cabins and houses back in these obscure folds of land in Virginia. I assume that a lot of them are seasonal hunting lodges, or just people who like living somewhere that there aren’t people out to bother them. The first part of the drive up from Woodstock, up Zepp road, was pretty, with nice views. Then at some point it devolved into almost single-lane gravelly road, which is totally fine with me (although probably not so much my car’s alignment.) Finally, we end up at a pretty decent parking area with campsites, and a little connector trail/gate gravel road out to the Tuscarora Trail.

I really do want to backpack the Tuscarora Trail someday. It is a trail with a lot of character, the way it goes over the various ridges and makes a big western arc to and from the AT. It took over the path of several other trail names, so it retains those names in its own name as it makes its way through VA and WVA before turning east into PA. There are a few shelters like for the AT, but it’s mostly pretty much on your own for finding places. I’ve noticed quite a lot of camping spots though, so that seems pretty easy.

The day started out pretty grey and overcast, but warmed up as I went along. The first part of the hike is pretty easy, and there’s a nice campsite along Cedar Creek where I cross it. The trail follows an old ore road up the mountain, and then there’s another extremely … creative bridge over the creek again.

My dog has more sense than I and just fords the water. I hold onto the railing and make my way across the rickety thing, worrying all the while that it’s going to fail on me and I’m going to fall in.

This is not to be. I am safe and sound as we continue up the trail. Things look like they’re all thawed, but then I encounter an area that is pretty much all still snow covered. It’s a little slow going, as things are icy and even with my nice boots things are either slippery, or like hiking through sand dunes. Eventually though, I make my way through the winter wonderland and up to the top of the ridge.

There’s an excellent view of the Shenandoah Valley from here, along a ridge/cliff of rock. There are several campsites along the area, and someone has helpfully nailed a thermometer to a tree, allowing me to check out the current conditions.

58F. Not bad.

It was still pretty hazy up there, but the sun was coming out here and there through the clouds, so I spent at least an hour relaxing up at the top, enjoying the view. I scribbled in my journal, taking notes on the hike so I don’t forget when it comes time to sit down and write. There’s a really nice fire ring with seating there, so it made it extra easy to linger.

I thought about adding some extra miles to the hike, but my ankle was still a little sore from the hike (plus the next day I foolishly went for another hour long walk instead of doing nothing,) so I figured it was a bad idea to push things. It was time to head back.

On the way out of the area, I decided to try to find Van Buren Furnace, which is another one of those pig iron furnaces that dot this region. I found it, but oddly there was a “No Trespassing, Private Property” sign. It struck me as odd, because it’s supposed to be on an acre of forestry land. I suppose the locals were just trying to keep people like me away.

Kepler Overlook

Tibbet’s Knob and Big Schloss – George Washington National Forest

Posted on

Tibbet’s Knob Summary

Big Schloss Summary

Both of these hikes originate from Wolf Gap Recreation Area out in the Western part of GWNF, so I combined the two for one longer hike.

My first stop on this nice, very warm day was at the Lee District Ranger’s Office for GWNF, to pick up a more detailed map of the area. I get a little bit paranoid about getting lost out in these places, particularly in the George Washington National Forest, as it’s very wild.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I visited their location, which is just off of I-81 in Edinburg, VA. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. It’s a very new looking building, and they have a little bookstore in the reception area with a lot of merchandise. I picked up a PATC map, and a guidebook for North Mountain trails, since I’ve been spending some time in this area lately. The staff were very friendly and nice, and there’s even a bathroom handy, which is always something nice when one’s on the road.

I got back on the road to my destination. It’s a really nice part of the Shenandoah Valley, with a lot of farms and old houses. Once you get away from the commercial parts of the interstate, the area seems almost from another time.

It was an extremely hot day, and I was hiking in the afternoon because I was meeting a friend for the Big Schloss hike. I had decided that I would add in the Tibbet’s Knob hike, since it was only 3 miles, as something to get some extra exercise in.

The Tibbet’s knob trail goes South from the campground, through some wooded areas that also have picnic tables. It quickly gains elevation and there’s a pretty vista relatively quickly in the first part of the trail, with views out towards the Massanutten ridge on the other side of the valley. I stopped and took a few pictures, and actually encountered quite a few other hikers, which surprised me, as most of the trail guides mention that this is a fairly difficult trail despite the short distance.

The humidity was pretty oppressive, but I pressed on. I eventually got to the first of the two rock scrambles mentioned, and I began to get a little bit worried. I as usual had my dog with me, and I was a little bit worried as to how he would get back down. I was almost to the summit of Tibbet’s Knob when there was another, steeper one, and I decided that it was time to turn around. I was already feeling pretty drained, and I didn’t want to risk injury to myself or my dog from a questionable descent.

I may try revisiting it by doing the approach from the north side, which is supposed to be a little easier (but I was unaware existed at the time.)

I turned around and made my way back. I needn’t have worried quite so much about my dog, he didn’t have nearly as hard a time getting back down as I did, he was like a mountain goat. I, on the other hand, had to scoot on my behind with my hiking staff as support to get back down those scrambles. They’re pretty eroded and treacherous.

I got back to Wolf Gap just as my friend pulled into the parking lot. This is the first time I had hiked with someone who had another dog, and her dog was a little standoffish, but then again so is mine. They grumbled at each other at first, but then seemed to come to an agreement that if they just ignored each other, that things would go smoothly, and for the most part that was the case.

Off we set from the parking area, and after wandering around the campsites for a moment, we found the trailhead and set out.

The first section of the trail was a fairly steep incline up to the ridge, and I was a little tapped out from my hike up (most of) Tibbet’s Knob, so I was a little slow, needing to stop a few times to catch my breath. My hiking partner is in a little better shape than I am I think, and I felt a little bad not being able to keep her pace.

However, once that part was out of the way, it was a pretty easy hike along the ridgeline. There were some fantastic views to the east, and we realized at one point that we were basically walking along the border between Virginia and West Virginia, which is fairly amusing to think about. One footfall in one state, the other in the other. It reminded me of the time when I was a kid and visited Four Corners. There, you can stand on the borders of four states at once, and it’s a silly feeling yet thrilling at the same time.

The ridgeline trail was overgrown with grasses, which is not uncommon at this time of the year. The blackberries are just starting to get ripe, and we nibbled some as we hiked along, they’re pretty tart, though. We chatted about hiking and other things and having a good time. We saw some really beautiful Indian Pipe, a strange plant that is waxy and white, and grows from decaying leaves in the forest.

Eventually we got out to the Schloss itself, and I experienced a little bit of shock as there was a very well built bridge out there, in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t see a plaque or anything on it, but I’m guessing it was for an Eagle Scout project. It seemed like it would be a pretty big production to get that much lumber out there, and on a fairly narrow trail. The bridge goes over the gap between two nubs of the Schloss, and then there’s a little scramble up to the top. There were some great views of WV and VA from the top.

Schloss is the German word for castle, and the place definitely fit that description. The white rocks reminded me of crenelations on a castle wall, and the whole spot felt like a little fortress rising out of the ridges. We spent some time wandering around on the top, taking pictures and catching our breath, and then we made our way back to the trailhead.

I really enjoyed hiking with another person. It’s not something I’ve done that often in the past, and having someone else to talk to, was quite nice. My dog is a good listener, but he doesn’t really have much to add to the conversation. We determined that we’ll probably make a recurring habit of hiking, so that will be a fun change of pace.

After we parted ways, I decided to take a different route than the interstate, I turned on SR623, Back Road, and followed it down the valley. It was a very nice drive, much more interesting than the interstate, as it wound through little tiny places that barely had more than a general store. It was beautiful to have the mountain on one side and rolling fields on the other, with houses here and there.

I rolled into Front Royal in time for dinner, and stopped at what is fast becoming one of my favorite places, Spelunker’s. I know I’ve mentioned their frozen custard before, but they also have fantastic burgers. I am not sure if it was because I was famished, but I swear that their Cavern Burger with cheese was one of the best burgers I’ve had in my entire life. It was juicy but not greasy, with a toasted bun and a generous but not overwhelming side of fries that my dog helped me consume. That’s one of the things I enjoy about the place, they have an outdoor patio area that I can tie my dog up at and eat, which is very nice, especially on a super hot day where there’s no way I’m going to leave him in the car for more than a couple of minutes.

I finished the day off with a Maple Bacon sundae, which was a little bit on the sweet side, but was still delicious.

2013-07-20 Tibbet’s Knob & Big Schloss