After a couple of folks dropping out, 4 of us ended up going to Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness this weekend. Ben, David and I left from Vienna and met Erik at the trailhead.
We started climbing up Road Hollow Trail connecting to Shenandoah Mountain Trail. As I expected, there was only an inch or so of snow on the trail. The climb went rather smoothly amidst blue skies and 50 degree weather. We got the first of our shockers when we got to the top – the snow here was ~4 inches deep. The higher elevation must have called for the extra snow and slower melt. 50 deg weather and that much snow – yes, it was going to be a slushy, wet feet weekend.
We continued along Shenandoah Mountain Trail which was flat initially. The trail along with the open, bare trees offered us nice views of the ridges towards the West. Lots of mountains and trails here. As we broke trail, dark clouds started to appear, temps dropped and it started raining lightly. We donned our rain gear, but the rain didn’t last long. Heck, it started clearing up and blue skies were back in 30 min. Huh, that was fast.
The trail started going up a gradual hill. It took some group effort to break the slushy trail – going uphill was a solid workout. All had wet feet by now, except for Ben who smartly wore gore-tex shoes. Round 2 of rain happened – followed by the same result – clear skies. Yes, it was weird. Along the way, we saw coyote, turkey, deer, grouse…. footprints. The snow provided evidence of a lot of animal activity. We did see a couple of deer cross our paths.
It was late afternoon by the time we got to Hardscrabble Knob junction. Half a mile later, we were at the top. We saw the fire tower which had fallen. While the fire tower would have offered a great view, there was still a mini view and sunny weather at the time made it more enjoyable.
We reversed our paths and made the short trek to Hiner Springs. We were not expecting anyone here, but hey ho, we saw 2 guys who had already setup camp. We started settling in and just as we had our tents up, it started hailing. First lightly, then it picked up and in a few seconds, it became intense. We all ducked inside our tents.
Couple mins later, I saw a flash. I thought somebody was taking a picture. Nope, that was a thunder. Yes, that was Thundersnow – a first for all of us! Boom, boom, boom! Few more thunders followed. And as the thunders stopped, hail changed to snow.
Around an hour later, it all stopped. The clouds were still dark and I wasn’t hopeful we had seen the end of the precipitation. Gotta occupy oneself though, so let’s collect wood and make a fire. Ben showed his fire making skills and got a great fire going. We chatted with the 2 guys – Nick and Tyler. We had dinner and fun conversations. It ended up being a great evening overall and we were up till fairly late – 9 PM!
Up at 6:30 and on the trail at 7:30. It snowed some during the night and temps were below freezing in the morning. The snow on the trail was crunchy. We brought microspikes, but never really needed it. Our plan today was to take the Bald Knob trail all the way to the cars. It was cloudy when we started. There was a cool sunrise glow in the distance.
We made slow and steady progress breaking the trail again. We reached Wild Oak Trail junction and hiked towards Big Bald Knob. Further up, we came upon the pond which marks the 2nd Wild Oak Trail junction (aka Dividing Ridge Trail junction). We saw a biker and his/her bike’s prints from the day before and would follow it for a while. We lost the trail after The Pinnacle (and so had the biker), but with a look at GPS + map, we got back on track. The walk on the ridge was mostly enjoyable with constant views to the East. It was windy, but not crazy. We passed more animal footmarks in the trail. Going uphill required a decent effort like the day before.
Over time, clouds started clearing and the sun came out. As temps rose, the snow started becoming slushy. Yes, our feet were wet again. We got to the nice view at the large campsite before the descent begins. We took a long break here taking in the view of Eastern mountains and ridges. We didn’t feel like leaving, but the pizzas were calling us!
Off we started descending, crossing a few bikers on the way down. This side of the mountain was facing the sun, so the snow was all gone. We were back to our fast speeds and got back to the cars in no time. The drive to Shenandoah Pizza, Staunton was short and we relished the yummy pizzas.
Overall, I had a wonderful time. The rapid weather changes and the Thundersnow were my firsts. I loved the way we turned it around by having a campfire with great conversations. Thanks David, Erik, Ben for joining me on this trip!
Great trip report! Jen envies you the Thundersnow!