(I apologize for the delay in posting this. The past two weeks have been crazy busy)
I had been hearing about Haystack Knob for quite some time. People said there is a good view up there and one needs to bushwhack to get there. Both of these aspects appealed to me. And when Jimmy expressed a desire to do a low mileage trip, I decided it was time to finally visit Haystack Knob.
Aileen, Greg, Jimmy, Kylie and I started from Vienna Friday evening - Greg and Jimmy being the drivers. Stopping only at Moorefield Sheetz gas stationfor dinner, we reached the trailhead around 9 PM. Setting up the shuttle turned out to be a little tricky as we had trouble finding the flatrock run parking area in the dark. We eventually did and returned to the starting point.
We hit the South Prong Trail just before 10 PM. It was an easy 2 mile hike to the campsite in the dark. Greg thought he left his headlamp behind, but later found out that he did have it after all. We settled in our familiar campsite around 11 PM finding the bright moon very pleasant. The water level in the nearby creek was very low.
The next morning we were all on the trail around 8. We felt adequately rested despite sleeping in late the night before. Through the hidden passage, we emerged to see views on our left. It was a nice day with blue skies. I remarked how different the blue was here compared to the blue sky color in Colorado. We crossed the pipeline road and arrived at the creek. All of us filled up water here as I thought this would be our last water source for the day. Kylie and Jimmy did remember another water source a mile ahead of us and they were right - it was flowing very well.
Making good progress, we soon got to the rim trail and were treated with views towards south. Having few miles to cover, we spent a lot of time taking in the views. We realized the trip was truly an MOR trip : Members Only Relaxation :) We stopped along the rim multiple times to take group pics and have lunch.
We passed the TeePee trail junction and continued on the Rim trail, this was new territory to everyone. The trail passed through the rocks and then lowered down to dense bushes below. It was hard hard to follow the trail here, we happened to miss it a few times. The GPS helped a lot in finding the trail back. We reached the Roaring Plains trail junction and were happy to see proper trail.
A mile or so ahead, we passed the flatrock trail junction and hopped on an old 4x4 forest road. This road snaked around the mountains and took us to the base of the climb to Haystack Knob. It was dense in a few places and in a few areas, we were attacked by some stinging nettles - we had to put our pants on. The trail was also very dry this time of the year - we did find intermittent water sources at one or two places though.The final bushwhack climb was steep and everybody really wondered if all this would be worth it. In the end, I found it was. The rocks at the top of Haystack were truly amazing. We climbed on top and discovered some campsites - it was really a wonderful place. We all chilled and hung out here. Me, Jimmy and Greg took out our DSLRs and started taking pics. We were treated with an awesome sunset. It was tough, but rewarding day. Aileen enjoyed cowboy camping on top of the rocks.
In the morning, we all woke up early to catch the sunrise. It was a pretty good one - reminding me of the sunrise we had on the Assateague trip in December.
We hit the trail fairly early and reversed our paths. Knowing exactly what we had ahead of us made the return path easier. We made really good speed in reaching the Flatrock Trail junction. Once there, we started descending gradually. The trail was muddy in a few places : but it really wasn't bad. I bet this trail would be super muddy in spring/early summer. We enjoyed the comforts of being on a proper trail. The trail crosses Flatrock run : we took a nice break here enjoying the fallen leaves and chill water.
Right around here, the stinging nettles showed up again. We put on our pants to protect ourselves. The stinging nettles continued for quite a long time - I was surprised to see them because the trail was otherwise very well maintained. Maybe they are here only towards the end of summer? Anyways, we were walking at 3 mph speeds and hit the parking lot fairly soon. Instead of doing a driver only shuttle, we fit everyone in Greg's car and saved valuable time in doing so. Once we got to Jim's car, it was a 2 hour drive to Lost River Brewery, Wardensville. We enjoyed food, beer and said our goodbyes.
All in all, I had a pretty good time in everyone's company. It was Greg's first DCUL trip - I was happy to have him with us. Welcome, Greg. As for Haystack Knob - I think it is a great place worthy of the bushwhack involved in getting there! I look forward to return here in a different season - maybe Spring.
For those interested, here is a link to our route : http://caltopo.com/m/1007
For fun optional side trips/additions, walk the gravel road to your left as you descend the Haystack Knob ridge north. There's a trail that cuts off across a field and through the woods just below Mt. Porte Crayon back to the 4x4 track. Also, I've heard there's some cool stuff to see on Mt. Porte Crayon, but haven't done that bushwhack yet.
We were considering that. It looked like it wouldn't be too complex to get to Mt. Porte Crayon. One of the things that worried me though was stepping on private property - I was somewhat aware that there were some private properties nearby. Just didn't feel like risking it. Also, the group was feeling fairly tired after that final steep climb.