Sunday, March 11, 2012

Halfmoon Mountain

View south into Trout Run Valley
9.5 miles loop, 2100 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate, due to length and elevation gain

The Halfmoon Mountain hike is a good day loop in the Great North Mountain area that utilizes a number of trails in the area to circumnavigate Halfmoon Mountain. The rewards are a pretty stream and a great view of Trout Run Valley. I did this hike during my Wolf Gap camping trip and found it to be very enjoyable. I got the idea for this hike from Hiking Upward- it seemed like a more interesting hike than the round-trip hikes suggested on Summit Post.

My friend and I drove out from Wolf Gap to the trailhead after a cold night. The trailhead was on an unmarked gravel road in George Washington National Forest off of the Trout Run Road in West Virginia. Wolf Gap lies on the VA/WV boundary and is accessible by taking SR 675 from Edinburg in Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. We reached this trailhead by continuing down the Trout Run Road into West Virginia, passing Rockland and Perry. At the foot of Halfmoon Mountain, the road turned to the left. Soon afterward, the road reentered George Washington National Forest. After the road crossed Trout Run, we looked to the right for an unmarked gravel road. This gravel road was a couple hundred yards short of the intersection of the Trout Pond/Thorny Bottom Road. I drove up the gravel road and found the trailhead at the end of a loop in the road. The trail, actually a former fire road, was blocked by a gate and had a sign by it that read "Bucktail Trail."

We got onto the orange-blazed trail, which began by winding through some fairly young forest on the west slope of Halfmoon Mountain. After an initial gentle ascent, the Bucktail Trail began a gentle descent toward Halfmoon Run. There were views of the flat Rocky Ridge to our west and of Wildcat and Anderson Ridge to the north.

Bucktail Trail
The Bucktail Trail eventually arrived at Halfmoon Run. Instead of crossing the run on a bridge here, we instead continued following the orange blazed trail, which led us to the right and along the run. The trail then crossed the run five times. Rock outcroppings popped up from beside the stream at some spots. The stream itself was pretty and made this section of trail interesting.

Halfmoon Run
After the last stream crossing, the trail veered away from the run and began a gentle, gradual ascent. We hiked through dense thickets of mountain laurel, which grew everywhere along the trail. This would undoubtedly be a spectacular hike in May or June, when the laurel blooms.

Mountain laurel on the Bucktail Trail
The Bucktail Trail ended at an intersection with another fire road. My friend and I had lunch here as I tried to figure out the route- which ended up being a bit trickier than I had thought when I realized I had left my Hiking Upward map in the car. I decided that the fire road leading in Halfmoon Mountain's direction would likely be the right trail and luckily, I ended up being right. We took the fire road to the right at that junction and after a quarter mile came upon the intersection with the German Wilson Trail.

The pink-blazed German Wilson Trail was the most difficult part of this hike. The trail is fairly steep and there is a large amount of fallen trees on the trail. Thus, the trail was not only a bit hard to go up, it was occasionally a little hard to follow as well. We managed to stay on the trail and we eventually made our way up to the ridgeline and the intersection with the white-blazed Halfmoon Trail.

At this intersection, we took the spur trail to the right, which began an ascent that was gentle at first and steep at the very end that put us on the summit of Halfmoon Mountain. The remains of an old stone lookout remain at the summit, but there were no longer views there- to see the Halfmoon Mountain view, we made our way a couple yards further to a couple of rocks with an open view of the Trout Run Valley and the endless ridges of West Virginia. I found another viewpoint to the west at the very end of the trail that allowed me to see the western peak of Halfmoon Mountain and more of the endless valleys and ridges.

The western half of Halfmoon and the valleys and ridges of West Virginia
We left the windy summit after views and a snack and made our way down the mountain on the Halfmoon Trail. We followed this trail to the foot of the mountain, where we came upon another stream that is confusingly named Halfmoon Run. Here, we followed the pink-blazed Bucktail Cutoff Trail to the right. This trail had some ups and downs as it made its way across the base of Halfmoon Mountain. We had to cross a few streams on this stretch of trail. The trail was very pleasant, with occasional views through the bare trees to Trout Valley and the north end of Long Mountain. After following it for a while, the trail eventually dropped back to the Bucktail Trail, which we followed back to the parking area for the last quarter mile.

Although it's a bit of a long hike for just a single viewpoint, I found the hike to be an overall worthwhile one: the stream was nice, the view was excellent, and terrain that the trail passed through was fun and enjoyable to hike through.

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