Monday, April 16, 2012

Third Lookout on Mine Mountain

Whetstone Ridge from Third Lookout
1.2 miles round trip, 800 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous, due to steepness

This is a fairly unknown and unused hike on the western side of the Blue Ridge in George Washington National Forest that ends at an amazing viewpoint. I used to attend a summer camp near the location of this hike and ended up redoing this hike when I went on a camping trip in Shenandoah Valley. This is a difficult trail that is not heavily traveled and not terribly well marked or maintained. I am not sure whether the names "Third Lookout" or "Mine Mountain" are official names- these were the names used to refer to those spots at my camp. Mine Mountain, after all, is not even very apparent as a mountain when viewed from Shenandoah Valley- from there, it seems to just be a small ridge leading up to the higher peaks near Tye River Gap. I am also not absolutely sure of the length of this trail- I would guess that it is somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 miles round trip.

After a night camping with a student group I'm involved in at UVA, I decided to check out a number of places in Shenandoah Valley before heading back to Charlottesville. I found myself just a couple of miles away from an outdoors summer camp I used to attend in middle school, so I decided to drive by the area and do one of my favorite hikes from that time. I drove down SR 608 and followed the South River past Vesuvius, crossing the railroad tracks and then ascending into Big Mary's Creek Valley. I had a hard time finding the start of the trail but eventually was able to identify it.

The easiest way to get to this trailhead is from I-81, exit 205. SR 606 runs from the I-81 junction east to US 11; at US 11, turn left and then immediately turn right onto SR 56. SR 56 runs past Steeles Tavern, past Glenn Falls, to Vesuvius. In the middle of Vesuvius, SR 56 crosses the railroad tracks: at that point, go straight on SR 608 and don't cross the tracks. SR 608 continues southward and eventually crosses the railroad tracks itself and goes uphill a little distance. At a big turn in the road, there will a gravel road on the left called "Nature Camp Trail." Follow that road past a meadow to a junction. Park on the side of the road here. Then walk 150 yards along the left fork and look for a faint trail marked by a cairn. The trail is unblazed.

After finally finding the start of the trail, I began to follow it uphill, passing by a small amount of phlox. The trail was significantly steeper than I had remembered it being- I was surprised I was able to hike it in middle school! The trail ascended first through the heavily wooded lower slopes of Mine Mountain, switchbacking occasionally.

Phlox at the beginning of the trail
Around a quarter mile from the trailhead, the trail reached First Lookout, a large outcrop. By scrambling around the outcrop, I found a good view of Big Mary's Creek Valley, from about 300 feet up. McClung Mountain dominated the view across the valley and down in the valley I could see the camp.

McClung Mountain from First Lookout
After taking in the view at First Lookout, I continued up the trail. From here, the already steep trail became incredibly steep and was fairly slippery due to the loose rocks on the trail. The tall trees and high canopy below Lookout Rock faded here to shorter vegetation on the rocky, dry slope. The trail eschewed switchbacks and instead made its way straight up Mine Mountain. The tiring ascent finally flattened out as the trail cut across the side of Mine Mountain to Third Lookout.

Third Lookout is a large outcrop of Antietam Sandstone. This formation is analogous to the Erwin Formation sandstone found in the South District of SNP. From the rock, there was an excellent view of McClung Mountain across the valley and Whetstone Ridge, a long, straight ridge, to the east. To the west was Shenandoah Valley; unfortunately, visibility to the west was low due to the smoke from the Rich Hole fire near Lexington.

McClung Mountain from Third Lookout
I sat, enjoyed the view, and reminisced about the time I had spent in these mountains. I then descended the slippery trail and headed off to Lexington to check out the Rich Hole Fire by I-64 before returning to Charlottesville by the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Rich Hole Fire

No comments:

Post a Comment