Trip Report: Big Schloss/Little Schloss in GWNF

Big Schloss is a classic hiking destination in George Washington Forest, and is a mainstay of the DCUL classic Trout Run Valley loop. Little Schloss though is not nearly as well frequented but presents a beautiful sunrise view of The Massanutten range and the Shenandoah mountains as well as an exciting rock scramble. This trip also makes for a perfect Low Mileage trip for Applicants–it includes a tough 1300ft climb, but also some nice flowing ridgelines and a relatively easy walk along an old forest road. The trip worked out to be splits of roughly 13 and 9 miles respectfully.

Early Saturday morning, our crew assembled with noteable on-timely-ness. Cassie had arrived the night before to camp in her car, and the last arrival was still 15 minutes early! After some brief introductions amongst the gang, Andrew, Cassie, Mark, Holley, Rose, Ram and myself set off up Fire Road 92 to the Big Schloss cutoff trail. After a refreshing climb that I know got everyone’s heart rates up, we regrouped on the ridge and made our way south for a quick out and back to Big Schloss. Approaching Big Schloss from the north is much more impressive than from the south not only due to the climb, but also how striking the rocky outcropping looks from that direction.

After a few photos and a quick snack, we descended from Big Schloss to get out of the cold wind and proceed along with the rest of our hike. I think we all enjoyed the rolling ridge of the Mill Mountain Trail and its overlooks of Trout Run Valley. I’ll also mention here that i had mapped out a couple out and backs for those looking to add on a few miles to the day’s hike. An out and back to Halfmoon mountain added 4 miles and +1000ft of gain, and an out and back to White Rock that added 3 miles and +600ft respectively. Cassie chose to push ahead along the ridge to tag Halfmoon as she had never made it out there despite having done the Trout Valley loop several times and I decided to stay with the pack who were all hiking well.

However, by the time I had reached the 4-way (and I’ll emphasize 4!) junction between the Tuscarora/Pond Mill and Mill Mountain AND an unmarked old fire road, the hiking bug had struck me. I realized I might be able to quickly tag Halfmoon and not end up too far behind the pack if I hiked quickly. I also had never been up to the Halfmoon overlook and quickly motored down the unmarked fire road, as I knew it was much shorter (and less rocky!) than the route the Tuscarora takes to cover the same stretch. My entire hike I was expecting to catch up to Cassie but by the time I reached the summit and didn’t find her there, I realized she must have followed the Tuscarora and I had somehow passed her. On my descent, I saw her hiking up and could see the clear sign of recognition followed by the obvious “wait am I hiking the right way? I thought you were behind me!” look. After a quick laugh we went our separate ways as I motored along to catch back up to the group.

In my absence the group stopped at the PATC Sugar Knob cabin and chatted with the guys staying there for the weekend. I finally manage to catch Mark, Rose and Ram on the Little Sluice Mountain trail, that is muddy but passable fire road–we passed several hunting camps in this stretch and although didn’t hear any close gunshots this weekend, was happy to have my blaze orange none-the-less. As it turns out, Andrew and Holley had split off to go check out White Rocks. I had tanked up for camp at the first creek that crossed Little Sluice, but another half mile or so on Mark spotted an unmarked piped spring flowing out of the mountain side–good to know for next time!

Just before Little Schloss the navigable part of the road terminates in a large series of fields, campsites and stands of trees with camping beneath. There was some healthy discussion of wether they were spruce, fir, or hemlock although I forget what we decided. To the left was a large and established hunting camp with several vehicles and despite our initial concerns upon hearing their electric chainsaw, ended up being quite quiet throughout the night. Unfortunately, we missed getting the “nice” field, tree stand, and fire ring by about 10 minutes as two backpackers were just starting to setup. We were relegated to the more overgrown field and fire ring, but several folks snuck into other stands of trees to make a well covered and cozy campsite. As dark fell, we started a small but warm campfire and cooked dinner, swapping stories as well as discussing gear. We were all in bed for the night between 7:30-9pm.

The first time I did this loop it was forecasted to be about 45 degrees overnight, but instead was much closer to freezing. Those in the group hiking with 3 season gear had an uncomfortable night. Fortunately, this time the trip was much more pleasant in the mid-40s and I think we all slept warm and soundly. About half of us woke before sunrise to scurry up Little Schloss in hopes of taking in the sunrise but were foiled by low lying clouds, so although it got light, no sun broke through. DCUL’s trip to the Triple Crown that weekend on the other hand had a spectacular sunrise.

We regrouped at camp and owing to a chilly morning, several folks set off on the days hike to warm up while a few folks waited for others to pack up their camps. Ram decided to hike the 4 mile bailout to the cars owing to some lasting knee pain from the day before. The rest of us retraced our steps back towards the Sugar Knob cabin and the pleasant descent down the Little Stoney Creek Trail to our cars. A few of us manage to make it to the cars before Ram, but right as we (I) started to worry, he appeared hiking down the mountain road! Overall, we had incredible weather and despite about 10 minutes of light rain on Saturday and the lack of a sunrise Sunday, I’d say we fared much better than my first go around of this trip.

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