CORE celebrated the 4th of July holiday with a trip to Shoe Creek and Crabtree Falls and a search for the Big Levels trails on Saturday, July 2.
We had a mix of Jeeps and S-10s and a mix of guests and members for this run.
Attending this ride were:
- Keith Holman – CORE Member, ZR2 Blazer
- Alan Rickert – Guest, ZR2 Blazer
- Gary, Sharon and Kyle Hallman – Guests, S10 Crew Cab
- Bob Weaver – CORE Member, Blue Rubicon
- Loc Pham – CORE Member, Yellow TJ
- Jason and Lindsay Grogg – Guests, Red Rubicon
- Dan Williams – Guest, Bronze Rubicon
“The trail is a bit rougher than last time with a few more exposed rocks of varying sizes but generally was in the category of stock do-able although I was questioned on my proclamation of stock-friendly from the Hallmans.”
We met at the 7-11 in Gainesville VA. After a few introductions and paperwork, we headed south on US 29 for Charlottesville. Thankfully, it was an uneventful trip with fairly light traffic except for a few spots. It also seemed we couldn’t manage to make it through the same green light cycle anywhere but we were all together as we got to the 250 bypass around Charlottesville.
For future reference, it should be noted that the Aunt Sara’s Pancake House and the hotel behind it which had been identified as a possible second meeting point at 29/250 have been replaced by a Wachovia Bank and a Best Buy store.
After we passed Lovington VA, the directions got a little hairy as I was relying on GPS waypoints, a 3 year old memory of having been here before and a set of Mapquest directions. We stopped a couple of times because the three didn’t quite align with the reality of the roads on the ground but only had to backtrack once for this leg of the trip.
When we got to the Shoe Creek trailhead, the growth along the sides as you pass the last house came in real close on both sides as though the growing season has been very, very good or the trail had not been used much. As we got to the first crossing of Shoe Creek, we saw a number of truck campers and decided it was a growth thing. Although none of us planned on camping, a few raindrops hit us as we made that crossing. It reminded me of the last time I had been here.
The trail is a bit rougher than last time with a few more exposed rocks of varying sizes but generally was in the category of stock do-able although I was questioned on my proclamation of stock-friendly from the Hallmans. Of the vehicles along, theirs had the least design ground clearance and they banged a few more times than most of the others. After coming to that realization, Gary altered his driving style a bit to account for that difference and things went a lot quieter for them.
The trail had some wet or muddy spots with water running down the trail at several places. Loose rocks, up to about softball size, were prevalent in a number of areas. Each time we crossed water, we found someone camped nearby, generally families with several trucks and a couple of tents with obvious plans for a traditional 4th of July cookout.
When we last headed this way, there was a side run of about 25 yards up a rocky incline about halfway along the trail. You may remember this as a spot where the Xterra lost the side step. That area is now clearly marked as private property so the hill climb was not to be repeated. Actually, there is a lot of private property on both sides of this trail. Although the trail itself is publicly open, there are virtually NO places where you can turn off without the permission of a private landowner. That’s fine though as there is plenty of entertainment to be had on the trail.
As we neared the top of the ridge where the Appalachian Trail crosses the 4wd trail, we noted the mailbox at the end of a drive and talked a little about the mail route that included that particular customer. We later saw the lifted Cherokee at the Vesuvius post office that probably makes that run. I also snapped a picture of a fallen cabin, with just the roof visible above the stone foundation. I had remembered taking a picture (on our website) of the same cabin in 2002 with the roof still standing and some fairly open walls.
After we crossed the Appalachian Trail, we started heading down and wound our way around to the parking lot for the walking trail to Crabtree Falls. Check the photos to see some shots of the falls. We stopped there for lunch. Most of our group opted to walk down and back to enjoy the view. After the return, Alan headed back towards NOVA and the rest of us went in search of the Big Levels/Bald Mountain Trail.
This search didn’t go as smoothly as the quest for Shoe Creek did. A combination of trying a new way in than before and some roads that weren’t well marked added to the confusion.
We did finally find our way to Rt. 608 which should have put us in the vicinity of where we wanted to be but FR 42 (as shown on the Gazetteer) was more elusive. We finally decided this one trail just HAD to be it and so went that way. The road went through a couple of very deep and very stagnant puddles and then reached a fork. Neither leg of the fork appeared to have been traveled much recently as there was grass growing over it. Applying the old Navy adage of 50/50/90, we went right. (For the uninitiated, 50/50/90 is the concept that when presented with two choices, you have a 50% chance of either being the better one, thus 50/50. However, Mr. Murphy –of Murphy’s Law fame — says there is a 90% chance that you will pick the wrong one.)
The right fork led us along a ways before coming to a wide spot where there appeared to be a path to the center though the mud, to the left to bypass the center but also muddy and a path to the right which was relatively dry but more heavily grown. In the lead, I inched forward through the center but found the need to reverse while I still could. I tried a different line with the left wheels on higher ground and quickly sunk the right side to the point of needing a tow strap and the aid of the Yellow TJ to reverse. (Somewhere in the middle of snapping copious pictures of this, Bob decides to give me a good ribbing about testing the depth with a stick — 🙂 ) We all went around to the right and continued on. The next fork gave us a choice of a large fallen tree or an ever-narrowing trail, so we reversed and headed back to the 50/50/90 fork.
Very quickly after that there was another fork. With Bob in the lead this time, we went right until he reached a double berm which had been placed there to close the trail. This fork at least gave us a bit more room to maneuver as we changed direction. The left fork had one more fork off it which looked less traveled and one which ended at a barbed wire fence. By this time, it had gotten close to 5:00 and we decided to call it a day. We headed back out to Rt. 11 and ultimately to I-81 for the trip north after stopping for gas and to allow for airing up for the one Rubicon that had chosen to take advantage of the softer ride and better traction afforded by that. With this many instances of the wrong fork, I would expect to hear from Miss Emily Post in the near future.
All in all, any day off pavement still beats any day at work. As it had originally been labeled an exploratory trip, I think folks were accepting of a couple of wrong turns that didn’t put us where we expected to be at all times. We got to spend a little time with some new and some familiar faces. I’ve gotten a new set of directions for Bald Mountain and Big Levels to avoid the wrong fork area and will undoubtedly be trying again in the not too distant future.
Happy Trails! Remember to Tread Lightly!
Trail report written by Keith Holman. Pictures courtesy of Keith Holman, Jason Grogg, Bob Weaver, Dan Williams, and Alan Rickert.