Saturday, November 24, 2012

2nd Annual Hike Off the Pie: Bushwhacking Skinner Ridge

For the second year in a row, we planned an epic hike for Black Friday.  Unlike last year, this year's hike wasn't an epic distance, just an epic challenge:  About five miles of bushwhacking.  Horizontal Tread, WanderMindfully, and another friend and I set out from the Buck Hollow trailhead on highway 211 at 9:30.  We crossed the Thornton River and immediately took a right, leaving the trail, to follow the river upstream.  There was a faint trail that we were able to follow for a while.  Then we lost it and had to make our way through the greenbrier, blackberries, rosebushes, and other plants making up the brambles bent on trapping and maiming us.  We paused a couple of times to take pictures of small cascades on the Thornton River.  The pattern repeated itself several times:  we would find a trail, perhaps a game trail, for a while, and then it would disappear and we would be left to fight through the underbrush.

We had a map with the route on it, but we didn't have any notes indicating a specific point at which to turn south, uphill, towards the top of Skinner Ridge.  At some point, we decided we had probably hiked far enough up the river that it was time to head uphill.  The nice thing about leaving the river bottom was that the number of thorny plants generally decreased.  We found an old homestead with one wall still standing and the roof still visible.  We paused for lunch and then began making our way generally to the southeast end of Skinner Ridge, climbing as we went.  All of a sudden, we came upon an old road bed, which made travel much easier for a while.  It is also likely that it was the intended route marked on the map, meaning we probably turned uphill a little early.  Either way, we were on the right path.

As we got higher, we hit mountain laurel got thicker and the roadbed less and less distinct.  Once on top of the ridge, there was just a narrow path, completely overgrown by mountain laurel, and lined with bear scat.  Apparently, we found the bruin superhighway on Skinner Ridge.  We followed it until we were about 100 yards from Skyline Drive.  Then the path ended, but the mountain laurel didn't.  Unfortunately, it is much harder to push through mountain laurel without at least a faint path.  We made it, but not without scratches, bruises, and much cursing.

On Skyline Drive, we walked north about a quarter mile to the tunnel at milepost 32.  Now, I have driven and ridden my bike through the tunnel many times and not once have I looked at the ridge over it and thought that I needed to hike up it.  That is just what we were going to do, though.  We walked up to the right side of the tunnel, took the little path which promptly died out in the rocks, and worked our way up to the midline of the ridge.  Then we took a left and climbed up to the Appalachian Trail.  It was probably only half a mile in total, but it was the steepest section of the hike and involved using saplings as handholds in places.  In short, it was the perfect end to our bushwhack.  We emerged onto the Appalachian Trail, much to the surprise of the hikers using it to get to Mary's Rock.  After not seeing anyone all day, it felt like we climbed into a crowd.  We walked up to Mary's Rock, took a long break and admired the view and the hiked south on the Appalachian Trail to the Meadow Spring Trail.  From there, we connected to the Buck Hollow Trail, which took us back to the car.

It was a beautiful, warm day, particularly for November.  The bushwhack, was tiring and difficult and spectacular and a great way to hike off the pie.

Note:  Please do not attempt this route unless you have a map, compass, and the skills to use them.  There is no trail on the first half of this route, so route-finding skills are an absolute necessity.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Small cascades on the Thornton River.
 Looking down the Thornton River.
 An old cabin above the Thornton River.
 A large vine twisted around a small tree.
One of the wider spots on the bear superhighway.  In other places, we had to push through dense mountain laurel.
Bear scat marked the way.  There were piles like this literally every few feet.
 Goldenrod seeds.
 Looking north on Skyline Drive.
 Looking south from the tunnel.  The ridge is Skinner Ridge, which we had just bushwacked along.
Centauria maculosa (Spotted Knapweed).  This is exotic species and it is, apparently, fairly tolerant of winter.
 Looking southwest from Mary's Rock.
 Bootshot from Mary's Rock.
Looking northwest towards Neighbor Mountain from Mary's Rock.

1 comment:

  1. Nice photos! The ones of the river are spectacular.

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