Crab Tree Falls Trail Ride

I thought I would set up another theme type trail ride for September since we haven’t had one since the trail ride and winery tour earlier in the year. We would take on a trail most of the participants have not been on, camp overnight, and visit a museum. No matter how well you plan it usually doesn’t come to fruition.

…it was Fred’s first time driving off-road and Fred hadn’t quite adjusted from the on-road mentality and wasn’t accustom to the slow pace. He’s more use to driving like a bat out of hell.

The participants for this planned excursion were:

  • Larry and Berna Pope, Blue JK Wrangler, Members
  • Gary Owens and son Kyle, White TJ Rubicon, Member
  • Ed Nutter, Black YJ Wrangler, Member with Guests Joclyn Beane and Lauren Nutter
  • Robert Rixham, Silver 4Runner, Member
  • Fred Granruth, sharing Robert’s Silver 4Runner, Member

The plan was to head down to central Virginia and do the Shoe Creek Trail, hike to Crabtree Falls, and visit the Walton’s Mountain Museum in Schuler (pronounced Skyler), Virginia. Gary and Kyle met me and Berna at our house early Saturday morning and then we headed south to the meeting spot in Gainesville, VA to meet up with the others. Everyone going on the trail ride and tour were to meet at the 7-11 on US 29 in Gainesville and everyone was on time. Thank you Ed! After a quick briefing from me as to what was planned we hit US 29 South for Crabtree Falls Campground in Tyro, VA. Directions to campground and trail head are at the end of this report.

Crabtree Falls Campground (“Virginia’s best kept secret.” “Just west of nowhere straight south of heaven.”), is ½ mile from the base of Crabtree Falls, which is the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. However, somebody forgot to turn the water on during our visit. Anyway, the falls and trail we would run are located within the George Washington National Forest and Priest Wilderness Area. The campground hosts and owners, Dave and Sue Mathes, are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.

We arrived at the campground Saturday afternoon as planned, checked in, set up our camp sites, and went over plans for the rest of the day. As I stated earlier the plans for the weekend were to camp, trail ride, see falls, and go to museum. So we decided to do a trail ride Saturday (round trip) then on Sunday hike to the falls, trail ride one way, go to museum, and then folks would head home or wherever the road may take them. That was the plan.

If you are between the ages of 28 and 128 you have to be familiar with the TV series “The Waltons”. We had four in the group age 25 and younger who didn’t have a clue what we old geezers were talking about. So for you others who are clueless, the show was about a family living in central VA during the Great Depression and then on through World War II. The family went through difficult times and turmoil but always seemed to come through it all through faith and so forth. The writer of the show grew up in Schuler and based the story (show) from his childhood. The Walton family would go to Crabtree Falls for picnics and such. So see the theme here? The Walton’s Mountain Museum has some of the stage sets used during filming displayed and the history of making the series along with the writer’s autobiography. The museum is located in the old school house across the road from where the writer/author lived. There is actually a Walton’s Mountain, but on private land and not accessible to the public. If you have never seen “The Waltons” you can still catch the show most anytime of the day on some of those touchy feely channels. I digress. Where was I? Oh yea, so we headed for the trail head that is about 2.5 miles from the campground.

Arriving at the trailhead, which is the top access to the falls trail and parking area, we all aired down our tires. I asked Gary to lead us in and I would be lead on the return trip. So it was Gary (Kyle decided to stay in camp); Fred and Robert; Ed with Joclyn and Lauren; then me and Berna on the ride up the mountain. Fred was driving Robert’s 4Runner and it was his maiden off-road driving experience. This was a good moderate trail to learn on. This particular trail is full of rocks, deep wash outs, off-camber obstacles, creek crossings, and steep steps up and down along the trail. I must say Fred did an outstanding job. It was also Lauren’s first off-road experience. I think Ed tried to scare her a couple times. I know he scared me a couple of times and I wasn’t riding with him. For whatever reason Ed was using a lot of brake for the downhill portions and some of the more difficult areas on the trail. Come to find out he wasn’t using 4 Low. Once we got that corrected he was OK for a while, until.

As we continued on the trail it seemed as though Ed was having some issues getting over some rocks along the way, six inch rocks, and other obstacles. It was like the YJ didn’t have the oomph. But we worked with him and continued on. Later on a horn beeped ahead of us and I said to Berna “is someone blowing their damn horn?” Berna replied, “Yes, you heard it why are you asking me? You toot your own horn all the time.” You would think I would have learned by now. I called over the CB asking who was blowing their horn and if there was an issue. Robert responded back it was Fred. So I responded telling Fred to keep his thumbs from the center of the steering wheel and leave the horn alone. We pressed on. Then again there was that distinctive Toyota tweet. Fred!!!

We finally reached a point to turn around to head back down the mountain. Gary and I noticed a couple of the off shoot trails had been closed by the Forest Service. One of the trails was a good trail that went pretty much straight up part of the mountain. We had a couple tree obstacles to get by last year when we were there. We started back with me in the lead with Gary as the caboose this time. As we started back down we all noticed Ed was having some real issues getting back through some of the rough stuff. After a couple areas with rocks and slick soil it was getting more difficult for him. It was taking him several tries to get up and over a ledge or whatever. Then it was apparent what the problem was, no drive in the front axle. There was an issue with the transfer case or the front differential, either way his front tires were not pulling. Ed didn’t give up and made it back off the trail under his own power. Good job Ed! Everyone made it back to camp in one piece. The plan was to have everyone meet at the camp site Berna and I were sharing with Gary and Kyle. While we were gone Kyle had gathered some fire wood for the camp fire later on. Everyone brought their drinks and food and eventually Gary built a good size camp fire.

As we sat around the fire eating and enjoying each other’s company I brought up the fact about Fred blowing the horn on the trail. Robert said it was Fred’s first time driving off-road and Fred hadn’t quite adjusted from the on-road mentality and wasn’t accustom to the slow pace. He’s more use to driving like a bat out of hell. So Robert said Fred was blowing the horn because he was suffering from “Trail Rage”. So if you are on a trail ride with Fred and hear a horn blow just ignore it, it’s only Fred in a rage. Everyone had a good laugh over that one. It was getting late and it had been a long day so everyone said their good nights and turned in.

We woke up Sunday morning to great weather, in fact the weather was perfect all weekend. After breakfast everyone packed their gear and checked out with Dave and Sue. Naturally some souvenirs were purchased from the campground store. I led us out back to the trail head at the top of the falls. We parked and everyone except Fred headed out on the 1.7 mile hiking trail to the falls. The trail is mostly downhill to the top of the falls. You know what that means; the return trip is 1.7 miles up hill, completely. The last three to get back to the parking area were the three “old” guys, refer to accompanying photo album to see who they may be. They made it and that’s all that matters.

All the others were already starting to each lunch when the old guys finally showed up. After a few minutes to let their heart rates return to a somewhat normal rate, they too decided to eat a little something before hitting the trail in their rigs. Gary again took the lead with me pulling up last. Robert was driving the 4Runner this trip. No one had any problems on the trail, even with Ed’s transfer case issues, and we eventually reached the end of the trail around 2:30 Sunday afternoon. We began to air up our tires and I knew we would not be able to make it to the museum before it closed. It closes at 3 pm on Sundays and it was an hour’s drive away. As I stated earlier it doesn’t matter how well you plan it doesn’t always happen the way you planned. Maybe some other time we can go to the museum. See, all that matters is everyone had a good time, at least I hope they did, and the weather was perfect. Fred had his first off-road driving experience and Lauren had her first off-road ride experience. Just look out for those guys who like to blow their own horn on the trail.

Directions to Crabtree Falls Campground:
From Washington, DC: Take 66 W to route 29 S. About 35 miles south of Charlottesville turn right on 56 W. Go 1 mile and turn right on 655 at the Roseland sign. Approximately 4 miles to the stop sign, turn left, cross over the bridge and turn right on 56 W, Crabtree Falls Highway, go 11 miles then look for the entrance to Crabtree Falls Campground on your left.

Directions to Shoe Creek Trail Head:
Same as above only go past campground entrance for approximately 1.5 miles. Turn left onto Meadow Lane and follow road up the mountain to the falls parking area. You can air down here. Make a left when leaving parking area and continue on the trail.

Trail report written by Larry Pope. Pictures courtesy of Larry and Berna Pope, Robert Rixham, and Fred Granruth.

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