In keeping with CORE’s annual New Years tradition I decided to host this years New Years Trail Ride. I tried to find something that would have something for everyone and so landed on a trip to George Washington National Forest to Flagpole and Reddish Knobs. Due to New Years falling mid-week we pushed the ride back to the 3rd, Saturday. Attending this year were the following.
Just a few hundred feet from Flagpole Knob there was a sudden change in the world around us. Everything was covered in a thick sheet of ice.
- Andrew and Cherie – Silver Nissan Xterra
- Kevin and Gigi – Silver Lexus LX450
- Serguei and Sebastian – Blue Jeep JKU
Cherie and I headed to Harrisonburg from Charlottesville where we were still visiting her family for the holidays. Kevin and Serguei had met in up in Frederick and caravaned down together so we could all meet at the Sheetz in Harrisonburg. After everyone said hello and got last minute provisions and fuel we loaded up and headed out.
The forecast was for rain and freezing rain in the area, something that had postponed the New Years Run in 2013 for 2 weeks. I however had decided to still lead the trip this day because the ground temps had been in the 40’s the last few days, I thought surely we’d have no issues! As we approached George Washington National Forest on US-33 we dealt with just light rain. No slick conditions, just a bland gray day.
We turned left onto Skidmore Fork Road and we’re finally on dirt. We road the washboard dirt road and took a left to get closer to the Switzer Lake. We pulled over and everyone aired down to make the ride better. We really weren’t expecting any need for the extra traction, but the softer ride is nice on rough roads. Kevin ended up not airing down as he realized his new to him LX450 was already riding at a low pressure. Kevin and Gigi let Zeus, their dog, out to run around for a bit, then we loaded back up and got on our way toward Flagpole.
The plan for the day was to first go to Flagpole Knob, then on to Reddish Knob, exploring some side roads on the map along the way. Eat at Reddish, then backtrack nearly to Flagpole and then turn to take a road towards Meadows Knob, eventually passing through the Meadow and eventually back out of the park. A nice relaxing trip with just enough fun spots to keep it interesting!
As we started to climb the mountain toward Flagpole though we started to see freezing rain that had stuck to the trees. At first it was light, a welcome frozen precipitation sighting that made it feel more like a winter run! At one point we came upon some downed pine tree branches that we were able to go over, we thought they had been cut down. Soon we came upon a small tree that had fallen across the road, but this was too tall to just drive over. We got out to investigate and found the ground slightly slick in some spots. Serguei pulled out a Ka-Bar Cutless knife and made quick work of cutting the tree so we could push it off the trail. We moved on. Just a few hundred feet from Flagpole Knob there was a sudden change in the world around us. Everything was covered in a thick sheet of ice. We each slid as we tried to turn onto Flagpole.
Flagpole was covered in 1/8in of ice, you could see the billowing fog coming across the knob, but that was all we could see. There was no view, just fog, and thick ice on all the grass, ground, and trees! Just walking was treacherous. We decided to continue on, assuming this was a small area of this kind of ice. However we soon found the entire path to Reddish Knob was covered in the 1/8in thick layer of ice. No matter how built your vehicle is, ice is the great equalizer unless you have chains on your tires!
At one point I stopped to get out and assess the path in front of us, an off-camber downhill dirt road that appeared to be covered in ice. I put the Xterra in park, opened the door, and the vehicle started sliding, ever so slightly. It stopped a few inches later, but not before the point was made, we were on treacherous ground! All 3 of us drove at a snails pace hoping that once we got to the paved road near the summit of Reddish Knob we could take the paved road off this icy mountain. Somewhere along the ridge between Flagpole and Reddish Knob one of the ice laden pine tree branches we were all driving through managed to nearly break Kevins passenger side mirror off the vehicle! On we continued. Upon getting to the paved road however we discovered it had not been treated at all, and had the same 1/8in of ice on it. It however was slightly worse though since being paved it had less bumpy texture to give our tires even a little something to grip!
After a brief break for food, and a discussion about our situation, we decided to call it a day and take our chances headed down the paved road, to the left, which on the map did not have switchbacks like the right did. We got onto the paved road and kept our right tires just off the pavement so that we had something touching the softer earth beside the iced pavement. Within a half mile or so conditions improved. The road became wet, and about a mile after that the thick fog that had limited our visibility all day to approximately 100ft vanished!
Once off the mountain we decided we had ample time to checkout a local attraction I had wanted to surprise everyone with. We headed south until we came to the Natural Chimneys Park and Campground. In addition to the interesting geological features the park is named after it appeared to be a nice campground that would allow a group like CORE to camp with some in tents and some in RV’s with hookups. In addition to that they host an annual jousting tournament each August!
After checking out the Natural Chimneys Serguei and his son decided it was time to head home. The rest of us found the Union Station Restaurant and Bar in Harrisonburg and had a spectacular dinner. The main topic was the days adventure, and how next time we’d heed warnings of frozen precipitation in the area a little more seriously! Following dinner we parted ways, already looking forward to the next trail ride!
Trail report courtesy of Andrew Taylor. Pictures courtesy of Cherie Taylor and Gigi Corpancho. GPS track courtesy of Serguei Sviatyi.