Brandywine, Kephart, Flagpole Knob, Dunkle Hollow, Dry River, Old Route 33

Paul on Kephart - Click to Enlarge

7/30/04 - 8/1/04

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Traditional Pre-Trip Load Photo (No Minivans!) - Click to Enlarge

This was one of those trips that had strange beginnings. My wife was called to render tax assistance on short notice and so she flew to Hartford for the weekend. I claimed the kids and, after watching the OCC message board discussions about people wanting to go to the forest but not knowing the trails, decided I could help there. So I posted a sign-up sheet and netted three vic- er, I mean interested parties for Saturday and three for Sunday.

I dialed my Yahoo! membership to send the messages from the board to my blackberry mail account, pinged a couple of the people so that they had my cell number and e-mail address, and called it good. Friday evening after work I got my wife off to the airport and packed the Jeep. By now this routine (packing to go camping) has become pretty tight and I can usually get it done in a couple hours even with watching the kids and mixing a quick meal in.

By 7:30, I had the Jeep loaded and the kids strapped in. By 10:30pm after a stop at Sheetz and Food Lion for some food for the weekend, we were lumbering over the speed bumps at Brandywine campground in WV. The kids were champs at helping me get the tent set up in the dark and soon we were settled in for a good nights sleep. But not before a mild scuffle between the boys left Tom with a bloody nose. I think a recent BMX bike crash might have made his nose a little tender, still healing, but it was a mess. Of course we had to make lots of noise so everyone around us knew we were in town...


I woke up without an alarm and barely checked the time as I got breakfast (oatmeal and muffins with milk) going for the kids. I was dismayed to discover that I had not brought the coffee, but carried on with the routine and soon breakfast was done, the kids were outfitted for the trail, and we headed out for McDorman's. We got there about 9:15 AM. Just as we entered the store, Gino, Jonathan and Kofi arrived. This was great! We'd get on the trail fairly early and have lots of time to get some miles burned.

Kofi's TJJonathan's TJMcDorman'sMcDorman'sMcDorman's

The usual airing down and disconnecting went smoothly. We then discussed our trail choices. Everybody seemed to want to hit Kephart so we agreed to go there first. We planned to go up Flagpole later if time (and equipment) allowed.


During the drive to Kephart I pulled off one of the turnouts to let some faster traffic play through and soon we reached the trail head. We pulled in, dropped into 4-LO and started the drive to the end of the trail.

Kofi on Kephart - Click to Enlarge
Kofi on KephartJonathan

Not much to report. The crossing over Kephart is in pretty rough shape, much to our pleasure, though the fallen trees in the stream marred the beauty of the spot. Further in, the last crossing before the rock obstacle at the end seems to be a little rougher than before. It has gotten gradually rougher over the last couple years. Again, no complaints here.

Paul on Kephart - Click to Enlarge

Jonathan on Kephart - Click to Enlarge

Gino on Kephart

I played on the rocks a little as I crossed and everyone else took their own lines.  We stopped and chatted briefly about the rock obstacle and then one by one everyone took their turn going up. And everyone did it nicely.

Paul on Kephart - Click to Enlarge

Gino on Kephart - Click to Enlarge

Jonathan on Kephart - Click to Enlarge

Movie: mov06380.mpg Gino on Kephart



Interesting Rock Formation - Click to Enlarge
Interesting Rock Formation

We turned around after a short break and came back down.

Movie: mov06389.mpg Kofi on Kephart

Gino on Kephart - Click to Enlarge


Movie: mov06390.mpg Jonathan on KephartMovie: mov06391.mpg Paul on Kephart

Ted and TomKofiThe Group

Movie: mov06401.mpg Tom jumping a Rock

Rock Obstacle ("Kephart") - Click to EnlargeFoliage - Click to Enlarge
Fallen TreeTomFoliage



Then, led by Gino, drove back to one of the clearings and stopped for lunch, around 12:15 PM. For once I remembered to take the camp chairs along and the kids were very grateful. So was I!

Lunch Stop - Click to Enlarge

After lunch I walked around picking up the trash strewn about. It wasn't bad, really, but any trash is always disturbing to me. This is just another party spot to some people and their lack of regard shows. I would later discard a 1/2 full 50 gallon trash bag at the campground.

Flagpole Knob

We reached the road again in plenty of time to continue exploring. I led the group back down Route 33, and after a few turns, we reached Union Springs Road and made our climb up the mountain. The road was showing some signs of improvement. Further in, it was very dusty. Since I was the only fully closed vehicle, and since the trail was hard to lose, I dropped back and let the open vehicles go ahead.

Got Dust? - Click to Enlarge
Got Dust?

For the few turns that required advice, I quipped them to Jonathan over the CB. We reached the turn-off onto Stone Camp Road, the trail that runs along the top of the ridge all the way to Flagpole. To my surprise, we found the Chrysler Minivan (the one that we found vandalized on previous trips) had been moved several hundred yards up the trail, closer to the road, and up a fairly steep hill with rough terrain. No accounting for this as the vehicle appears to be 100% disabled. Perhaps it's being used for winch practice or someone is slowly working it closer to where a regular flatbed can take it away?  The main rough climb up to the top of the ridge was about the same as usual and fun for all.

Gino on Stone Camp RdGino on Stone Camp Rd
Gino on Stone Camp Rd - Click to Enlarge

We started hearing CB chatter from another group, so we engaged them and found out they were camping on top of Flagpole. Pretty soon we met up with a few of them who had headed down towards Meadow Knob. They caught us just above the turn-off that descends down into Dunkle Hollow and past Switzer Dam.  We stopped to talk and the kids got friendly with the Australian herd dog.

Another GroupCJ-7Kofi's friend (and the kids meet a dog)

We spent some time looking at the other guys' Jeeps. Typical, right? I passed out a few cards and we continued up to Flagpole.

It was like a convention up there! The group we talked to on the CB was easily 20 people strong, with about 1/2 that many vehicles, including one Camaro... Talk about having your four-wheeling ego shattered! Actually it's not very surprising since pavements comes all the way up from one direction - we come in the "back way".

We waved as we passed their camp and went up to the geographic "top" of the Knob. Just as we got out to take in the wondrous view, a large group of Jeeps and other 4x4's came onto the field and right up to our location.

On Flagpole KnobOn Flagpole KnobOn Flagpole KnobOn Flagpole KnobOn Flagpole KnobOn Flagpole KnobOn Flagpole KnobOn Flagpole KnobOn Flagpole Knob

They got out, strutted around for a few minutes, then loaded up and left. There were some interesting vehicles in the group. I'm not sure they were set up so much for wheeling as looking big and shiny, but Jeeps are Jeeps are Jeeps.

Saturday Epilogue

From there, our little band back-tracked down to the turn-off. 

Dunkle HollowDunkle HollowDunkle Hollow

We went down the mountain via Dunkle Hollow, to Route 33, halfway up the Virginia side of Shenandoah Mountain. There, we stopped to reconnect and chat.

Back to Route 33Back to Route 33Back to Route 33Back to Route 33

I split off from the group and headed back to Brandywine. The rest of the group headed back towards Harrisonburg and home. We had an excellent ride; I hope this group comes out again as the boys and I really had a good time wheeling with them!

On my way up the mountain, the last little bit of gas in my tank sloshed away from the pickup tube and the engine faltered. So I crossed my fingers and watched for a turn-out on the road. The trick was the road is narrow and windy with no shoulder. Stopping to drain gas into my tank would require a place to get off the pavement. Fortunately I found a spot on the other side of the road so we stopped there and drained my jerry cans into the tank.

Fueling Up with Ted and Tom - Click to Enlarge

In truth the only reason I had brought the cans was to use up the gas before it got stale. As such I had not filled up at Sheetz like I usually would. So this running out of fuel was, in a sense, planned.

Pretty soon I had 10 gallons in my tank and zero gallons in my cans, and we were heading up the mountain. As we reached the top, I noted the storm clouds running along the ridge on the West Virginia side and dropping rain off in the distance. It looked like we were in for some "weather"...

We got to camp about 10 minutes ahead of the rain. The kids really wanted to go swimming but with the rain coming it didn't look like that would happen. When we got to camp I hurriedly set up the fly over the picnic table. I managed to get it done just before the first drops of rain came down. For the rest of the weekend, I would thank Mark Long, Wal*Mart and the big idea I had that maybe a dining fly was a good idea. We were able to sit at the picnic table out of the rain and almost ignore the bad weather!

We ate a nice dinner of MRE's that had been nestled next to my radiator overflow all day. They were heated to (guessing here) about 210 degrees and were just right. The kids found that they didn't like the turkey or the beef stew so I heated up some macaroni and cheese for them. Pretty soon we were done eating and the kids took off to ride bikes (in the rain) with the hoards of other kids there who were camping. Again I say I no longer wonder about the bikes I see strapped to the backs of camp-bound vehicles. If I didn't bring those bikes, I think my kids would kill each other and me...

We did have a little snafu though. One of the other kids camping didn't have a bike and was asking to borrow Ted's bike. So Ted very nicely lent him the bike for a couple trips round the loop that runs around the site we chose. A little later, Tom was sitting at the picnic table with me and the boy came by again to borrow a bike. This time Tomi let him borrow the bike and off the boy went. After a little while, Tomi got impatient and went off looking for the boy and his bike. A little while later I hadn't seen Ted or Tom for a while so I started walking around looking for them.

They were nowhere to be seen, and I started walking further down the road towards the entrance, though the boys have instructions not to go down there. It was almost dark and I was getting concerned. Soon I caught up with Teddy and the boy who had borrowed Tom's bike. Tom was not with them. Great. I am suppressing the urge to go into panic mode. After walking all the way down to the entrance and all the way back, I met Tom walking back down toward me. It was a huge relief as by now it was completely dark out.

We went back to camp, I made some adjustments to the tent as I found Tom's sleeping back had fallen off the air mattress and gotten wet. Fortunately these synthetic bags work even when wet. I got most of the heavy moisture off it, and later when he went to bed I opened it up so he could lay on the dry portion and gave him my flannel top sheet to cover himself. It stayed warm enough all night that he was perfectly fine, though I must have checked him three or four times before morning came, , just to be sure.



I have no idea what time I got up though it must have been around 7:00 AM. I got some hot water going and soon had oatmeal for the kids, along with Tang and Instant Milk. to make a long story short (because it's mostly about the kids bike riding, evading my requests to help strike camp, and some mild fighting between them and me,) we got camp taken down and packed by 9:40 AM. I drove down to the store in Brandywine and aired up, reconnecting to keep us shiny side up as we went over the mountain. The last thing I needed was to pop a bead or flop going around a curve loaded down like a refuge. I was going to get gas but the price was almost 30 cents a gallon more than in Harrisonburg so I canned that idea until we got into town later.

Going up the mountain I caught some CB chatter so I chimed in and soon saw Pete, Rick & Kelly, and Bill coming 'round the mountain. I guess they must have gotten to McDorman's around 9:30 AM, waited til about 10, then decided to come find me at the campgrounds. They turned tail when we met up and we all stopped at one of the wide spots and made our plans for the morning.

Bill, Pete and
Bill, Pete and Rick - Click to Enlarge

As I was loaded with all the camping gear, I was not going to make it under a couple of the low trees on Kephart. I knew that the group wanted to run it so I suggested we go run Dry River and Old Route 33, then I would leave them at Kephart and head for home. That seemed to please everyone so off we went.

I figured the best way to run it was to enter down by Kephart, then run it north-west to where it exists from the place where the stream runs down the trail. Then we could cross the road and run Old Route 33. And from there, they could cross the road again and catch Kephart. All-in-all, we'd hit pavement between each of the sections for only a few yards.

Dry River

Bill had loaded my Kephart marks so he knew where to find that entrance. I had all my tracks and waypoints loaded for GWNF so I was ready when the mark for the entrance to Dry River came up. We stopped, they all aired down, disconnected, and then we went in.

The first crossing was bone-dry and rocky.

Dry River Entrance

Once past that, we found lots of muddy rough spots. At the T-junction, we turned left and headed down to the short loop that brings us back to the T. At the far end of that part, we encountered a very large group of campers who had taken over a big section of ground right in the middle of the trail. That was one thing, but the thing that struck me with something bordering on horror and disgust was the incredible volume of trash that was practically covering the ground. It reminded me of the worst outdoor music festival I had ever attended. There was so much litter that it was hard to imagine anyone would enjoy camping there because it so marred the area. And here we are worrying about getting kicked off the trails because a few wheelers can't stay on the main trail! This scene is probably another reason we're getting kicked out of the woods, though I must say it is quite rare in GWNF. Giving them the benefit of the doubt (maybe they plan to clean up after themselves...) we passed through their "camp" and waved, then reached the top of the loop where we played briefly on some driftwood.

Paul on silly logPaul on silly log
On Dry River - Click to Enlarge
Pete on Silly LogPete on Silly Log

The crossing there was bone dry so we crossed it and drove up a ledge.  I had to drift to the left to clear a root, but everybody else went over just fine.

BillPete and Kellie and Rick On Dry River

Then we doubled back to the T-junction.  From there we continued along the valley that runs along the rock face.  Along the way there were lots of muddy ruts to drive through.

Bill on Dry RiverBill on Dry River

Movie: mov06449.mpg Pete on Dry RiverMovie: mov06450.mpg Dry River

We turned up the entrance to the dam. I called to the groups attention the small "no vehicles" signs posted at each of three rutted hill climbs. As tempting as they looked, it was easy to stay off them knowing they were not legal.  We drove up to the dam and stopped for a minute while the boys went down to the water and played around for a few minutes.

Break stop on Dry River

When the boys came back, we turned tail and made for the exit to pavement. As we drove along I was rambling about the problems of staying on the legal trail, and so on. To my surprise, another group appeared coming up the hill and the lead vehicle (a large green Jeep) turned left and went straight up the illegal hill climb! Man...

I tried to get my camera out thinking I would get a photo of the vehicle, driver, and plate, but digital cameras come to life in their own time, and it wasn't fast enough for this. Instead I flagged down the second vehicle and asked if he was in CB contact with the Jeep driver. He was so I asked him to relay to the driver that the hills were illegal, posted as such, and would he please finish up and come back down. I passed the same message on to the Land Rover driver behind them and we left the scene. I don't want to get all righteous about this but it did hit a nerve.

The flooded section of the trail on the way out was pretty dried out though I did hit a rock that was submerged where I had never hit one before.

Dry RiverDry River

The whole streambed seemed significantly altered. The pool near the road seemed to have been dismantled, or at best was just dry from lack of water. Some campers had set up camp more or less on the road, so we went around them and kept moving out to pavement.

Old Route 33

A short hop down the road and across to the other side and we were on Old Route 33. It was pretty, easy and except for one switchback, dead easy. The switchback was entertaining because it was washed out and required a good drop down and hard right with a narrow shelf. Loaded like I was, it was necessary to be a little bit more careful than usual, but I had done this loaded before so I only got out briefly to check the width of the shelf and make sure my right rear wheel would not fall off the edge. We drove down to Route 33 again after brief comment and note of the OCC Adopt-a-Trail sign near the entrance.

OCC Adopt-A-Road on Old Route 33 - Click to Enlarge


At Kephart, I stopped to reconnect my sway bar and wished the rest of the group happy wheeling. A really nice Toyota FJ was parked at the entrance and its driver was airing down. I gave him a card and suggested the group would probably be happy to have him along, then crossed back to my Jeep, said goodbyes to Pete, Rick & Kelly, and Bill, then hit the road for some late lunch, gas and home.  On our way past Rocky Run we saw one of the groups from the top of Flagpole Knob yesterday.  They were stopped on the side of the road doing some emergency repairs.  For a moment I considered stopping but decided my priority was getting the kids fed and home.  It looked like they had what they needed and plenty of help, so my contribution would probably have been limited.

Sunday Epilogue

We drove up to Golden Corral and the kids picked their way through a light lunch and a heavy desert. We got gas at the Sheetz on the way and saved a good 30 cents a gallon. On the way down to Route 81 after lunch, somebody came on the CB calling attention to some guy's Jeep. It caught my ear so I listed and soon realized it was someone who thought they knew me and they were talking about me! So I got on and said Hi, who's this? It turned out to be none other than Steve and Jandy Leibl from PA. I wasn't too surprised to hear them around hear because Jandy's parents live in Harrisonburg. But in fact, Steve and Jandy were on their way to Tellico, so this chance meeting within CB range was pretty incredible. We passed the time of day before traveling out of each others range. Small world!

From here on out it was just the usual long ride home. The kids decided they wanted to listen to some high-decibel heavy metal, while my caffeine-withdrawal headache wanted something else... Tomi noticed an interesting moth on the railing as we rode across White's Ferry, and the digital camera (unpredictable shutter timing) cooperated for a half-way decent picture.

Moth on White's Ferry

We got home and I managed to get the kids to help me unpack and wash the Jeep. I can't believe I lived through a double playing of The Best of Eddie Money!

What a great weekend - lots of wheeling, some incredible weather, and as always, the forest was beautiful too!

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