Jan. 1-3, 2015
To break in 2015 Bob and I wanted to try a new area. We had both, separately, tried to figure out a loop that included the AT with the famous Humpback Rocks and Torry Ridge and the area north of the St. Mary’s Wilderness. Part of the problem was that the section of the AT past Humpback Rocks runs right along the Blue Ridge Parkway so the chance of lots of people was high. A few days before the trip I checked the parkway website and they said it was closed through there so we decided to go for it and I found what looked to be some old forest roads that could connect a loop up.
This trip had all the features Bob loves- cold weather, hiking in snow, bushwacking, stream wading, frozen precipitation, rock fields, staying at a shelter, crowds of tourists, the chance to be shot by hunters, meth labs and pit bulls.
We parked at Reeds Gap at the Blue Ridge Parkway just as they re-opened the gates on New Years day, perfect! No one will be out driving on a holiday, much. Headed north on the AT with temperatures in the teens, a thin layer of snow on the ground and ice on the rock faces.
Moving fast to stay warm the trail actually runs below the parkway with great views from several cliffs along the way. You can see long Torry ridge in the middle, which we will walk tomorrow, and the far ridges are the north end of the St. Mary’s Wilderness.
The trail crosses the road at Dripping Rock and we stop for water at Laurel Spring which is right next to the Wintergreen Ski area and a few folks are coming from the development to day hike on the AT.
The AT climbs the ridges towards Humpback mountain with several good views east, mostly of the ski area and we find a sheltered spot out of the wind for lunch then proceed over the mountain and down towards the actual Rocks. This rock wall ran for miles and miles along the county line and the trail was near it at several spots.
We drop a fair amount of elevation and finally come to the side trail to the Rocks and lots of dayhikers. We drop packs and make a quick climb of the rocks but the wind is howling so we don’t stay long. This is looking north towards Shenandoah Nat. Park and Massanutten mountain north of it.
At this point we turned back south on the AT for about a quarter mile to an old road that runs across the north western flank of Humpback mountain and eventually comes out right at the big picnic area near the Greenstone overlook. Great walking and no people.
We walk down the parkway for a few thousand feet and then plunge off the side bushwacking down Laurel Springs Branch looking for an old forest road that I had seen on some maps. After about half a mile we pick it up, very steep and over grown. Bob is getting happier.
As it nears the bottom of the hollow it levels out and we find a great area to camp on Forest Service land but there are deer hunters walking down another forest road nearby so we wait until almost dark before setting up. About 14.5 miles today.
Day two dawns clearish, 32 degrees, we walk west on anther forest road towards the end of Torry ridge and VA 664. This is where the creative portion of the route began. It was not clear if the forest road actually connected to the state highway from the maps. It didn’t. To avoid walking through peoples yards we first we had to wade Back creek (remember it’s Jan. 2nd, sorry no pictures we were in stealth mode), then creep along the creek bank, trying to avoid the meth lab looking trailers with pit bulls all around, till we hit a large drive way that we quickly took out to the highway. Success, no gun shots fired or teeth sunk into legs. A few hundred feet up the road is the Mount Torry Furnace and the Torry ridge trailhead. Built in the early 1800’s and destroyed in the war between the States.
A steady climb to a beautiful ridge walk through the chestnut oaks with views all around as the clouds begin to thicken.
About halfway along the ridge we stop for lunch at the huge quartzite rock field that overlooks the Sherando lake Forest service campground. Reeds gap is the low point on the opposite ridge where we started.
Another 3 miles or so of nice ridge walking brought us to the Slacks trail down to the BRP.
The original plan was to cross the parkway and take the White Rock Gap trail past the waterfalls and camp nearby but it was too early to stop for the day so we stayed on the Slacks trail over to White Rock Gap and then began a 3 mile road walk on the BRP to Love Gap. Wouldn’t have been too bad if the damn parkway was closed like it was supposed to have been.
We picked up another forest road at Love gap that cut over to Maupin Field and the AT. We knew that the forecast was for conditions to get ugly over night, if the shelter was empty then we could always duck in if it got bad. We also knew the possibility of encountering large numbers of people on a Friday night at a shelter only 1.6 miles from the road was also good, if so we would push on to the truck and head home early.
We drop down into the heavily over camped area and we have it all to ourselves! Bob whips up a fire and we proceed to have an enjoyable evening. 16 miles today.
About 6:30 and well after dark, a set of headlamps appear, coming down the trail. Karen and AJ (on his first ever backpacking trip) roll in. They have spent a long day coming south on the AT. We welcome them with seats on the bench in front of the fire, bourbon and conversation.
Bob and I start the night sleeping outside but at 3:00 it starts to rain so we move into the shelter. We wake to freezing fog/drizzle and a thin coat of ice on the ground. We wish Karen and AJ good luck heading over the Three Ridges, it will be in the clouds and slippery. We move as fast as the icy and windy conditions will allow the short distance out to the truck, getting out by 8:30 and down the mountain looking for a real breakfast. The DOT truck is taking his chains off, Bob’s truck is all iced up but the road is not.
Interesting loop but probably one we won’t repeat, Torry ridge is a great trail and should be included in any loop around St. Mary’s Wilderness. Here is the approximate route.