It has been awhile since I felt like I had anything worthwhile to report. This past weekend [July 18-19, 2009], Bill Sublett, Mike Gholson, Ken Hubbard and I did our own little adventure while everyone else was at Catherine's - basically, we ran all of the trails in Massanutten that are south of the Catherine's course.
When I read your [Anstr's] report of your Grand Canyon adventure several years ago (http://www.anstr.com/grand/), I thought that was a much better format than doing the double crossing all in one day. The two times when I went out there after your adventure, I followed the same format - ran from the North Rim to the South Rim, enjoyed a nice dinner and spent the night in the comfort of the lodge, and then ran back to the North Rim on the next day.
I thought this format for designing a running adventure was great and that you don't need to go to the Grand Canyon to do it. Running from your vehicle to some worthwhile destination that has good dining and lodging within a short walking distance, while carrying everything on your back that you will need for the two days of running and your chosen destination was the recipe for an excellent running adventure. So on some trail runs, Bill, Mike and I talked about some potential destinations and logistics. Eventually, we decided to first try this format out with Massanutten Resort as our destination and the weekend that best suited our schedules was the Catherine's weekend. We decided that it would also be great if we could actually cover all of the trails that are on PATC Map H of the South half of Massanutten that are between the southern end of the Catherine's course and the resort. Bill designed the route and also made our arrangements at the resort. Ken accepted our invitation to join in our adventure and we were all set.
It turned out to be great fun as we explored trails that were new to all of us. Everything went smoothly and we all had a great time, both on the trails and hanging out at the resort. We started from the Morgan Run trail head at about 6:15 AM Saturday morning and arrived at the resort a little before 3:00 PM in the afternoon, which gave us plenty of time to relax and joke while downing refreshments, before walking over to an excellent dinner at the nearby Fareway restaurant. The next morning, we started off at 7:00 AM for a second perfect day of being on the trails, and we finished back at our cars at around 12:30 PM. The first day we covered about 20 miles and the second day we ran about 16.5 miles. We could not have had better weather, which I am sure contributed significantly to our fun. All in all, it was a great weekend of being out on new trails for all of us.
We understand that plans are being made within the club to hold some event on some of the trails that we ran on. I think that most of these trails are relatively unexplored by most of the club's membership. We wanted to provide some intel on what to expect and so I am providing a brief account of what we found. To follow this account's descripion, it will probably be helpful to have Map H handy. We also captured GPS track logs of our routes which I am including as an attachment. And here is a link to some pictures I have uploaded of our adventure.
I had low expectations on what we would find for trail conditions. I have always thought that the Massanutten Trail from the top of Morgan Run trail to Pitt Spring is a pretty crappy trail - and this was more or less my expectation of what we would find as we went south. However, we were quite surprised at the quality and beauty of the trails we found. Most of the trails we were on were a true joy to experience and now I am surprised that our club has generally seemed to have such little knowledge of these great trails.
The topography of the mountains in the southern end of the Massanuttens is significantly different than what one finds in the north end. There are basically four mountains - with descriptive names like First Mountain, Second Mountain, Third Mountain and Fourth Mountain.
We started up the yellow blazed Morgan Run Trail. It displayed its typical beauty as we crossed back and forth over the stream as we ascended. At the top, we turned left on the orange blazed Massanutten Trail heading South. At this point, the Massanutten Trail is still following the Morgan Run stream bed, so we were still climbing and the trail would be wet in places. It was also wide, having more of a two track feel to it. And of course, there were plenty of rocks. In a short while, we topped out on a saddle and then started going gradually downhill on the Massanutten Trail. The ridge line we were following was Massanutten Mountain until we got to Fridley Gap. Once we crossed over to the other side of Fridley Gap, we were then on Fourth Mountain.
As we got to the top of the saddle and approached the intersection with the purple blazed Fridley Gap Trail, the trail dried out and its character generally improved, though it was still plenty rocky. At the top of the saddle, it was like an old road, but as we neared the intersection, it became more of a single track. We first passed the Fridley Gap intersection heading to our left and to the East and continued on about a hundred yards to the intersection heading West. At this intersection is a beautiful stream with several swimming holes. The trail is in excellent condition and the forest is in great shape here. We turned right here to do the out and back to the parking lot, following the Fridley Gap westward alongside the stream. Shortly, the trail splits and you can take either way as they provide a loop down to the parking lot at the bottom. This parking lot would be an excellent location for an aid station. And you could direct runners down one of the splits to the parking lot and then send them up the other split as they leave the parking lot. We did the loop as we headed back up to the Massanutten Trail again.
Once back at the Massanutten Trail, we turned right and continued to head South, following the orange blazes. Almost immediately, we got off trail and stayed off for about fifteen minutes. The trail makes a right turn and crosses over the stream. But the turn is poorly marked and it seems like the trail is straight and continues on. So beware and look for this right turn across the stream almost immediately after passing the Fridley Gap Trail's westward intersection.
Once back on trail, the Massanutten Trail ascends Fourth Mountain towards Grubbs Knob. The trail is in very good condition and is very nice to be on. The climb was noticeable, but not particularly difficult. As the trail approaches the knob, it turns off to the left and East and descends off the Fourth Mountain with some gentle and long switchbacks. At the bottom is a stream and we are now climbing up the west flank of Third Mountain. During this climb there are nice views looking back to Fourth Mountain. Then the trail bears to the right and drops a short way down the east side of Third Mountain. In a saddle, we come to a four way intersection with another section of the purple blazed Fridley Gap, coming in from the left and continuing straight ahead. We take the trail going to the right, which continues to be blazed orange. This is still part of the Massanutten Trail, but on the map it is also labeled as the Boone Run Trail. This trail gently descends in the gap between the ridges formed by Third and Second Mountain, generally heading South. Soon we pass the turn off for Boone Run Shelter and come to the intersection with the blue blazed Second Mountain Trail. We continue to follow the orange blazed Boone Run trail as it turns left towards the East on down to its intersection with Cub Run Road. Again, this is all very nice trail that we have been on - all the way from when we got off trail to the end of the Massanutten Trail down where it runs into Cub Run Road. We are now at Runkles Gap.
According to PATC Map H, there is another trail head here for a trail named "Caution: Not Maintained Not Blazed". This trail, if we could find it, should take us all the way into the resort. But its trail head is not particularly obvious and it is not marked from either the Massanutten Trail or Cub Run Road. So we decide to explore a bit to see if we can find it. And we do. Just before we had gotten to Cub Run Road on the Massanutten Trail, we had passed a Smokey The Bear sign. When we looked behind that sign, we found the unmarked trail (http://tinyurl.com/luxrpz). For an unmarked and unmaintained trail, it was actually pretty well defined and easy to follow. We came across three or four blowdowns that we had to bushwack around, but nothing bad enough to make us want to turn back. Most of the trail ascends an old stream bed, so we just follow this south as we do a gradual climb. Eventually that trail gets up into a saddle and leaves the stream bed. It is also around this time that it starts to be better defined and appears to be better maintained. We come across a family hiking out from the resort and know we are nearing it. Finally, we arrive at a gate and a paved road, noting some of the resort's condo units off to our left as we exit the gate. We turn right on the paved road and do a short climb up to the ridge line on the road. There is a parking area for overlook viewing on the left and the Second Mountain trail head is on our right. We stop and enjoy the views from the overlook and take some pictures.
It is not marked on PATC Map H, but in studying the Massanutten Resort site, we had come across a map of the resort that indicated there was a ridge trail that circled around "The Kettle" that the resort was in, going all the way to the end of Massanutten Peak at the very south end of the whole Massanuten range. The trail finished as it turned back to the north and brought you down into the resort on the ski slopes. There was a well marked trail head in the parking lot and we started down it, running into several groups of hikers exploring from the overlook parking lot.
This ridge trail is blue blazed and it starts off very nice. After about a half mile or so though, it becomes a relentless series of sawtooth ridge boulder climbs and scrambles. We spent the next two hours clambering up and down boulder piles as we slowly worked our way the two miles along the ridge line. It was an exhausting way to finish our day's trekking. I feel comfortable in proclaiming this section to be the most difficult in all of Massanutten. Fortunately, we were rewarded with a spectacular view as we reached Massanutten Peak. This is probably one of the best view points in all of Virginia. Looking south you could see the whole expanse of Shenandoah Valley. Looking north you could see the whole resort complex in "The Kettle" of Massanutten and the ridge line we had just traversed to get to our view point. Looking through the gap in the Kettle, you could see more of Shenandoah Valley to the north.
In the same general area as the Massanutten Peak viewing area were several fenced off towers and maintenance buildings with plenty of signage telling us to stay out. But you could continue on the blue blazed ridge trail by just continuing to move forward along the ridge line. In a short while the trail takes you out on to the ski slope right by a small ski patrol cabin. We sat on the front porch of the cabin and took a brief break. After some exploring, we determined that the trail no longer stays on the ridge line. Instead, it descends into the resort on one of the ski slopes alongside one of the lifts. We followed the trail to the bottom of the mountain and headed over to the general store for some refreshments.
After obtaining our drinks of choice at the store, we walked over to the hotel's security office to pick up our room keys. Bill had stopped by the resort checkin office (located about 2.5 miles away from the actual hotel) to pay our bill while on his way to the trail head in the morning. This allowed us to just pick up our keys from the security office when we arrived at the hotel - we had really wanted to avoid adding an additional five miles on to our run just to be able to check in!
After getting our keys, Bill and Mike proclaimed they had still not had enough, while Kenny and I were eagerly anticipating the refreshments we were carrying in our brown paper bags. So Bill and Mike headed out on Rainier Road and climbed up to and descended back from Massanutten Peak, where we had previously enjoyed the great views. Kenny and I enjoyed the forest view from the back porch of one of our rooms, savoring our refreshments and a great day spent on the trails. Soon, Bill and Mike returned to join us as we all joked and chatted about the trails we had been on that day.
After relaxing and getting cleaned up, we headed over to a dinner at the Fareway Restaurant, an easy 3/4 mile walk from our hotel. Kenny generously treated us all to an excellent dinner and great wine. We were all in high spirits as we walked back to our rooms, where we quickly turned in.
The next morning, we got started at at 7:00 AM. We headed up Del Webb Drive to the blue blazed Second Mountain Trail head at the overlook where we had taken the ridge trail the previous afternoon. The Second Mountain Trail was a fantastic ridge line trail that was pine needle covered and offering great views off the ridge in either direction. This trail paralleled the unmarked and unmaintained trail that we came into the resort on the previous day, offering a great loop opportunity. It was definitely one of the best sections of trail we were to traverse all weekend. As it neared its north end, it started to descend into the Boone Run stream valley. The descent was quite runnable and we all enjoyed the run to its intersection with the orange blazed Massanutten Trail near the Boone Run Shelter. We turned right on to the Massanutten Trail and followed it back down to its end at Cub Run Road, just as we had on the previous day.
At the intersection, we turned left to follow Cub Run Road north for the next couple of miles. Cub Run Road does a gentle climb in the ravine separating First and Second Mountains from each other. Because it is a climb, we walk the couple of miles to the purple blazed Fridley Gap Trail's easternmost trail head where we turn left to begin its ascent. The Fridley Gap Trail's head on Cub Run Road is relatively unremarkable and easy to miss. If we were not expecting it, we could have easily passed it by. There is a grassy clearing visible through the trees on our left just before we come upon the trail head - this is probably the best clue for locating this trail head.
The ascent of the Fridley Gap Trail is like climbing up a steep, washed out gully. We are slow as we patiently navigate up the ascent of this narrow single track trail. I definitely preferred climbing it to trying to descend it. After a short period of climbing, the trail opened up to some good views and we were able to get some good pictures of the valley to the East of the mountains. Then the trail leveled off and we ran into the same four way intersection that we had come into the previous day from a different direction. After the four way intersection, the trail becomes a two track fire road type of trail. We stayed on the purple blazed Fridley Gap trail coming out of the four way intersection as it gently descended to the intersection with Martin Bottom Trail. We knew we would eventually be continuing on the Martin Bottom Trail, but first, we were going to do an out-n-back, continuing on the Fridley Gap Trail to its intersection with the Massanutten Trail, which we had passed by on the previous day. We needed this out-n-back to pick up this segment for our GPS track. The out-n-back entailed turning left off the main two track fire road we had just been travelling on to more single track trail. This required a short, steep climb to the top, followed by about a 1000 foot drop down to the Massanutten Trail, immediately followed by the 1000 foot return climb and short descent back to our starting point for this offshoot.
Once back at the intersection with the Martin Bottom fire road, we turned left to get back on the two track fire road, following the Martin Bottom fire road to its intersection with Cub Run Road. Once at Cub Run Road, we turned left and ran the next 2.5 miles back to our cars, finishing our run for this weekend.
The weekend's running was a lot of fun and the easy two day format for doing this run made for a great adventure. We were all surprised at the high quality of the trails we traversed and how well maintained they were. These trails are truly some gems worthy of the extra effort it may take to get to them.
I hope that some of the details provided here will be useful to others considering using these trails. Who knows, perhaps an event might even be able to be hosted from the Massanutten Resort complex?