I've heard a lot about the Ramsey's Draft Wilderness just west of Staunton, Virginia, and since we broke camp early Wednesday a week ago in West Virginia so my brother Chris could get back to Missouri, I drove right by the trailhead on the way home plenty of early enough to try a short hike and check it out. I could quickly see that this place is not for sissies.
Wilderness areas don't get the same careful care that parks do because they are, well, wilderness. There are no trail blazes to show one the way, and there is no trail maintenance. If a big tree falls across the trail, deal with it. If the trail becomes choked with vegetation, press on. It the trail seems to disappear, figure it out, or turn around.
I knew I didn't want to try a long difficult hike. I just wanted to do more of a scouting trip to see what it is like, and I only went about a mile up the trail along Ramsey's Draft. Then I returned and hiked a half mile or so up another trail that started out being out of the Wilderness area. I've read accounts that the conditions for hiking here can be confusing and very difficult, and I believe it.
Here is a track of my hike. The red arrow indicates the mile hike up along the creek, and the blue arrow points to the closing hike up the side trail. If I kept going along either one, I could have reached Hiner Spring, which is supposed to be a beautiful area to camp in. But you're talking 9 to 11 miles of difficult going to get there. Maybe I will come back and do a longer hike or a backpacking trip here, but I can see that I will have to be fully prepared for tough going.
Here are some pictures from my hike on August 24, starting with a view of Ramsey's Draft at the start of the hike.
I thought that the yellow beetle, which I need to try to identify, on the yellow flower was really
This mushroom was as large as a small dinner plate! I wonder if it is edible, or if it would destroy your liver cells, leading to an awful death?
Hemlock is supposed to be common up here. I know that it has been decimated in many parts of the East by the woolly adelgid, a tiny bug that came from East Asia. Many of the huge hemlocks in Shenandoah, for example, are ghosts now.
I bet that woodpeckers love this tree! I heard a pileated woodpecker but didn't see one. Nor, other than that beetle and a few butterflies, did I see any wildlife.
Sometimes the trail was distinct, and other times I was not sure if the trail had crossed the stream and I was on a game trail. Without trail marking, it is difficult to follow. Imagine being an Indian or explorer 250 years ago here when it was true wilderness!
Sometimes the trail - if this even is the trail - was totally choked with vegetation, including thistles. After a mile, I reached a point where I felt like the real trail had to have crossed Ramsey's Draft, and I had no idea where, so I turned back.
This is the Bridge Hollow Trail, out of the wilderness area and marked with yellow blazes (and maybe yellow mushrooms - see below). It climbs steadily for two miles and is very easy to follow. At that point, it connects to the Bald Ridge Trail, which goes back in the wilderness area up to Hiner Spring. Part of me wants to try this on a 2-3 trek. Part of me says it would be tough going.
Well, my hike was short but sweet, and I at least got to check out Ramsey's Draft Wilderness a bit. When my ankle and foot are close to 100%, I think I'd like to come back. But you don't want to tackle this place if you are not at your game!
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