MS and I embarked on our first Spring outing to the mountains. The plan was to camp at Braley Pond and ride out of camp to Chimney Hollow (489), up to Crawford Mountain (485), and on to the Elliot Knob lookout tower. We weren’t sure exactly what we would do on day 2, but Sunday morning we decided to drive south to the Longdale Furnace area, climb SR 770 to North Mountain Trail and follow the serene ridgeline which is somewhat famous for its awesome views and Pete’s Cave.
The short version is that we didn’t accomplish either mission. If you want to know the longer version, read on.
As usual, we stayed up too late Friday night and before I knew it midnight had struck. Knowing that would make for an early morning, I hit the hay pronto. And then I slept in. I haven’t slept ‘til 8:30 in I don’t know how long, but it was cold outside and I was nice and cozy. I finally rose, faced the cold outside air, and got the coffee brewing. Shortly thereafter, we were eating Mountain House biscuits and gravy (not too shabby, but not really enough for 2 guys about to climb mountains).
By the time we left camp on our bikes, it was nearly 11AM. On the map, there is a trail that goes from the southern end of Dowell’s Draft (650) over to US 250 directly across from the Chimney Hollow trailhead. We went to check it out to avoid any bit of driving on 250, but couldn’t find it. So, back down Braley Pond Rd. we went to hang a left on US 250 and take the short paved jaunt up to the trailhead.
For probably less than a mile, the trail slogs along the creek and passes through it several times. The morning air was still quite cool, so I did dismount and hop across one or two to avoid the possibility of wet feet. They are all very crossable, which was surprising with how much snow and rain there has been in the last couple of months.
Once you have been drawn into a false sense of security, the trail suddenly narrows and starts climbing up and away from the creek very aggressively. We quickly learned that the combination of not riding much recently and aggressive, narrow, bench cut trail that climbs incessantly is not a good combo. MS was a beast, as usual, but after climbing for a while, he stopped and said he was shaking. We took a break, had a snack and some fluids, and basked in the mountain side sunlight. We commented that we could easily have sat there for the rest of the afternoon.
Soon we were climbing again with the penalty for error becoming more and more severe. And then Chimney Hollow threw in some gnarly rock gardens for good measure. Bottom line – Chimney Hollow ain’t no joke. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome, but I don’t recommend it if you are as out of shape as we were.
We made it to the top and MS immediately shed his gear and lay down in the leaves. It was warm and sunny and a perfect place to take a break. Or a bona fide siesta. More than an hour passed before we got back on the bikes. We had decided that we were going to go back down the way we came, so we were in no hurry and decided to be “bored” for a little while. And MS even caught a few Z’s. We would have to save Elliot Knob for another day.
Before descending Chimney Hollow, we followed the trail south along the ridge for a little while just for giggles. The Chimney Hollow descent was incredible. The top portion was serious rocky gnar. Cruising through sections of loose rock and hearing the rock clank and feeling them move underneath added even more drama and excitement. Truth be told, I had to pull up a couple of times to regroup.
Once things smoothed out, MS took the lead and, well, I barely saw him after that. According to his GPS, he maxed out at over 26 MPH, which is absolutely insane. You will have to take my word for it. Or go see for yourself.
Leaving the trailhead and looking across US250, we saw the south end of the trail we were looking for earlier that day, but we decided to cruise up the pavement and get back to camp. Not long after, MS informed me he was pretty sure he was getting sick. That might explain his feeling weak and run down.
Somehow the campfire discussion turned to pizza, and I reminded MS that the market down in West Augusta had Hunt Brothers takeout pizza. He decided, eating pizza around the fire would be awesome and hopped in the truck to make it happen. Unfortunately, his battery was dead. Now, Braley Pond isn’t the most desolate place in the world, but there were no other campers and no cell service. There were still a few cars over in the day use area, so he headed over and found a guy to give him a jump start.
Once the truck was running, he was off for pizza. And he was right. It was damn good and I stuffed myself. We hit the sack a little earlier with visions of Longdale Furnace. More on that in part 2…