Trip Report: Through the Mines

Dmitri finding an oddly placed cook kit…

Recorded on 10/18/2021 – Alexander McAllister

### Friday 10/15/2021 ###

As we approached our marked parking lot next to Hearthstone Lake something felt off.  Maybe it was the 64ft overfill flood markings that lined the road or the general sense of uncertainty.  I knew there was a spot at the parking lot but nothing more.  We met our gypsy friends camped by the lake and I decided to press up the Litte River to find a campsite for the night. 

We embarked around 9:45pm with myself, Dmitri, Brian, Holly, Aileen, Chris P, Wesal, Jamie, and Chris S.  In just 5 minutes we had lost any signs of the trail as we approached our first crossing.  Eventually we spotted signs of an obscured trail hidden beneath the leaves.  I forded the river that was moving surprisingly swiftly.  The water quickly drained the heat from my toes. As I looked back Dmitri was already searching for a dry way to cross. Heading south he found a felled tree and walked across. The others followed behind him in epic fashion.  Fifteen minutes later and a few fallen people (and dropped shoes) the group had all crossed the Little River.  In this moment I felt as though we had just opened the mines of Moria.  I started to suspect that we would see adversity beyond what I had planned.  I became “Gandalf.”  Dmitri became “Aragon.”  Brian became “Legolas.” Holly became “Gimli.”Aileen became “Sam.” Chris P became “Boromir.”  Jamie became “Merry.” Wesal became “Pippin.”  And most importantly Chris S became our “Frodo.”  And into the metaphorical mines we entered…

The trail was visible for a short while after our first crossing.  Soon we arrived at an impasse.  The trail lead to a visible cliff-side that obscure any forward view as it wrapped around the Little River.  I checked my map and thought that maybe we had to cross although we had no site of the trail.  I forded the river again followed by some others.  Eventually I spotted the trail back on the original side of the river! As I had looked back everyone was in different locations confused, cold, and wet.  I blew my whistle and signaled the way forward.  Slowly again we collected everyone and continued through the second crossing.  We pushed forward.  Upfront Brian and Dmitri scouted the trail successfully navigated some swampy areas.  I could sense the cold feet affect some of our members and helped them find ways through the swamp.  Around 11:00pm we hit a clear patch of the trail.  Continuing along this until Dmitri noticed the potential to camp directly on the trail.  At 11:30pm we stopped and camped for the night.

### Saturday 10/16/2021 ###

Waking up I felt rejuvenated and hopeful.  The clear and warm night was restful. We set out in good spirits around 8am.  Quickly we came to the one sign in the entire wilderness area. On it marked the way up along Buck Mountain trail and also the way through the north fork of the Little River.  After much research looking at old USGS maps I had planned that we would explore the north fork.  This did not disappoint.  We found a campsite with active “cooking” pots and a hanging bottle.  We pressed on and roughly bushwhacked along an old logging road.  Dmitri and I navigated by map and compass along the points of interest until we could not pass any further.  Turning the group around we all wandered back to the sign location.  The North Fork of the Little River was beautiful and notably interesting.  So much so that I am already making plans to go back in the Winter.

Us exploring the north fork of the Little River.

Next we head north to Buck Mountain.  The trail pushed straight upwards.  Not much further up the trail closed in on itself.  I lead the way as I was smacked repeatedly with thorny bushes and spiders.  We made slow but steady progress up the ridge bushwhacking through the remnants of an old trail.  I could see clouds forming on the western horizon as we stopped to regroup.  The warmth persisted as we ate our food, but soon it was starting to rain.  We pressed through the remaining mile and a half along the ridge in increasingly cold and wet weather.  My body was soaked from the rainwater that was left on the bushes. 

Getting to the roadway was a welcomed site.  No more cold bushwhacking for a while.  However, we became exposed to a ever growing amount of wind that was being orthographically pushed up the Shenandoah Mountain.  As we ascended towards Reddish Knob the temperature was dropping and the wind gusts were strengthening.  Multiple members had started to look visibly cold.  “Pippin” even starting asking me when we would stop for second breakfast!

As we summited Reddish Knob we looked out into the fog and wind.  It was then that I noticed that Chris “Frodo” had started to become dangerously hypothermic.  Frodo’s hands were frozen solid as the blood flow had dangerously constricted. We forced my gloves around her frozen hands as well as an added beanie for warmth. I quickly pushed us off of the summit.  I headed to the leeward side of the mountain where I found a sheltered area under a dense pine tree. We stopped and prepared some hot water for Frodo.  Everyone benefited from some time away from the wind and cold.  As soon as Frodo had drank her hot water we packed up and continued moving to generate some body heat. Soon after the sky’s opened up. The Sun beat down a warm and welcomed blanket of heat. 

From about 2:00-3:30pm we headed SE along Timber Ridge.  We passed the first potential campsite and continued to Sand Spring Mountain.  Upon arriving to Sand Spring, Dmitri “Aragon”, Brian “Legolas”, and I set out to find the potential spring.  Unfortunately, it was not a beautiful Sand Spring but rather a pond.  After some deliberation we made camp on top of Sand Spring Mountain.  The weather still seemed rather good. I was expecting a calm but cold night.  We did our camp chores and then gathered firewood.  By the time we were about to light the fire the wind starting picking up heavily.  This was around 4:30-4:45pm when I felt the cold front move over us.  

Camp on Sand Spring Mountain.

Aragon used a candle to light the fire and we all congregated and ate.  Eventually people left the fire for there shelters.  Around 8pm there was only Chris P “Boromir,“ Wesal “Pippin,” and I that stayed around the fire.  As the night went on and the wind further picked up.  Sounds of wind had ominously left us hearing voices.  “Boromir” even tried to scare us saying that the voices were that of a little girl and her little dog.  I heard it as well.  What better disguise for a creepy ghost to wander around than a night with a bright moon and a windstorm.  “Little River Ghosts” – sounds terrifying right? Around 9:30 we put out the fire and took shelter.

### Sunday 10/17/2021 ###

The gusts of wind had increasingly gotten stronger.  The top of Sand Spring Mountain was the perfect mixing pot for the turbulent wind, constantly shifting direction. With my trusty poncho-tarp I set up against wind from the E and NE.  This had help me control the windchill for most of the night.  Around 4am I had woken up to the sound of an immense gust of wind.  In moments this SW facing wind had blown directly in the opening of my tarp creating a sail.  My tarp was ripped from the ground and hoisted up into the the air catching on a tree about 10 feet away from me.  I quickly threw off my quilt and ran after it jumping and catching it while it was suspended in mid air.  The gust of wind was still blowing almost knocking me off my feet!  I went from warm to completely bone chilled in a matter of seconds.  The gust was so strong as I ran back to my sleep site and my stuff was being completely blown around in the wind.  I jumped onto the ground and grabbed my quilt.  I threw one side of my tarp facing the SW wind under my butt and rolled into it hoping to wait out the extreme gust of cold wind.  Luckily the freezing wind died down for a short moment.  I staked in the windward side of my tarp straight to the ground and physically held the other end.  I removed my stove and sheltered it as I boiled some water to heat myself up again.  I got the water boiled and drank it as the SW wind kept blasting.  Eventually I heated back up and was able to re-pitch my tarp around 4:30am as the wind shifted back to a NE headwind.  If only Gandalf had his gloves and beanie… “YOU SHALL NOT PASS”

(Upon checking the NOAA forecasts for the day it shows that temps dropped over 25f in an hour that night! Plus a remarkable amount of wind that blew threw around 4-5am)

Me as “Gandalf” the morning after pulling off some tarp camping wizardy. Featuring Dmitri as “Aragon” and Wesal as “Pippin.”

Watch the whole thing for more epic-ness.

Upon checking camp in the morning everyone seemed fine.  Breaking camp took longer than normal but after a night that unexpectedly cold and windy that was perfectly fine.  We moved out around 8:15am walking past ample blowdown – recently downed trees from the windstorm.  We made good time on our way out. 

Seeing the entire group finish this trip in good form was immensely rewarding.  Out from the mines we went…

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### Route Information for Future Planning ###

As I was planning our route I was amazed at the area that I’ll be referring to as the “Little River Wilderness.”  This unofficially is demarcated by Timber Ridge and Hearthstone Ridge (NE), Bald Mountain Road (W), and Grooms Ridge Trail (SE).  This tract of land seems largely untouched since 1944 which is where I get the last traces of what seem like logging roads on an old 1944 USGS map.  Unfortunately only the land rights are owned by the Forest Service with the mineral rights still privately held.  Securing the mineral rights and maintaining these trails is something I now feel the need to advocate for.  Below is a link maintained by the VA Wilderness Committee – a group attempting to secure the GWNF area as designated wilderness space. 

https://www.vawilderness.org/little-river-wilderness.html

This route is the definitive way to approach Reddish Knob.  I cannot even begin to give enough praise to the first section.  Please note that this is also a hard way to approach Reddish Knob.  The trails leading West from Hearthstone lake are not well marked and need maintenance.  Same with Buck Mountain Ridge trail.  If you intend to do this route be confident in your navigation with map and compass.  Also bring a machete or clippers to help get through the trail.  I’ll repeat – only go if your confident in your navigation abilities and bring something for trail maintenance.  Should I repeat it again?

Exploring what I defined as the Little River Wilderness would be very rewarding as well. Dmitri and I already want to plan a trip to this area to explore sometime in Winter.  Maybe mid-February?

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