Up and Down – Chestnut Mountain – 4/10/2011

My son and I are preparing to go on our first overnight backpacking trip together in 2 weeks. To prepare, we decided to take a short but difficult hike today. Last May, we climbed up to Chestnut Knob and across the open areas on the ridge. Our plan today was to start in Poor Valley at FS222 and climb up to where we had turned around last year.

We started out from home before 7 and stopped to get some breakfast. The day was supposed to be sunny and hot with highs in the 80s. The morning was very foggy at home and we hoped that it would manage to burn off before we started walking. As we drove over the Blue Ridge on I-77 we climbed high enough where we were over the fog. It was like being in an airplane and only a few high hills in the distance popped up through the fog layer. Very cool!

The drive was good with a bit more fog in Virginia, but nothing too significant. We exited at VA42 and followed it to the junction with VA625 in Ceres. The road quickly turned to gravel and there were numerous switchbacks with no guard rails going over the mountains to poor valley. There were a bunch of cabins in poor valley and a couple of pastures. Garden Mountain, Chestnut Knob and Chestnut Ridge loomed high above us.

We reached the end of the state road and continued on FS222. The FS road was actually better than the state maintained road.The parking area was about a mile further along the road. We parked the car and saw 3 hikers who were preparing to continue up the mountain. The elevation at the parking area is about 2300 feet.

The first part of the climb follows a spur ridge coming off of the main mountain. After an initial climb of a 200 ft., the trail was fairly level as it followed the ridge of the spur. When we reached the main part of the mountain is where the trail really got steep!

The trail headed up, with several rock erosion bars to help prevent the water from washing out the trail. A lot of rain fell this week, but the trail was pretty dry and not very muddy. The trail continued up a draw that was being carved by a fast flowing mountain stream. There were many log and rock steps built for the trail in this steep part. We saw many acorns that were germinating along the path. The inside of the acorn turned red – very interesting. We saw 2 types of rock on the trail. On the lower part of the mountain was shale, which is why the valley is called Poor Valley. The shale breaks down into very poor soil and is not suited to farming. This is contrasted with Burke’s Garden and Rich Valley over the 2 ridges framing the valley. Higher up we encountered the resistant sandstones that form the backbone of this very high ridge – over 4000 feet.

We stopped a number of times on the climb up, but it wasn’t too bad a large section of the trail followed an old road and the grade was pretty good. We finally made the ridge line at Noon – 2 hours after we started. The elevation is 3700 feet and we stopped for lunch where we had turned around last year. We were very happy to have made the 1400 foot climb. We hung out in the open area at the top and enjoyed the sun. Tommy looked at the trail map and pointed out the terrain features in the area around us.

We decided not to go up to the pond on the mountain today and went back down the mountain. We figured it would take us 90 minutes to make it back down. The trail was good and I did not feel like it was too steep going down. Tommy told me that his feet hurt and I re-laced his boots to keep his toes from hitting the front of his boot. We made it back feeling great and headed back home.

Tommy is very excited about our trip in 2 weeks and I think he is going to do great. We are planning a 16.5 mile trip with an overnight in a trail shelter. More news to come!

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