On Friday, Joffrey, Twinkletoes (with Aris), Doug (with Jack), Casserole, and I, U-Turn, set out to walk a rather ambitious loop that involved hiking up Ramsay's Draft, circling the entire Wild Oak Trail, then descending back to the cars via one of the draft's peripheral trails, essentially making a lop-sided figure eight around Hiner Springs. Of course, many hikers, runners, and backpackers do Wild Oak, and Ramsay's Draft is a classic, but so far as I know, doing them together is a new approach.
***Few things new under the sun. This route is at least an unusual one, seldom walked. Evan did something almost the same back in 2010. :) ***
Twinkletoes and I met up north of town. We were going to go out to Big Schloss first for a quick photography hike for the book, but we were running a little behind, so instead we drank beer in Front Royal and discussed trail names for Evan.
About 3:30pm or so, everyone met up at the Ramsay's Draft trailhead. Gorgeous spring weather to bask in. The hike up Ramsay's Draft was pretty easy compared to when Joffrey and I (and a few others) descended it the weekend of the derecho last summer. Lots of fallen trees were cut, the plant growth hadn't overwhelmed the trail, and we were able to stay on the trail, which was good. We got wet, but the creek level was not as high as I feared. Soon enough, we all reached Hiner Springs ... where we found a group of rather military-style backpackers encamped. Some of them were wearing pistols! Everyone knows what a dangerous area Hiner Springs is. We hung out with them for a few minutes, but then walked up to a campsite a little higher in the bowl there. We enjoyed a lovely campfire, a few sips from our flasks, and got ready for the big day on Saturday.
It froze on us during the night, which surprised me a little. I had quite a battle with my shoes to get them on, but soon we marched off past the other campers, climbled the mile-long connector trail to the Wild Oak Trail and started our CCW trip around the thing. From Big Bald Mountain, we descended down to 715, endured the grueling ascent up Hankey Mountain ... quite steep ... then walked over fairly flat miles before we descended sharply to the North River. With 16-ish miles behind us in the early afternoon, we took an hour-and-a-half long break at the river, soaking our feet and drowsing in the sun. Joffrey swam in the river (beautiful swimming hole!) and then did pull ups from the bridge. It was at that moment that I dubbed him "Beast Mode." He seemed a bit shy about this trail name. I told him that it was really a curse. He'd spend the rest of his life living up to it! :)
From North River, Wild Oak begins at 7-mile ascent up Little Bald Knob. Not easy hiking on fatigued legs, but we made it to the intersection with the Groom Ridge trail, where we found adequate space for camping. GPS read about 21 for the day. Coming back from her surgery, Twinkletoes had had to dig pretty deep for this last climb. When she reached camp, we could see that she was quickly becoming hypothermic. Three stoves (including Beast Mode's decidely non-UL model, which was admittedly quite handy to have in these circumstances) all sprang into action, and soon we had warmed her up and bundled her off to sleep in a 0* degree bag with a Nalgene full of boiling water, not to mention Aris. All was well. We all slept like the dead, except for Casserole, who complained of an animal "the size of a small dinosaur crashing through the brush." I regret I missed Sasquatch, but I was out, even dreaming some good dreams.
Next morning, we concluded that Twinkletoes would have to stop at Camp Todd. She bowed out in great form, vowing to return to her usual condition for the next one. She hiked hard and well, knocking out about 33 miles of the trip. Those 33 miles weren't easy.
The four remaining blasted ahead, climbing over Little Bald Knob, descending to Camp Todd, then tackling the remaining climb to Hiner Spring. With Wild Oak in our rear-view mirrors, we all wanted to return to the cars in a more interesting fashion than just going back the way we had come (and those 18 crossings get old). So, we joined up with the Shenandoah Mountain Trail, and walked very fast (about 4 mph, at times) along this beautiful and very gently graded trail. Mountain bikers crossed our trail and someone had stuck marshmellows on trees along the route. Not even Jack would eat them. About 1pm or so, we reached the Road Hollow trail, which offered a rather rocky and twisty path back to the cars, which we reached at about 2:15pm.
Quickly, quickly, we saddled up, grabbed a case of beer, and joined Twinkletoes at Camp Todd. After a few beers on the tailgate and some celebration, we drove home, stopping off for a good meal in Harrisonburg.
All said, our splits were 6.4-21-18, for aboout 45.4 miles total in just under 48 hours. I think Doug and Beast Mode were a little disappointed that they didn't get the second 20-mile day out of it, but they both get big shout outs for earning Veteran Member status on a trip that was tough enough to be VMO. Both seemed tireless. I can't wait to see the elevation gain on this trip, as it will be big.
FWIW, I'm pretty sure that a determined ULer could camp at Hiner Springs, walk the Wild Oak Trail in a single day, which, with the connector trails, would get you to 29. And there's a campsite about a mile further along where the Shenandoah Mountain Trail is. :) Wouldn't be the easiest 30 ever, but it's feasible. Maybe in the fall!
As we walked it, this trip should go in our repertoire. It's a challenging and rewarding adventure. Thanks everyone for hanging together, helping each other, and making it happen!
Here's a bit of historical data, back when the group was less hardcore and we attempted a similar but shorter version of htis trip in three more leisurely days: http://www.dculbackpacking.com/events/13790528/
It's amazing how similar those routes are.
I wish Meet Up had a search function for all of our old trips. It's such a hassle trying to comb through them all.
I think this route would be harder in the summer, BTW. This past weekend, we benefited from very little overgrowth in the draft and, as we learned last June, the Wild Oak Trail does not have a superabundance of water along its route.
It was nice to see that there is water to be had coming down from Big Bald Knob if need be, making three fairly evenly spaced water sources. There are some long, hard, dry stretches, though.
Count me in on the 30 mi day version of this. Let's make it a winter trip too, just for the added giggles.
[quote]We all slept like the dead, except for Casserole, who complained of an animal "the size of a small dinosaur crashing through the brush." I regret I missed Sasquatch, but I was out, even dreaming some good dreams.[/quote]
Did it feel squatchy?
@ Beast Mode ... See, that's what I mean by "beast mode." I suggest doing something unpleasant (a 30-mile day) and you make it worse by adding on "in winter"! That's "beast mode" right there. :) How about we try it in August? ;)
@ Miles (conspicuously without a trail name) ... Casserole thought it felt squatchy, but I was dead asleep and did not have the energy to make my Big Foot calls. So, in the interest of science, I must reserve judgment. We really need to do a combined DC UL / Finding Bigfoot event.
[quote][quote]We all slept like the dead, except for Casserole, who complained of an animal "the size of a small dinosaur crashing through the brush." I regret I missed Sasquatch, but I was out, even dreaming some good dreams.[/quote]
Did it feel squatchy?[/quote]
If it was a deer that was the fattest deer I've ever heard, let alone seen...sounded more substantial. That could just be paranoia talking, though: I was 'cowboy camping' down the trail a bit from the others and feeling mighty vulnerable...Lesson: bring earplugs and 'hear no evil.'
It was probably some horse f**ker out on the prowl.