Monday, January 11, 2010

Twelve Miles in the Snow - Big Schloss

Hunting season is over, so yesterday we ventured out to the George Washington National Forest to hike Big Schloss.  The thermometer in our friend's car said it was 12 degrees at the Front Royal Park and Ride where we met her.  Luckily, the road to the trailhead, although covered in packed snow in places, was passable.  By the time we got there, the temperature had risen to a balmy 16 degrees.  It wasn't windy, though, at least down in the valley and the sun was shining, so it promised to be a beautiful hike.

We headed up the steep side of the trail first.  It is a quick moderately steep 2.3 miles from the parking area to saddle where the Big Schloss Cutoff trail meets the Mill Mountain Trail.  Where the trail left the road, there was very little snow on it, as we climbed, the snow became patchy.  By the time we got to the trail junction, the snow was about a foot deep.  This section was in the sun and out of the wind, so it was nice and warm (relatively).

We headed south on the Mill Mountain Trail for a mile to the Big Schloss spur trail.  There were two-foot deep snow drifts on this section and we were a little more exposed to the wind, both of which made the going a little bit slower.  We actually had to break out the face masks on this section.  Fortunately, someone else had postholed the trail before we got there, making a little easier work for us.  We wished we had brought our snowshoes at this point, since there was definitely enough snow for them.  They would not have been too heavy to strap to our packs and carry up.

We were the first people to hike up the spur trail to the top of Big Schloss since the last snowfall (Thursday 1/7/10).  There were, however, lots of tracks:  rabbits, deer, birds, and mice.  We paused for lunch in a sheltered spot out of the wind before heading up to the top.  It was beautiful as always up there, but the wind on top was super cold, so we didn't linger long.  The air was clear enough to get a good view of Mansanutten and Shenandoah to the east.

From the summit of Big Schloss, we returned north along the Mill Mountain trail, passing the junction with the Big Schloss Cutoff trail after a mile. Almost two miles past the junction, we arrived at Sandy Spring.  It is a beautiful little spring and stream that crosses the trail.  The stream, although flowing, had feathery ice crystals scattered over it.  A side stream was completely frozen over.  The trail continued to slowly climb from there, to the top of Mill Mountain.  The snow got deeper again as we descended from Mill Mountain to the Tuscarora Trail. 

The Tuscarora Trail only had one set of snowshoe tracks on it, which made the walking fairly challenging.  We only had a half mile to hike on it before the next junction, but it was probably the toughest single stretch of the hike.  Soon enough, we arrived at the Little Stony Creek Trail and began the 3.5 mile descent back to the car.  We took a short break in the sun at Sugar Knob Cabin.  Little Stony Creek Trail had a lot of very icy sections covered by a thin dusting of snow.  The microspikes I received as a Christmas gift made this part of the hike much easier.


Hiking up the Big Schloss Cutoff Trail.

Hiking through the snow on the Mill Mountain Trail towards Big Schloss.

Looking north from the summit of Big Schloss.  The Mill Mountain Trail runs along the crest of the ridge.

Looking east from the summit of Big Schloss.  In the middle distance is Mansanutten Mountain.  In the far distance is the ridge of Shenandoah National Park.

A rabbit track near the trail.

The stream below Sandy Spring.

Feathery ice crystals in the stream at Sandy Spring.


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