Saturday, December 15, 2012

Green Hill - A Bushwhacker's Secret

One of the great attractions of bushwhacking and off-trail hiking is the chance to get away from the crowds and go places few others visit, especially if these places are just as spectacular as the crowded, better known areas with trails. It’s even better when you discover such a place on your own, go there with no prior knowledge of it from books or other people, and even though realizing you are very unlikely to be the first, being confident that very few people ever go there. And it’s even better yet when it ends up being more spectacular than you expected and hoped for.

Such is the case with Green Hill in Rockbridge County. There is certainly nothing in its innocuous sounding name to make you think this might be an awesome place to hike. There is no trail shown crossing it on the topo, or even coming near it, to tempt you into taking a hike either, just to see what is there. But if you keep a careful eye out for such things, there are a number of rock outcrops visible from several miles away on the North Mountain Trail. That’s how Green Hill came onto my radar in October of 2009 while hiking that nearby trail with Leanne.

After studying maps and Google Earth, I went back a couple months later with a route in mind, the first few miles of which were on a gated road to the old Lexington Reservoir. I was blown away by the views and terrain I found, and went back a second time the next Winter with my peakbagging buddy Shane Ashby. That was partly because I wanted to visit Green Hill again and for Shane to see it, and partly because it made a good way to access the true summit of North Mountain, a P1K that was on our shared list of peakbagging goals.

It’s not often that I hike with more than one, or occasionally two other people - especially if bushwhacking is involved. But I was so enamoured of this place that I wanted to share it with other friends. My buddy +David Socky  also enjoys doing an occasional bushwhack, and since it ‘tis the season, I had gotten him interested in doing a hike here. We set a date, and in the course of waiting I mentioned it to another mutual friend, Tommy Bell, who is another enthusiastic hiker, though not an enthusiastic bushwhacker. But he is more than willing if it’s somewhere worthwhile, plus he liked the idea of finally hiking with Dave again after a fairly long time. Meanwhile, Dave had been doing some long caving trips with +Stephanie Petri and told me that she might be interested in going. I knew her from a few other caving trips I had been on and thought it would be great if she joined us as long as Dave made sure she knew what to expect and was OK with it, which she certainly was.

Knife-edge on South Ridge.

We met up at 6 a.m. and were on the trail a little after 7 a.m. It was a quick hour to the old Lexington Reservoir, then we struck off up the south ridge of Green Hill, sans trail - though there were deer trails occasionally going the right way. As we gained the crest of the ridge, the frequent rock outcrops I knew were there from previous hikes began to appear. As we gained elevation these allowed increasingly wide views sweeping from southwest to southeast to northeast and also presented some fun scrambling, especially on the narrow, knife-edge like sections. And as it was a haze-free day too, all the distant peaks were especially crisp and clear, even a couple peaks rising from the Piedmont beyond the Blue Ridge. After about 1 ½ miles we pushed through a short section of briers just north of Point 3,201 to arrive at one of the two most spectacular overlooks on the hike. Here, the ridge juts out away from the main crest into a peninsula of sorts and comes out in the open onto a large flat outcropping of sandstone. The view here is about a 270º panorama from North Mountain in the southwest to Big and Little House Mountains in the northeast to Apple Orchard Mountain in the southeast. This is a wonderful spot and was an excellent place for an early lunch.
Part of the awesome view from the northeast end of Green Hill includes Apple Orchard Mountain, the Peaks of Otter, Short Hills, The Knob, and Purgatory Mountain.

Big House and Little House Mountains (right).
While sitting here, I heard something moving in the woods below the cliffs and moved over to the edge to take a quick look. After a moment, I saw a hound dog making its way up the hill and dismissed it as the source of the sound. Meanwhile, Stephanie had also came over to look and noticed something else moving along the base of the cliffs and headed for a gully that created a break in them to the top of the ridge. It was a bear! Not close enough for any sort of a decent picture, but at least we got to see it. It didn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry and neither did the dog. Nor was the dog barking to lead his master to him. Based on that, and the fact that a lone dog would be no match for a grown bear, we had high hopes that the bear eventually got away clean and lived to see another day.

Peaks fading into the distance, looking southwest.
From here, we struck out southwest toward the highest point of the ridge. There is a pretty obvious hunter’s path that eventually appears along this section, and a number of dramatic clifftop viewpoints as well. Eventually we crossed over the 3,281’ summit of Green Hill, hitting a couple more views before reaching the scenic climax of the hike. This is a knife-edge crest of bare sandstone tilted up on edge above the trees with an amazing 360º view, not a common occurrence in the mountains of Virginia. The very tiptop of this small eyrie is only big enough for a couple people at a time, though there is enough room nearby for several more. A significant number of the states more notable peaks are visible from here, among them McAfee Knob, the Peaks of Otter, Apple Orchard Mountain, Rocky Mountain, Three Ridges, Elliot Knob, and Big House Mountain. But a nearly countless number of other peaks are in sight as well. It is one of the most exciting spots I have ever discovered entirely on my own. I think everyone else was suitably impressed as well.

From here, the ridgeline route continues southwest to the 3,000’ gap below North Mountain, then bears southeast down a drainage into the valley we started in. The topo shows a trail in this drainage, but in three trips here, I’ve yet to see any trace of it. Part of the drainage is steep, narrow, and very rocky, making for tedious walking. But it doesn’t last too long, then it’s a quick mile back to the trailhead and the waiting car. Now I need to find someone else to show my now not so secret spot to.

The route of the Green Hill hike. To see a larger map click here.

Hike Stats:
11 miles
2,750' cumulative elevation gain

Pictures from this hike

Pictures from other hikes to Green Hill:
December 2010  
January 2010

gpx files and topos

Trailhead Coordinates: 

Google map for trailhead 

Scan QR code to navigate to trailheads with Google Maps on your smartphone:

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