Pinnacle

Pinnacle Lookout Tower Parking - click to enlarge

1/25/04

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4X4 ICON 2000 - 2008 The DVD!

Way Points

Prologue

I had some free time coming up so I had to decide where I might want to go.  An offer came in to go down to Crozet and check out a private area but the last reports coming out of that part of the world were characterizing it as the "What I Broke" trips, so I decided to steer clear.  I need to drive to work on Monday...  I have been wanting to push deeper into Pinnacle for some time, but the last time we went out there, we ran Dan's Mountain first and used up most of the day there.  The first time Hugh and I went out to Keyser, we spent the better part of the day in Allegany Wildlife Management Area so there too we used up most of the day before we even got to Pinnacle.  I liked our last trip out there because of the snow.  So this trip would concentrate on Pinnacle alone, and I hoped for snow.

A few days before we went, the weather reports predicted snow and cold weather.  Just what the doctor ordered!  I posted a message in the OCC board and the Jeeps Unlimited board, and got a small band of people together.  Since Hugh has been with me on every trip here, I shot him a note and he signed up too!  I invited my friend John to ride shotgun with me since the kids would be away visiting their aunts in the big city.

People who know me would probably say that I tend to be a little conservative when it comes to preparedness.  I may even err on the side of bringing too much stuff along "just in case".  For this trip, I am bringing one of my large trunks in place of the back seat.  In it I will be bringing my propane heater, extra food, a couple sleeping bags, my stove, and a tarp.  This in addition to my usual load of recovery and readiness gear, just in case...  This trail system starts at the top of a ridge line and descends into a valley.  Generally, it's not a good idea to drive down into anything you can't drive back up out of.  I just want to have a few options if the hour gets late and we've been having troubles.  I have no intentions of spending the night out there, but if I am not prepared to do so, and have no other choice, it would suck.

Muster

We got to Sheetz Frederic near Rts 85 and 270 at about 7:30 AM.   Mike, his wife and daughter, and their dog were ready and waiting.  I gassed up and we waited for a while to see if anyone else would show. 

When nobody else came, we hit the road for points west via Routes 70 and 68.  We took a brief stop and Sideling Hill for essentials and a peek at the view. 

View from Sideling Hill

We all noticed how cold it was - hovering in the single digits and a nice razor-sharp wind to put the icing on the cake...  It was going to be a chilly day...

Sideling Hill Parking

The drive through to Cumberland and down to Keyser was uneventful and very picturesque, owing to the crisp, clear air and the light coating of snow that covered everything.  Pretty soon my co-pilot John noticed that the snow was a lot deeper and it was only then that I realized the snow was at least six inches deep.  We had left home with about an inch.   That meant that the trail would be interesting!

We stopped to top up our tanks and visit the facilities. 

Fueling in Keyser - Click to EnlargeMike and Family Fueling in Keyser - Click to Enlarge

The bathroom was one heater click short of a sauna, but that heat would soon be missed as we finished up and went back outside.  On the way out the door, a couple of the guys hanging around greeted us and asked about how warm it could be inside the Jeeps with the soft-top on.  I told him that it is toasty and corrected him that both Jeeps had hard tops.  In fact, once the thing warms up, I seldom keep my coat on while driving.

After a short detour in an unconscious attempt on my part to go instead to Backbone Mountain, we got back on track and reached the entrance to the Pinnacle Lookout tower and associated radio towers at about 10:00 am.  The road as expected was well traveled with the same eight inches of snow.  I had decided not to disconnect until we reached the tower and we drove there directly.

When I got out at the tower I was greeted by a breath-taking view and breath-taking cold. 

View from Pinnacle Lookout Tower

I persisted long enough for a brief trip to the top of the lookout tower through deeply drifted snow and bitter cold and wind.  I took one picture and retreated to the ground to disconnect my front sway bar and get back in the Jeep.  John and the Mike's family opted for the relative warmth of the Jeeps.

Pinnacle Lookout Tower Parking - Click to EnlargePinnacle Lookout Tower Parking - Click to Enlarge

Trail

After my fingers started working again, we backtracked a short ways to the trail entrance.  We braved a small drift and found the gate open.  From here we were blazing trail - nobody had cut tracks yet.  

Descending

Trail - Click to Enlarge

Fresh snow!  Right away I could see that we'd have to be careful not to go past a point that we would later have trouble climbing back up.  Mike later told me that he would not have even started going down the hill in the first place.  It reminded me of my first trip with the TJ in March 2001 when we drove up Second Mountain and I followed with blind faith the people in front of me through mud holes I would never have considered.

DownDown Down

The trail got steeper but I found that I was not slipping and could feel positive feedback so determined that we would probably have no trouble coming back up later.  Just the same I modified my trail clock to restrict us to one hour of travel downhill, leaving a generous five hours to return up the hill and still have daylight. 

Even deeper

I reasoned that we'd need every minute of it if we ran into troubles and had to start winching at a rate of 8 feet a minute...

Since I've been on the trail twice, I had some good GPS data and considerable time with the map.  I also had the benefit of time on the trail so I was quite familiar with the routes we had traveled last year at this time. 

Creek crosses trail

I was less certain of the lower area that Hugh and I had visited in April of 2001.  The main reason for that was that I did not have GPS data, there are lots of side trails, and frankly, I wasn't paying close enough attention that day.  I had a suspicion where we had been, and I knew for certain where we had ended up down at the bottom because of several distinct landmarks that showed on the topo maps.  But our 2002 trip had failed to find the correct trail.  I was hoping to correct that today, but was coming to the conclusion that our severe time limit might make that impossible.   The conditions just weren't something I wanted to take lightly, especially with only two vehicles on hand.

Deep SnowClearing

We reached the same trail branch as last trip and I made a brief foray into an area that turned out to be a false start.  I back-tracked out while Mike tried to do a donut in the clearing.

Attempting Donuts

This is where the trail ride ceased being a stocker run and started being a "lockers only" run.    As we started descending to the dead-end we had visited last time I had a hunch that getting back up was going to be troublesome.  I wasn't worried we'd get out - I was just concerned how long it would take.  We reached the bottom of the trail in about ten minutes.  We took a quick break and then I suggested Mike take the point and go back up the hill to the clearing.

Dead EndDead End

The very bottom of the hill was littered with small boulders hidden by the snow, and a rut that made the approach into a kind of a "V" that forced you up against the boulders.  Mike got snagged at first and had to back off and make another swipe at it.  He managed to get by pretty cleanly and sawed his front wheels all the way up the hill and out of sight.   It was clearly one of those hills that you don't stop half-way up.  When he was pretty much out of view, I started moving.

Right away the boulders at the bottom gave me fits.  As soon as I got to them, all forward progress stopped.   I had to make several attempts at it until I was going just fast enough to hump over them but not so fast that I'd break something.  I was rewarded with success and soon was able to reach the top and the clearing, having caught up to Mike a little way from the top, where he was working a rough spot in the trail.  It had taken us 20 minutes to get back up - roughly twice as long as it had taken to go down.

Ms. WelchMike, Paul around lunch timeJeep Parking

We stopped here for lunch.   While we were eating we talked some and I suggested that we drive a bit more but keep in mind that we'd probably be heading back up and out in half an hour or so, if we encountered more tough going.  I wasn't too concerned about the climb back up from here but the trip to Flagpole and our retreat in the darkness a few weeks ago was still fresh in my mind and I had no intention of repeating that again anytime soon.

After lunch, we tried the next branch and soon ran out of trail, though the main reason for stopping was mainly that the trail needed a little cleaning and it was too cold to break out the chain saw and bow saws and start in with that business.  It would have been futile anyway because the trail was headed straight for the sheer face of the ridge several hundred feet straight up.  Let's face it - my winch cable just isn't long enough!

We got turned around and doubled back a short way to another spur.  I walked it off a few yards and found it too was growing in and pointless.  I returned to the Jeep and we headed back the way we had come.  When we got to the main trail I felt that we still had some time and suggested we turn down the next lowest trail spur and head down a little further. Somewhere along the way I exercised a limb loper on some twigs that had come down and blocked the trail.

This is where things started to get interesting.  I could tell that this was the section of trail that Hugh and I had traveled that first time out and knew that it would be making a sharp descent in a couple spots.  I also knew there was one dead end that we had encountered.  I didn't want to waste time going down that dead end.  So I took a little extra time at the trail junctions looking at the map to make sure we took the correct branch.

We managed to avoid the dead end and travel roughly north along the side of the ridge line.  The view was fantastic but I let John take care of that while I kept the Jeep from getting more familiar with the several hundred-foot drop to my right.  Soon we started a series of switchbacks that eventually lead to a multi-pronged branch.

One branch went straight down like a black-diamond ski trail.  We weren't going there...  The trail continued a little further and started a descent that curved steeply and switched back.  Walking it off on foot, it became clear that these were the trails we'd traveled.  It also became clear that today was not the day to go any further.  Both were too steep and I am certain we would not have been able to climb back up them.  In the interest of sleeping in a warm bed that night, I reluctantly decided to turn around and head back to the the road.  I figured that we'd probably have plenty to keep us occupied for at least another two hours anyway, and a life-or-death epic was not necessary for us to have "fun".

As Mike had not yet descended down this, I simply warned him to be careful not to slide off onto the trail branch that pointed straight down the hill.  I wasn't sure but it looked like once on it, there would only be one direction of travel:  DOWN!  He got backed up and turned around and headed out of sight.  Since I had passed the "death trail" before stopping, I had to back up past it to get back to a place where I could turn around.  The trail I was on emptied into it and as I passed, I got sucked down into it.  I found myself all twisted up in the trees and brush, but fortunately not sliding uncontrollably down the hill, and with no damage to the vehicle or contents.  But I was not getting out easily...

Since I still had a tenuous grip on the main trail, I "crabbed" the Jeep sideways by sawing the steering wheel to-and-fro a few times.  This got me to a place where I managed to back up almost to the trail, but the trees on the high side soon got in the way.  I tried to go forward a bit and get my rear pointed in the right direction to go past the funnel sucking the Jeep downhill.

It didn't work and I ended up 20 or 30 feet down the steep hill.  I tried but could not back up.  In about 15 feet the trail get even steeper, and I had serious doubts that I would be able to keep the Jeep from going out of control.  So I shut it off and got out for a minute to collect my thoughts and decide what I was going to do.  Mike and his family had been called on the CB and showed up on foot for the fun a few minutes later.

Ms. Welch

With my nose pointed straight downhill and my winch on that end of the vehicle, I was not going to be able to use it to get out of this unless I got the Jeep turned around.  My first thought was to anchor the winch to a tree off to one side or the other and drag the front of the Jeep around at a 90 degree angle to the hill but that quickly got thrown out.  I noticed a small area that I might be able to nose into and get turned around.

In order to do it, I was going to have to rely on a loss of traction, and some gravity to swing the back end of the Jeep around.  Controlled loss of control.  A lot like riding a sled down a steep hill.  You get to pick where you want to go, but only in the most general sense.

I got in the Jeep, nosed it into the spot, then broke loose the back wheels just enough that the rear end of the Jeep slid all the way around and got me facing up hill.  A pirouette on a slippery slope...  It was not as bad as I had expected, but I did have to pry the car seat out of the crack of my...never mind.

Paul goes offlocking down
Turning around

Next we got the winch fired up and John pulled cable up the hill to a good-sized tree straight ahead.  

John

He got to the tree with a few feet of cable left to spare.  We put a strap around the tree, rigged cable and then put tension on it and started winching.  Mike and his wife took all the pictures from here on out.  As I told them later, my sphere of awareness was concentrated on the alternator gauge, the winch cable, and a measure of forward motion.

Winching

Winching

I stopped a couple times to let the battery recover and we re-rigged the cable once to deal with it piling up to one side of the spool.  When I got to the top of the spur, we ran the cable to another tree 30 feet up the main trail and continued winching until I had enough traction to drive. 

Out

Then Mike and his wife started walking back to their Jeep while John and I re-spooled the cable and stowed the gear.  Then we started up the trail with the intent of continuing to pavement.

It went great even though we had to make a couple runs to get past a few spots.  The winch stayed spooled for the rest of the day, but I was very thankful that it was up there when we needed it.  We used momentum to make it up one troublesome spot and John remarked that the ride was like that of a mechanical bull.  I thought that summed it up pretty well!

The last stretch up to the top was uneventful and quite pretty.  Mike let me go ahead.

The view from up front...

Despite the cold, it was a great trip in the woods.  I regret that I didn't take more pictures but the driving (and winching) really consumed me this time out.  At the top of the trail we came upon the game warden who was laying in wait for any illegal ATV drivers who might come along. 

Game Warden

He had decided not to follow our tracks down the hill for fear of not making it out...  I think his fears were well founded as we barely made it out in a couple spots and I attribute our success to lockers and gnarly tires.  I can't say for sure if the game warden's Dodge RAM 1500 has lockers or not, but his A/T's only had about 4/32's of tread depth left - definitely not great snow tread.

We had a nice visit with him.  He confirmed that the trails were legal for us, but commented that he would like to see them closed because it would make it better for the hunters... 

Epilogue

We said our good byes and drove down to pavement.

I reconnected with the cold, and reattached my sway bar connectors, and we headed into town for a car wash and some fuel.  We last saw Mike's Rubicon turning onto Route 220.  After we got the Jeep cleaned off in the car wash, we headed home too!

I hope to go back here one more time this summer to complete the explorations!

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