Sunday, March 11, 2012

Big Schloss

Ridge of Mill Mountain and Tibbet Knob from Big Schloss
4.4 miles round trip, 1100 feet elevation gain
Difficutly: Easy-Moderate
Access: Narrow but paved road to trailhead; free parking

Big Schloss is one of the best-known hikes in the Virginia/WV area. Although my friend and I had this trail mostly to ourselves on a windy March weekday, the parking at the trailhead at Wolf Gap was overflowing and hikers were pouring up and down the mountain on the Saturday when we left Wolf Gap. At a crowd-less time, Big Schloss is undoubtedly worth visiting. The view from the rocky cliffs at the end of the trail is breathtaking.

I hiked Big Schloss during my Wolf Gap camping trip over spring break. My friend and I headed up the trail after setting up camp and eating lunch in the Wolf Gap. The trailhead is on the West Virginia side of the campground, near the higher-numbered campsites. The campground is on the state line off of VA 675, which heads west from Edinburg, VA up into Great North Mountain. Edinbug lies in northern Shenandoah Valley, south of Woodstock and north of New Market and accessible by both I-81 and US 11. If you come from US 11, signs along the road will point your way up to Wolf Gap.

The trail immediately started uphill. We found some sections to be fairly steep as we made our way up a small knob on Mill Mountain. Although the weather had been just partly cloudy that morning, clouds rolled in as we we made our way uphill and rain seemed imminent. Luckily, the rain held off for our hike and didn't come until after we had finished dinner that night. After a little over a half mile of uphill slogging, we found ourselves atop the ridgeline of Mill Mountain with most of the elevation gain from the hike out of the way.

The first viewpoint of the hike was just a little farther along the flat ridgeline. Here we found exposed layers of sandstone with a wide view to the east into Virginia. Little Schloss, a companion peak to Big Schloss, was visible on Little Sluice Mountain. Massanutten Mountain was also visible across the valley and the peaks of the Blue Ridge- Mt. Marshall, Hogback, Mary's Rock, Stony Man- were visible beyond Massanutten. Closer were some uglier scenes: a clear cut section of forest between Mill Mountain and Little Sluice along a forestry road served as a reminder that even places as beloved as this area are not safe from axes and development. Indeed, most of the forest in the area can be clearly identified as second, or perhaps even third, growth.

View of Little Schloss after reaching the ridgetop
We continued along the ridge. The hiking here was easy but the trail was rocky. Views occasionally popped up through the trees on either side. Some spots along the ridge were grassy; other spots more typically woodland like. Big Schloss itself appeared as a high rock castle further up the ridge.

The trail cut to the west of the ridge and into West Virginia as we approached Big Schloss. At about two miles from the trailhead, we arrived at the spur trail for Big Schloss. We followed the spur, which began a steady uphill for a quarter mile, reaching the ridgeline again and eventually coming out onto rocky cliffs. I spotted a few good campsites on grassy spots on the ridgeline. Once at the cliffs, the trail crossed a small rocky chasm by a wooden bridge. The final section of trail led us over rocks to the very north end of Big Schloss, which had a huge, almost 360-degree view.

Long Mountain, Halfmoon Mountain, and Mill Mountain above Trout Run Valley
The entire Trout Run Valley was visible to the north and south. Tibbet Knob and Long Mountain lay to the south, Long Mountain to the west, Halfmoon and Mill Mountain to the north. Rockland, Perry, and the pastureland and ponds of Trout Run Valley were below us. We scrambled a couple of feet up to the summit for a view to the east similar to the view seen from the the first viewpoint on the trail. We stayed for a while to soak in the great view and then made our way back to the campground to escape the cold and the wind.

Sandstone outcroppings near the summit
This was my first extended period hiking in the Ridge and Valley province. I've dedicated most of my time to the Blue Ridge, which has a much different geology than this region. At least from my first exposure to the area, it seems that the geology here is a bit simpler to explain. The long, flat ridges in the area were much different than the varied, sharp terrain of the Blue Ridge. The Blue Ridge was formed as the core range of the Alleghenian Orogeny- the mountains in Ridge and Valley were formed by folds in the crust.

The cliffs at the top of Big Schloss were a white-colored sandstone and the rocks at Wolf Gap were similarly sedimentary. From observation on Big Schloss and later on Tibbet Knob, it seems that the outcroppings across Trout Run Valley on Long Mountain are of a similar formation to the rocks on Big Schloss. I would guess that Trout Run Valley is an anticlinal valley- in other words, the rock layers here are folded upward in a ^ shape rather than a v shape.  The top of the anticline has probably eroded, leaving the tougher sandstone layers atop Mill Mountain and Long Mountain as the ridges and forming a bowl between those ridges.

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