Middle Prong & Shining Rock Wilderness First Trip - Uphillhike
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Middle Prong & Shining Rock Wilderness First Trip

September 9, 2011 – Friday Night

Along a dark stretch of road next to Lake Logan I slowed as I approached a car that had run into a ditch. I stopped to ask whether anyone was hurt and I quickly saw that the only “hurt” was the “hurt” that a bottle of liquor can put on a person. This guy and his girlfriend were otherwise okay. He obviously didn’t want 911 involved. I told him that I couldn’t pull his car out of the ditch and I moved on. Most cars that came along weren’t stopping.

At the Starburst campground/picnic area I attempted to locate the trailhead. There was no sign and no sign of a trail; only woods and undergrowth. I met the campground attendant as she was closing the gate at 10 PM. She explained the location of the trailheads, although she only recalled the Green Mountain Trail after much reflection.

Instead of paying $13 for a campsite, I took the forest road on the right just before the bridge. Immediately after fording a creek, I pulled into a camping spot on the left. The next morning, I used my camp box and Coleman stove to cook a breakfast of eggwhite’s on tortillas. I parked at the picnic area and payed the $6 two night parking fee by dropping an envelope in the pay station.

September 10, 2011, Saturday

Note on how to find the trailhead..

The Green Mountain Trail is only a few feet beyond the bridge on the right side of the road. The roadside is overgrown and there are no signs so you just have to plunge into the woods in order to see the trail. The trail immediately turns left and heads very steeply up the hill for the next three quarters of a mile. There is also a trail that continues straight along the creek. The creek trail isn’t the right one.

Well Hidden Trailhead for Green Mountain Trail…..

Green Mountain Trail continues along the ridgeline for it’s entire length. If you veer far from the ridgeline, then you have gotten off the trail. After the first three quarters of a mile, you get your first short break, but not for long. The trail continues ascending steeply, but not with the “near crawl up the slope” steepness of the first part.

Wrong Turn:

Name: False trail
Date: Sep 10, 2011 11:56 am
(valid until Mar 13, 2012)
View on Map
iPhone/iPad Map: Maps Application
Zone: 17S
Easting: 325319mE
Northing: 3911858mN
Altitude: 5,800 ft

Near one of the mountain tops, I continued straight on a trail as the Green Mountain trail veered a little to the left and uphill. Although harder to follow, this trail continued with a worn path, descending then turning further to the left and away from the ridgeline. After a quarter mile, I stopped to examine the map. I figured out how to use GPM Easting and Northing coordinates with map & GPS by reading the instructions given on the map and going to “settings” on my GPS Iphone App to change coordinates to GPM. This confirmed that I was off course so I backtracked up the mountain to regain the trail.

(I found a slow water seep during the detour. It might be dry at times.)

Name: Water Seasonal
Date: Sep 10, 2011 11:41 am
(valid until Mar 13, 2012)
View on Map
iPhone/iPad Map: Maps Application
Zone: 17S
Easting: 325729mE
Northing: 3911779mN
Altitude: 5,622 ft

There were no other people on this trail and it had a generous portion of rock outcroppings, narrow ridges, and open balds that made nice viewing and camping areas. The hidden trailhead and wicked first mile of the trail made it a little used paradise.

With no signs and hard to follow trail, I already distrusted any apparent path. At about 5 miles by GPS, I knew that I should be picking up the Mountain to Sea Trail. Finally, I made a left turn on the MST and covered about a mile to a stream where I filled my 2 Liter.  After filling the 2 liter, I hiked the wrong way nearly the entire way back to the Green Mountain Trail.

Just before the Green Mountain Trail intersection I encountered my first person. Scott was thru-hiking the MST and was headed in the opposite direction. He asked whether he was going in the right direction. We soon discovered that we both intended to hike toward the Art Loeb trail.  One of us had to be wrong. I checked my GPS App track and saw a double line that indicated that I had been backtracking. I had already been here! I couldn’t believe it. We got out the maps and I finally convinced myself that I had lost my mind. This was the first “wrong way” for me. I began backtracking my backtrack and the GPS trace began drawing the third line across the same section of trail. Scott and I hiked together most of the way. The MST had some nice cliffs along this section. I camped a couple hundred yards up the Art Loeb Trail intersection. Art Loeb and MST share a trail at this point.

September 11, 2001 – Sunday

My back was sore and I was tired so I was a little slower than usual in getting started. After coffee and a large oatmeal I headed out on the MST the wrong way. This time I only walked about 200 yards before coming to the signed Art Loeb/Mountain to Sea trail junction. Seeing the sign, I turned around and headed in the right direction.

I began seeing large camping groups and borrowed water from first one group, then a second group I found car camping at a road crossing. With my 2 Liter filled again, I didn’t need to worry about finding water sources. I was soon in open bald areas that looked down on the distant Blue Ridge Parkway. I could see the Parkway bending as it ascended the mountain range. It was something to think that in June I had been riding my bicycle up that long climb. There were many people on this section. I summited Black Balsalm Mountain and Tennent Mountain before the crowds began to thin somewhat. This area has great wide open views with elevations at or above 6000 feet.

At Ivestor Gap, I re-entered the wilderness where there was once again a total absence of signs. I soon took a wrong turn as I crossed Grassy Bald. Somehow I ended up on the Big East Fork trail, covering 45 minutes of hiking (2 miles and beyond Grassy Gap) before realizing that I was on the wrong trail.  I backtracked uphill to Ivestor Gap and took the flat road trail on the west side of Grassy Bald. I think the original Art Loeb trail leads past an erosion control sign (only sign in wilderness) and straight over the top of Grassy Bald.

At Shining Rock Gap there was another major intersection with multiple trails and no signs. Other hikers told me that the Art Loeb went straight ahead up to Shining Rock. This was wrong. Actually the Old Butt Knob trail starts off by heading from Shining Rock Gap to Shining Rock. I became very lost in the Shining Rock area and walked past the rock and farther down the Old Butt Knob trail before backtracking and wandering around through mazes of false trails on narrow paths cut through shoulder high hedges of thick laurel. After a late lunch break on the Shining Rock I started back toward Ivestor Gap. It was past 3 PM and I knew I wasn’t going to complete my original plan to hike to Cold Mountain and back. All of the backtracking had worn me out and put me off schedule.

I explored  a short way down each trail leading from the Shining Rock Gap trail intersection. Soon I was sure that I could identify each trail. I took the Art Loeb Trail on the return hike to Ivestor Gap. After passing a good water source a few yards from the gap and crossing over the top of a couple of peaks, the trail was blocked with a pile of sticks with a diversion to the east side of the ridge line.  This must have been the other side of the erosion control section of the trail. It wasn’t long before I recognized this diversion trail. I had been on this portion when I had become lost somewhere on the Big East Fork Trail. I recognized narrow waste deep trenches running down the middle of the trail. I continued to follow this trail until I came back out at Ivestor Gap. I still have no clue of how this route could have put me onto the Big East Fork. That will remain a mystery.

My next big concern was in finding the Fork Mountain Trail. Everyone I had spoken to had never seen it, though several had looked for it. Following the continuation of the Equestrian Road/Bike Path from Ivestor Gap, I followed the map and looked carefully for the trailhead. Following this road/path about a mile beyond Ivestor Gap toward the Blue Ridge Parkway, it finally intersected with a ridgeline that led north. Here was an overgrown trailhead.

Standing at the trailhead, was a guy named Seth. I asked him whether this was the Fork Mountain Trailhead. He said yes and told me that it had been some time since he had hiked on the trail and that would come along with me part way.

We parted the branches and entered the trail. It was completely overgrown. Seth walked in front, moving quickly; crashing through the undergrowth. The trail more or less followed the ridgeline, dropping a little off to the left (west) at times. Seth began talking and the growth became thicker. Pretty soon, Seth was far enough ahead that I couldn’t see him through the undergrowth, but I could still hear him talking. The loud noise of me moving through undergrowth kept me from being able to hear what he was saying. After about a mile we descended into a large open gap. I set up camp here. Suprisingly, there was already a man and a dog already camping here.

I had Idahoan Instant Potatoes mixed with left over lunch rice and vegetables. It was hard to eat it all, but I didn’t want to leave any for the bears.

There was a full moon for the 2nd night. The night sky was bright as soon as the moon rose. It rained a little during the night. I listened to podcasts of “The News from Lake Wobegone” and I wondered how hard it would be to follow tomorrow’s trail.

September 12, 2011, Monday

There was a little over 5 miles remaining; however, without signs and a little used and overgrown trail, I was concerned about becoming lost again. I had downloaded the GPS track for the Fork Mountain Trail before the trip. This time, I used my Iphone App “Follow Track” feature to keep me on course. This feature kept track of my position as I accurately following the downloaded track.

The trail followed a narrow ridgeline with several spectacular outcroppings that provided good views of the next ridgeline where the Green Mountain Trail runs. The last of the bad overgrowth was behind me and the trail was much easier to follow. There were a few places that required search and thought, but I had the GPS track to follow so I could be sure not to stray too far off the path. Soon I made it back to Starburst without getting turned around or lost; a first!