We just got back from an amazing, and refreshing, weekend camping in George Washington National Forest near Flagpole Knob. It turned into a trip that was like three single-day trips, back to back, with some of us camping throughout. Each day brought different people and different adventure! Sunday we also hosted a trail ride combined with a meeting on the same mountain.
This was supposed to be a first or second trip for several of us with little kids, but Travis, Jendra (see his blogpost about this trip here), and Cherie and I (my blog post) each backed out of bringing the littlest ones when the temps were forecast to be a little cooler than expected. Cherie and I had decided to commit to me at least going around the mid-week point though since I was hosting the trip.
Along for the trip this weekend were:
- Andrew Taylor – Silver Xterra
- Travis and Ava Frazier – Black Xterra
- Niels Vilstrup – Black JK
- Jendra Rambharos – Orange JKU
- Alex Hinson – Maroon JKU
- James Bullock and Sara – Silver LR3
- Zach Pittman – Gray JKU
- Sergey Revashov – White JKU
- Dawn Keslar – Black 4Runner
- Shannon Emery – Green LX450
I took the day off Friday and met Travis and Ava at their house Friday morning. We headed off caravan style toward George Washington National Forest. Other than a stop for firewood locally from Home Depot, and a gas stop, we headed straight toward camp.
We were somewhat shocked to find the forest full of campers already despite the cool forecast and our early arrival mid-day! After checking four spots that we new would be good for our group, and finding them all occupied, we started to get a little nervous. We were expecting up to four campers per night and so we needed a medium-large site. Eventually we found a great spot though, over 4 miles into the woods! As we always do we named this new site, Campsite Desperation.
Unfortunately this change in site was my biggest fear. I had posted on our club forum the location of our intended campsite, complete with detailed directions, and now we were roughly 2 miles further into the woods with Niels in-bound to join us Friday night!
After dropping just enough stuff in camp to claim it as ours we booked it up the mountain toward Flagpole, part of the fun of camping on this mountain, but now with a secondary goal of getting cell signal to let our inbound campers and meeting goers know of our new location! We made it up the mountain in roughly an hour. After making a handful of hasty text messages, and getting confirmations of receipt, I was able to relax.
While at the peak we talked to several other folks up there enjoying the views. While chatting with our new found friends a metallic clang let out from where Travis and I’s vehicles were parked. Upon closer inspection Travis found a part of one of his front coilover springs had broken off and was laying on the ground! We determined it should be safe to drive on and appeared structurally up to the task of returning to camp, so that’s what we did.
We arrived back to camp and got to cooking dinner. Niels joined as darkness descended. He informed us he’d now be able to stay through the weekend!
The plan Saturday was for Niels and I to head out for the morning to explore Second Mountain Trail. Travis and Ava were heading home. Jendra was due to arrive around lunchtime and James would arrive sometime in the afternoon.
However, we got off to a slow start… And due to that bumped into Jendra on our way out in the morning! With our bumping into Jendra we paused and tweaked the plan. Travis headed out on his own (no reason for him to wait for us), and Niels and I gave Jendra a few minutes to drop stuff off at camp. Once Jendra was back we briefly discussed the plan and headed out.
We were headed back toward US-33 to go back east a little and see if we could do Second Mountain Trail. This is a trail that none of us had ever done, and a few years ago got a gate that made it off limits at certain times of the year. To our delight the gate at the southern trail entrance was open, and we bumped into other wheelers heading in, and so after a pause to let Jendra air down, we were off!
The trail was better than I had anticipated. While the entire trail was stock friendly there were many optional obstacles or lines throughout that gave more exciting options for those seeking them. Jendra and I generally took the most difficult options while Niels generally took a more stock friendly line. The obstacles included water holes, rocks, and mogully dirt features throughout.
The trail also crosses two high voltage power lines that are going perpendicular to the ridge line we were driving along. At the first one we found a great rock that allowed us to flex on and got some great group shots. At the second we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the view.
The trail took much longer than we originally expected and so by the time we got to the north end where it meets up with Dictum’s Ridge Trail and Long Run Road we decided we had better just head back toward camp. On the way back to camp we did make a stop down at Switzer Lake just to take it the view briefly and to snap a quick pic of the Saturday crew in front of the lake.
When we got back to camp we were excited to find James and his girlfriend Sara had arrived in our absence. After intros all around we all setup for dinner. Those of us that had returned from the trail ride were pooped, but had had a great day!
While hanging around camp that evening two guys drove up, parked on the main route going up the mountain, and walked down into our camp. They wanted to know if we would be willing to get a Jeep of theirs un-stuck from a nearby campsite. Out of the 4 vehicles we had mine was the easiest to get out so I offered to help.
I followed them back to their site about ¾ mile away to find a JKU stuck as it had entered a pretty sloppy campsite. After doing a quick assessment I pulled a snatch strap out and hooked up for a quick tug. It was around this time that they asked my name, I gave it, and then a chorus of “Thank you Andrew!” happened. To my surprise there was something like a whole sorority there, I guess previously hiding in the camp! After pulling the Jeep out they gave me a beer to thank me for my troubles.
The most humorous part of the whole ordeal was that they then drove back toward my camp to park somewhere. I had to drive past their camp to turn around. I came back to find them abandoning their first attempt at pulling off at a new location. It was at that time that I realized their Jeep wasn’t acting like it was in 4-wheel drive! I followed them the whole way back to my camp basically where they found another spot to pull off and park for the night. I approached and asked if the Jeep was in 4-wheel drive to which they said they didn’t know. We determined that it was not… I gave a quick explanation of how to use that feature and when, and went on my way.
Sunday morning we all knew that we had to pack up. The rest of the club was meeting just west of Harrisonburg and expected to be passing our camp spot around 11 on their way up to Flagpole. After breakfast and packing up we sat around enjoying our fire a little longer until our group showed up. They were a few minutes late because they stopped to recover another vehicle that was stuck that was part of the group of campers I had helped the night before! But now our group of 4 vehicles was 8. We headed up the mountain!
We made it to Flagpole Knob with little excitement. The drive to the top was enjoyable as always. Shannon, Kelly, and their son met us at the top. We lined up the vehicles off to the side and setup camp chairs for our CORE meeting.
After the meeting we decided we’d give it a shot to take the group down the hardest leg of the mountain, Union Springs. The biggest concern was getting Dawn’s relatively stock 4Runner down through the obstacle right at the top of Union Springs. But I had checked it out on the way to Flagpole and told her I thought I could spot her through there.
We made it to the obstacle and the first hand full of us went down. I came back up to spot her and others through the obstacle. Two other vehicles came up Union Springs while we were getting our group through, so we told them they could go through so they wouldn’t have to wait for us. The first vehicle made it through, but the 2nd, a lifted Tundra, did not make it through on his own. After figuring out what to use as a recovery point, since his OEM one was bent already, we had Shannon come down the hill and used his winch to pull the Tundra through.
Once they were through we got the rest of the group, including Dawn and her 4Runner, through the obstacle and regrouped at the next clearing. But once we were down there we saw headlights ahead through the trees. Alex headed forward to see who was coming and discovered a small group that included a CJ-7 whose clutch had just burned out!
We decided it made sense to have Alex pull them up through the steps that he was at and bring him back to the clearing where the rest of us were gathered. At that point we decided to split the CORE group up into two groups. Most would continue on. Jendra, Shannon, and I stayed behind to get the CJ up through the last obstacle. We figured we had the gear and expertise to get him to the top in less than an hour which would be far less effort than he would have to put in later without us. The recovery took Jendra hooked to the CJ and Shannon hooked to Jendra to pull the CJ up the loose rock and through the top obstacle on Union Springs. But the result was the vehicle sitting out of the way at the top in an area that would be easy for his father to bring a truck and trailer to recover the CJ. Mission accomplished!
Due to the time Shannon decided to part ways with us there and head out toward Reddish Knob on his own. Jendra and I turned around and headed down Union Springs to catch our group. We eventually caught them just going down “the big step by the tree” which had taken them over an hour to get to but only took us 20 minutes.
Not to brag too much but along the ridgeline just before we got to the group I also had a chat on the CB with some folks way far away that were on our channel. Turned out I was talking to folks 15 miles east and 20 miles west of my location up on the ridgeline. I guess my CB grounding is pretty good!
Anyways, not much to say after that. It was much later in the day than planned for us getting to this point. I intentionally took a really “poor” line over the big step and apparently freaked some people out when I 3 wheeled it! Apparently I went through the obstacle so fast several folks who were filming each vehicle didn’t get a chance to capture me… too bad. I would have like to have seen the video from outside the vehicle. Jendra followed behind me without incident.
We quickly got through the last obstacles on the trail and started the long route out. We got to the reservoir off Union Springs Road after dark. We all paused to air up and headed off as we finished.
The drive home was nice. We were all getting home far later than planned, but had had an awesome weekend just recharging in the mountains surrounded by good friends. Hard to beat that!
Trail Report and GPS tracks provided by Andrew Taylor. Photos and video provided by Andrew Taylor, Jendra Rambharos, Zach Pittman, and Sergey Revashov.