Saturday, March 23, 2013

Anthony Knobs and North Mountain - Caves and Cliffs

Near Pete's Cave. Photo by Dave Socky

I had another great day exploring new peaks and new views in the mountains of Virginia, and enjoying some old views again to share them with friends. Today I joined up with Tommy Bell and +David Socky to hike up Anthony Knobs in the Allegheny Highlands, then doing a second hike nearby.

Wanting to hike a loop over Anthony Knobs first, we found the road to the trailhead at the Longdale Recreation Area to still be gated and closed for the season. This would have necessitated an extra two miles or so of hiking on the road, but by driving a few more miles, we were able to start at an alternate trailhead farther south, along Sinking Creek.

Looking over the Cowpasture River Valley towards Rough, Mill, and Brushy Mountains from Anthony Knobs.
Only problem was that we couldn’t find the trail we were looking for which the map showed heading straight for the top of the mountain. We did find a trail, but it was a hideous tangle of blowdowns and we quickly decided we weren’t going that way. Back at the trailhead, we found what was apparently the other leg of the loop, heading back toward the first trailhead. We decided we would follow it and see where it went, and make any adjustments or bushwhacks that might be required to do the loop I had in mind. We soon turned uphill on an old woods road and seemed to be moving onto the shorter of the two possible loops here. It eventually turned into a footpath and didn’t seem to exactly match the map I had, nor had it been maintained in some time - but it generally went the right way, and I tend to enjoy following faint and abandoned trails, and seeing where they go. Sure enough we eventually gained the crest of the mountain and a trail sign.
Dave on a steep slope.
 The continuation towards the Longdale area was obvious, but thanks to a blowdown, it took a little looking to spot where it headed toward the top. After a short distance, it became a sidehill trail on a steep slope, not a ridgeline trail as the map showed. It kept going the right way though, and eventually ran onto another old woods road. This took us to the edge of the National Forest boundary and private property, but there are some views to the southwest from here, as this is the edge of an old clearcut. The steep-sided summit cone of the 2,460’ peak is also in view, but is just off of the National Forest. It is possible, however, to bushwhack up to the ridgeline along the boundary line and also get some good views to the north, towards Iron Gate, Griffith Knob, and the mountains around Douthat State Park.

The next challenge was finding a reasonable way down. There was absolutely no trace of a trail where the map showed one descending easterly along the boundary line, and we didn’t want to end up in the tangled mess we had attempted to start the hike in. Fortunately, Dave had noticed that his gps showed a trail a little farther northeast, which descended back to the valley. Incidentally, this trail is not on the USGS topo, the USFS topo, nor the Trails Illustrated map of this area. But, lo and behold, after spreading out across the hillside where it supposedly started, we actually found it.
Tonka getting a drink.
The upper part was faint, had a number of blowdowns across it, and varied a bit from what the gps showed, but it was there and even had some faded old blazes. It got a little more distinct farther down and eventually merged onto the trail shown on the paper maps - of which there was no sign of it continuing up the mountain. Surprisingly, and a bit embarrassingly, it came out right at the spot we had hoped to start the hike from, in the one spot we hadn’t looked at closely enough because there was a large mud puddle there. It even had a piece of flagging at the start which we had all three somehow missed seeing! But all’s well that ends well, and we headed for the next hike.
Tommy and I atop the cliffs of North Mountain. Photo by Dave Socky
I had done most of this hike once before with my girlfriend +Leanne, and Tommy had also been on the first half mile or so of it with me last year. But there is more to see, and farther to go. Big rewards come quick, as there are several spectacular cliff-top views south and east in the first 3/10 mile that include Big Butt, Big House and Little House Mountains, and many peaks in the Central Blue Ridge. This is followed by 2 ½ more miles of easy hiking on a nice ridgeline trail to an area of massive sandstone blocks that provide more great views, one of House Mountain from a different perspective, as well as great views north that include Anthony Knobs and many of the same mountains we could see from there. There are also a couple of large talus/fissure caves just off the trail in this same area. One is more of a narrow corridor between two blocks, open to the sky at first, with the back half under a roof and more cave-like, with a total length of perhaps 150’. The larger one, which we didn’t actually climb down into because of wet, muddy rock above a 10’ drop (I know, that’s a pretty lame excuse) - and assuming it is indeed the correct one - is known as Pete’s Cave, and supposedly has around 400’ of passage.
Dave in the fissure passage of "Not Pete's Cave".

We continued a few tenths of a mile farther and made a short off-trail jaunt to the top of Peak 3260, something I hadn’t done on my first hike here with Leanne. This is a so-called soft ranked peak, because based on the contours of the topo map it has an interpolated, or average, prominence of less than 300’, but whose same unknown true summit and saddle elevations could very well give it an optimistic or “dirty” prominence of over 300’. The number of such peaks is not insignificant. Virginia has a total of 1,554 ranked peaks, based on having a minimum of 300’ of average prominence. That is to say that if you wanted to compile a list of every true peak in Virginia ranked from highest to lowest, you would have a list that started with 5,729’ Mount Rogers in the #1 spot and 791’ Mount Pony at the end of the list at #1554. Wilburn Ridge, at 5,540’ is ostensibly the #3 peak , but it only has 160’ of prominence - a minor bump, not a peak - so it doesn’t count. However, there are an additional 169 of these “soft” ranked peaks that don’t fall within those rankings - but quite possibly belong there. If you’re working on completing a peaklist based on elevation, these are often nagging peaks that you wonder if you need to do “just in case”. Ah, the things peakbaggers worry about...
Dave in the jumble of talus near Pete's Cave.

But just because a summit isn’t ranked, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth visiting. Not at all. Wilburn Ridge is arguably the most spectacular spot in Virginia, certainly one of them. Likewise, while Peak 3260 doesn’t deserve any such accolades, there was nevertheless a small outcrop at the very top that had some good views to the south, and a rather spectacular view of Big House and Little House Mountains, justification enough for climbing it in my book.

On the outcrops near Pete's Cave, with Anthony Knobs, Rich Patch Mountain, and Nicholls Knob in the distance.
Big Butt, Big House Mountain, Little House Mountain, and the distant Blue Ridge from Peak 3260.

The route of the Anthony Knobs loop. To view a larger map click here.

The route of the North Mountain hike. To view a larger map click here.

Hike Stats:
Anthony Knobs loop - 6.25 miles, 1,600' cumulative elevation gain
North Mountain and Peak 3260 -  8.3 miles, 1,360' cumulative elevation gain

Pictures from these hikes

More pictures from North Mountain
April 2012
October 2009

gpx files and maps for Anthony Knobs
gpx files and maps for North Mountain
USFS page for the Anthony Knob Trail
USFS page for the Blue Suck Run Trail
USFS page for North Mountain Trail
Hiking Near Lexington

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Anthony Knobs trailhead coordinates:
Google Map for trailhead

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

View Larger Map
North Mountain trailhead coordinates:
Google Map for trailhead

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


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