Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dobie Mountain

Glass Hollow Overlook
4.5 miles loop, 1100 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Trailhead off Blue Ridge Parkway, no fee required

Just north of the ultra-popular Humpback Rocks, Dobie Mountain is an overlooked summit with an enjoyable loop hike to some good views. The hike to Dobie Mountain starts from the same trailhead- but unlike Humpback, this trail sees much less traffic. That's a pity, because it is a very enjoyable short hike, with one very good viewpoint, plenty of pretty woods studded with greenstone outcrops, and the remnants of a small plane that crashed on the mountains from the 1960s. The trailhead is easy to find and there are few hikes closer to Charlottesville, so there's little reason why any student at UVA should leave the school without having hiked this trail in addition to Humpback.

This hike has also been described by Hiking Upward and Virginia Trail Guide, both of which recommend taking a spur trail down to an AT shelter. I skipped that detour to shorten the hike and cut back on the elevation gain; however, I have included in this post a description of a half-mile detour down the AT to a view of Bear Den and Scott Mountain. If this detour is skipped (the detour is not highly recommended, so if you skip it you won't miss out on the hike's highlights), you will be able to complete this hike in 3.6 miles with 800 feet elevation gain.

I hiked this loop clockwise on a late September day. I headed out from Charlottesville early on the morning on I-64, heading west to exit 99 and following the signs onto US 250 and then onto the Blue Ridge Parkway south. Five miles south of the parkway, I parked in the Humpback Gap trailhead on the left side of the road. Then, I walked over to the north end of the parking lot (the end opposite from the Humpback Rocks sign) and found signs for the Albright Loop Trail. I followed the blue-blazed Albright Trail into the forest, soon reaching a junction for the two sides of the loop; I followed the left side. This trail took me on a very gentle ascent through the September forest. Mushrooms were quite common along the way.

Mushrooms on the forest floor
A mere two-thirds mile into the hike, the trail passed over the fairly flat summit of Dobie Mountain. There was no view; the mountain was, however, very prettily wooded, with a line of small greenstone outcrops sticking out in the woods. Just past the summit, I saw one interesting tree growing directly out of the rock itself.

Around the summit
After passing the summit, the trail began a gradual downhill that steepened as it went on. Eventually, the trail broke into switchbacks. Once the switchbacks started, I began looking for a side trail to the plane crash site. If you are going dowhill, the side trail will head uphill and be to your right (so you don't need to look for it when uphill is to your left). If the trail has flattened out and the switchbacks have ended, you've gone too far. If you see a side trail heading to the right, then, when you look up, you should also be able to catch a glimpse of the wreckage.

A short uphill brought me next to the final bits of fuselage left from the Beechcraft Bonanza. There's not much left of it- please respect the site and don't remove anything if you visit. This aircraft is one of the many downed aircraft in the Blue Ridge. When navigation aids in aviation were primitive in the 1950s and 60s, many crashes occurred in the Blue Ridge. During times of heavy fog, pilots often had to rely on dead reckoning while flying through the mountains or while landing in Charlottesville or other nearby airports. As a result, the mountains around Rockfish Gap are littered with planes. The Bonanza on Dobie Mountain is, by my understanding, the most easily accessible plane wreckage near Charlottesville. Two other major crash sites nearby include a military plane on Humpback Mountain and the most notorious, a Piedmont Airlines Douglas DC-3 that crashed in 1959 on Bucks Elbow Mountain during its descent into Charlottesville.

The Dobie Mountain plane wreckage
Again, if you visit this site, respect it. Don't tamper with or remove anything. Scavenging at sites like these is a major problem and is illegal.

Continuing past the wreckage, the trail made a final switchback in descent before flattening out, following the side of the mountain until it intersected with the Appalachian Trail about a half mile later. Here, there were two choices: head north, down the side of the mountain, or south, alongside the mountain. If you plan to hike this as the shorter 3.6-mile version, turn right and head south; otherwise, turn north and descend on the AT. After a half mile of descent down some switchbacks, I came to a very small clearing with a view north to Bear Den and Scott Mountains in Shenandoah. By continuing farther, you can reach an AT shelter; I turned around here, my main interest being in this view from a rare angle. Ten minutes of uphill later, I was back at the trail junction and this time took the AT south.

View north from the AT
After heading south on the AT for about a half mile from the junction and staying on the AT after reaching its junction with the return loop of the Albright Trail, I came to a sign on the left of the trail that stated "Overlook." I turned onto this narrower trail and followed it downhill about a tenth of a mile to a large exposed rock- Glass Hollow Overlook. From this dome-like rock, there was a fairly expansive 180-degree view into Rockfish Valley. To the right, I could see top of Humpback Mountain and right next to it, Humpback Rocks. I enjoyed the view here for about 20 minutes before I returned to the AT.

Glass Hollow Overlook
Humpback Mountain from Glass Hollow Overlook
The remainder of the hike was quite easy: I followed the AT south for a little over a half mile over fairly level terrain before intersecting with the old Howardsville Turnpike. I left the AT here by turning right onto this rocky but wide path and following it uphill for a quarter mile back up to the Humpback Gap parking area. It was an extremely pleasant hike, with plenty of things to see for minimal effort.

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