Dictum Ridge, Flagpole Knob, Kephart and...?

Jim on Dictum Ridge - Click to Enlarge!

5/24/02 - 5/26/02

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Way Points

Prologue

Butterfly

With the long Memorial Day weekend approaching, and the need for 4-LO on everyone's mind, the usual suspects started plotting an excursion.  We kicked around going out to Cass, WV, but a call to the local forest ranger suggests that off-road trails to our liking are non-existent.  The trail leading to Spruce near the Cass Scenic Railway is on private property so permission will be needed before a visit out there will be worthwhile.  Ultimately a camping trip made the most sense, and with the abundance of trails, Brandywine, West Virginia was the logical choice.  A few miles west of McDorman's store, Brandywine Campground is strategically located as a base for operations for the weekend.  (Other Campgrounds listed here)

I decided it was time to get off the dime and buy a tent.  I cautiously posted a "Help Me!" message on the Jeeps Unlimited Wrangler Forum and got an incredible response.  It was very nice to receive some really useful help from people who share this Jeep disease.  I got the Hillary 7 Person Sequoia 3 Room Dome tent as a good compromise solution between size, quality and cost.  I really want to get something much more serious but I will wait until I see if I can get Maria more engaged in this camping thing.

It looks like Jim C., Carl S., along with their kids and Jim's wife Ket are going to form the party.  I think we're all going out at different times, with James Hilliard expecting to be at the Campground on Thursday.  So perhaps we'll hook up with him and his party for at least part of the weekend.

Trail plans include a night run to Kephart on Friday, German River side trails on Saturday, with more trails on Saturday, time, wife and kids allowing...

I used the camping check list provided with the tent to refresh my memory about the things I should be bringing.  There weren't any surprises, but it made it easy to go through my stuff and get ready.

Muster

Jim and I left early on Friday.  I called him on cell about 1/2 hour before I reached the junction of Routes 81 and 66.  We made plans to meet there when he came through about 10 minutes after I reached the junction.  I pulled off into the weeds down in the drainage ditch to wait (I needed a dose of 4-LO and I wanted to get well off the highway, since it was extra busy for the holiday weekend.  A couple truckers on the CB got a huge kick out of watching me "4-Wheeling" down into the ditch.  I sat there for 7 minutes and then climbed back up to the road and fell in behind Jim when he arrived a few seconds later.  We made a quick stop for gas and food at Strasburg, then drove out to Brandywine Campgrounds.

Brandywine Campground Overflow AreaJim's JeepJim's JeepPaul's Jeep

There, we found James Hilliard and his brother Rich, and Jon Patterson and Amanda.  James' friend Mike came in a few minutes later.  Those of us who had just arrived went about setting up camp.  This was the first time in ages that I have camped, and for all practical purposes, the first time that I have gone "Jeep" camping.  All of my camping experiences were in conjunction with hiking so this was something of a new experience.  The gear was much larger, more oriented towards comfort and convenience, and consequently heavier.  I was able to get organized pretty well and get the tent set up (the first time no counting three dry runs at home when I bought it a few days ago).  I discovered that the camping list I had worked from was pretty complete and found myself to be well prepared for a comfortable weekend.  Additionally, the Jeep suspension and rack accommodated the gear very well with room to spare!

After folks got pretty well situated, we started working on supper.  We were not expecting Carl until sometime around 7:00 PM so we just went on with dinner without him.  I cooked up some sausage that we had around the house, and made myself some corn on the cob, roasted in the coals.  The only item remaining on my list of "stuff to get" is a decent cooking set for this kind of trip.  On the hikes we made do with a canteen cup and a small surplus mess kit.  But for cooking for a small group like my family of four, that really isn't workable.  So probably I will break down and get a nice stainless nest of pots and a frying pan or two, along with a Coleman gas stove with a couple burners and a grill alongside.  I scrounged all my utensils from a box of stuff we got for a dime at some yard sale.  That stuff worked out well on this trip so it will live in my camping gear stash.

Eventually we had finished supper, cleaned-up, and met the neighbors, who included some folks with a Bronco and two Scramblers.  One of the Scramblers was fresh from a complete build up.  The body was made of fiberglass with a tilt-hood, and was painted bright yellow.  Some sort of V-8 (AMC 360?) was under the hood.  We exchanged some trail info and made plans to hook up later in the weekend and possibly on some other trails out west.  During all of this we started discussing our night run.  We wanted to wait for Carl to arrive so he could join us, as planned, but it was 8:30PM and getting dark, but still no Carl.  None of us were surprised as the traffic had been increasing all day and by that time must have been horrible.  We later learned that he got hung up in a traffic jam.

So with no sign of Carl, and no cell phone signal to call him, we decided to head out and poll for him on the CB as we drove back over the mountain towards McDorman's.  About halfway up the mountain, I started hearing Carl calling on the CB for us.  Jim doubled back with Carl and we continued on with plans to wait for Carl and Jim at McDorman's, then make a night run to Flagpole Knob where we hoped to see the Aurora's that were forecast for the evening.  The store operator at McDorman's returned at about 9:15 and asked us to move on.  I asked for and was granted a couple more minutes to wait for Jim and Carl to show.  When five minutes had passed with them not arriving and no sign of them on the CB, we moved down the road to the cut-off so as not to disturb the McDorman's.  By 10:00PM the group was restless, so we headed back to the campground where we found Carl, Jim and the rest lounging by the fire toasting marshmallows...  Needless to say, the night run was postponed, but we were finally all assembled in the same place.

After a leisurely visit around the campfire, we all hit the sack with plans to get up early and attempt a run up Dictum Ridge, then over to German River for some exploring.  My contingency plan was to run Flagpole Knob if we were unable to make it up Dictum Ridge.

Trails

 

Dictum Ridge

We got up fairly early on Saturday morning.  After the blood started flowing again, I though it would be fun to play a trick on James, Rich and Mike.  So I took my handheld CB and got Jim C. to play along.  I walked over to James' tent got Jim to start talking some trail gibberish over the CB.  It more or less worked to wake James and Rich out of their sleep, a little confused and thinking that they had left their CB's on.  Rich made a beeline for coffee once I mentioned it, and everyone was soon on their feet.

After breakfast we set out for Dictum Ridge.  Along the way we stopped and aired down.

Air DownAir Down

At the entrance we stopped and I approached the landowners.  They are a nice couple who were very welcoming.  They gave us permission to go up as long as we left it as we found it, and with our assurance that we would not cause any damage.  They seemed happy that we had taken the time to stop by.  The gentleman was quick to tell us that we would "not make it up the rock".  Of course the group all thought otherwise but I just smiled and asked him to wish us luck!

The short drive up to the main obstacle was fun, and turned out to be pretty challenging for some of the group.  Jon mentioned that he was overheating.  We stopped at the turn-around and walked up to the obstacle to evaluate our chances of success.

Dictum ObstacleDictum ObstacleDictum Obstacle

It appeared that most of the rocks that were reported to be stacked had been removed.  That left a formidable shelf or three that would have to be overcome if we were to follow the trail to the top.  I re-evaluated my chances of going up the right side of the trail hugging the drop off the side.  The tree that guards the passage is well scarred with much evidence of recent abrasion.  I decided that was my only hope, and having seen photos of other attempts, decided this was not the day I wanted to dent my roof rack (or worse...)

Jim Culfogienis and T Jeep J

Jim C. decided that he was game.  With his recent lift and large meats, he seemed a likely contender.  But with open diffs front and rear it was going to be quite difficult for him.  To his credit, he got his front wheels up on the shelf with very minimal rock stacking.  Let's face it, there are practical limits to what a vehicle can do.  The shelf is probably at least three feet high and perfectly straight up.  In order to clear his front bumper, a couple small rocks were necessary.  After he got his front wheels up, he managed to get his back wheels up against the face of the rock but could not get enough traction to bump up over.

Jim on Dictum RidgeJim on Dictum RidgeJim on Dictum RidgeJim on Dictum RidgeJim on Dictum RidgeJim on Dictum RidgeJim on Dictum RidgeJim on Dictum RidgeJim on Dictum Ridge
Jim on Dictum Ridge

He backed off and decided to try a line a little more to the left.  After lining up a few times and trying to get up onto the rock, he decided that it wasn't going to happen.  But I must say it was very interesting to watch him try.  I am sure with a little bit larger tires and a locker or two...

Jim on Dictum RidgeJim on Dictum Ridge
Jim on Dictum Ridge
Jim on Dictum Ridge

Since we were unable to make it up Dictum Ridge, I abandoned my plans to cut over Second Mountain and Gauley Ridge to German River.  With Second Mountain closed, we would have had to drive all the way around to FR 72 and then go up Long Run Road or Gauley Ridge Road to get to German River.  That would have put us on pavement and improved forest road for well over an hour.  We wanted to WHEEL!

 

Flagpole Knob via Skidmore Dam and Dunkle Hollow/Union Springs via Stone Camp/FR 225

Since our Friday night trail ride fell through, and our traversing to German River via Dictum Ridge was a bust, that left the Flagpole Knob run the closest trail.  Also Jon was having some problems with overheating, so this seemed like a good choice since most of it is pretty easy on driver and rig.  So we drove around to Route 933 and FR 225.  Soon we came to the large hill where an opportunity to play presented itself.  

Jim on FR 225
Jim on FR 225
Jim on FR 225Jim on FR 225
Jim on FR 225Jim on FR 225

Jim C., Mike and James all took on the hill.  Jim just crawled up and down with no great drama.

Mike on FR 225Mike on FR 225Mike on FR 225Mike on FR 225

Mike made several attempts to clear the ruts at the top and finally found 4-LO/Second gear was just what he needed to get up into the woods and to the turn-around spot.

James on FR 225James on FR 225James on FR 225James on FR 225James on FR 225

James was next and took it in great form, with Amanda along for the ride, presumably to evaluate the prowess of a modified Jeep (her next vehicle?).

Carl, Jon, and I chose not to attempt the hill.  I expect that I could probably make it but was not comfortable with the off-camber turn-around at the top.  I guess if Jim with his 4.5 inch lift, roof rack and 33" tires can turn around without trouble, I would be fine...  Maybe next time.  Jon didn't want to overwork his Bravada.

We took a lunch break.  I was dismayed to find that the sandwiches I had put in my cooler for Jim had turned to mush.  I usually use dry ice inside those plastic containers.  They don't turn to water in the cooler.  Unfortunately, ice does and Jim's sandwiches soaked it all up.  He managed to save part of one of them.  We ate and talked about our stuff, and Mike showed us a very interesting onboard computer that he is developing.  I'll let him tell you about it sometime!

After lunch we worked our way up to the branch where FR 225 ends and Stone Camp Road traces the ridge all the way to Meadow Knob and Flagpole Knob.  Along the way, we stopped for Jon a few times so he could cool down the Bravada. 

BreakBreakBreakBreak

Eventually we came to the two mild obstacles - one a downhill rocky section that we passed without comment, and next a rocky hill climb that we each took in turn.  Everyone made it through.  Jon showed us what a well driven Bravada can do coming up the rocky hill.

A storm appeared to be rolling in so I flipped my rack and put my top back up.  Due to the extra time needed, I have been very conservative about running top down.  I think I might have to get a bikini top or something like that so I can be a little more spontaneous.  We continued along the ridge with the sky getting darker and the temperature getting lower by the minute.  The last thing I wanted was to get caught in a thunderstorm on the ridge, and worse yet, in the middle of the field up on Meadow or Flagpole Knobs.

As luck would have it, the most we got was a few cold breezes and a few sprinkles.  With the weather holding out for the moment, we stopped along the trail to play where Stone Camp sits on the ridge.  

Stone Camp Rd obstacle

A rock outcrop presents a mild challenge.

Paul on Stone CampPaul on Stone CampPaul on Stone CampPaul on Stone CampPaul on Stone CampPaul on Stone CampPaul on Stone CampPaul on Stone CampFlexLoose stone under diff

I went over first, with some good spotting to prevent me from modifying my rear bumper and passenger side rear wheel.

Carl on Stone CampCarl on Stone CampCarl on Stone CampCarl on Stone CampCarl on Stone CampCarl on Stone Camp

Next came Carl, who acquitted himself beautifully.

Mike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone CampMike on Stone Camp

Mike demonstrated how a connected TJ differs from a disconnected TJ.  Got Air?

James decided that line had been explored well enough and tried something different.

James on Stone CampJames on Stone CampJames on Stone CampJames on Stone CampJames on Stone Camp

Jon like the line that James took and decided to try it too.

Jon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone CampJon on Stone Camp

Jim decided that going down was not enough and took the obstacle from both directions.  His upward approach was interesting.  At one point he was trying to get his front wheels up on the rock and we could see his front suspension pushing back toward the rear of the Jeep.  He decided that maybe a slightly different approach would prevent breakage...

Jim on Stone CampJim on Stone CampJim on Stone CampJim on Stone CampJim on Stone CampJim on Stone CampJim on Stone CampJim on Stone Camp

During his trip up the face of the rock, One of Jim's new Xterrains wrinkled itself around a rock.  It was folded over itself and looked to be about to get pinched against his steel wheel.  It was called to his attention and he backed off to get it out of harms way.

Jim on Stone Camp - Tire Wrinkle

After that he went up and down the rock, making me wish my priorities for my vehicle (90% commuting, 10% off-highway) could be biased in favor of trail riding...

Jim on Stone CampJim on Stone CampJim on Stone Camp

We got to Meadow knob where we found a group camping, with the Confederate flag proudly waving.  We gave them all the high sign as we passed, paused for a minute to admire the view from Meadow Knob, and to greet the dogs that came over to sniff us. 

Meadow KnobMeadow KnobMeadow Knob

Jim made some adjustments to his suspension (GOT T-55 Torx?) and we continued to Flagpole.

Flagpole KnobFlagpole KnobFlagpole Knob

We reached Flagpole a few minutes later and took in the misty view.  The Jeeps were lined up for a group photo. 

Flagpole KnobThe CrewFlagpole Knob

From there, we headed back to make our descent via Dunkle Hollow and Skidmore Dam.  Relying on my GPS, I headed toward the exit.  Just as I thought I had found it, Carl came out of it!  This confused me into thinking that I had the wrong spot and set me off checking the other marked trail entrances that I had, none of which were the right place.  During all of this, everyone was changing direction trying to keep up with me.  It go so silly that I think James may have turned around three or four times!  Needless to say I lost a little credibility right there.  Finally Carl shot off down the correct trail (directly adjacent to the one he had come shooting out of) and we all made our way down the switchbacks to Dunkle Hollow.

Paul hung upPaul hung up

Paul gets the strap

Paul gets the Strap (Movie: 2MB)

When we were all the way down in the hollow, Jim and Jon spotted what looked like a place to "play", off to the right.  Carl, Mike and James had already gone past it but Jon, Jim and I went in to check it out.  It was a small field that was quite muddy and a few little paths that lead to campsites.  On my way out, I decided to follow a path that lead over what looked like a small fallen log.  I got hung up on my transfer case skid plate and couldn't go forward or backward.  So now I had succeed to get lost and stuck in a matter of minutes.  Campfire time was going to be fun tonight...  Jim threw a strap on and yanked me off.  It bent my frame a little bit where the tow hook is attached.  The frame itself is still straight but the hole where the hook is bolted is popped out a bit.  I shall have to get that tow hook off and clean it up before using it again...

Not far down the trail, we came upon the group with the Scramblers and Scout from the campground.  They had run Kephart that morning and were now going up Flagpole.  The newly built Scrambler was having some overheating problems, and the Bronco was to end up loosing his power steering pump.  Just before we met up with them, some mountain bikers had passed us coming down the mountain.  They came up suddenly to the Scramblers and one fell off his bike making evasive maneuvers!  We stopped to chat for a minute and then continued along Dunkle Hollow to a spot where we stopped and Jim aired up enough to be able to drive on pavement without too much trouble.  Then we went back to camp.

Supper Break

CampCampCampCamp

Everybody got busy with supper.  I made beef stew using a recipe that I remembered from Boy Scouts, adding dumplings to give it some body.  It was a very satisfying meal that renewed my energy.  I roasted some corn on the cob and had that as well.  Jim shared some terrific steak with us, and everyone got a taste of something from the various things we were all cooking.  After a basic clean-up, we re-grouped for our night run.

 

Kephart

After some light hearted teasing about Friday's abortive attempt to go out, we headed for Kephart.  We turned in and, with everyone aired down, proceeded down the trail without stopping.  It was dark by this time and it made the trail interesting.  Along the way were many small groups camping in the woods.  This is my idea of camping.  But I must admit it is nice to have clean toilets, shower and running water nearby...  Eventually the trail got a little bit more challenging as it neared the end and the rock obstacle that gives us our main reason for coming here.

The rock field just before the waterfall rock was the gateway to the waterfall.  I used to think that if you could not make it through, then you probably didn't belong on the waterfall.  My first reaction on this evening was that the rock field seemed surprisingly easy.  There is a boulder and a tree that make the exit a little tricky - usually.  If you don't like the rock, you can go around the tree.  But the route around the tree is very off camber and uncomfortable.  I have always gone over the rock and have usually managed to clear it without banging anything too badly.  On this trip, I went through without so much as a fern touching.  Hmmmmm, must be that Old Man EMU lift....

Next comes the short stretch of trail just before the waterfall.  It is narrow and off camber.  It's probably only about 15 degrees but because it's so narrow it feels like more.  This was no problem and I found myself at the bottom of the waterfall rock.

Now I have been here three times before this trip.  The first time, I parked my Jeep before the rock field and became a spectator.  On the second and subsequent trips, I mustered up the courage to go through the rock field and up the waterfall with varying degrees of success.  From these trips, I learned the lines that worked for me and was confident that on this trip, even in the dark, I would be able to navigate both sections without much trouble.

Having just completed the rock field so nicely, I felt very good about going right up the waterfall rock without even stopping for a spotter.  The headlights lit it up very well, I chose my line and went right up.  I threaded through the tree and rocks at the top and pulled ahead to allow room for the rest of the group.  Each person behind me, starting with Carl, came right up the rock, through the trees, and parked behind me.  I went back in time to spot Mike through the tree and rock at the top.  Jim C just drove straight up and through with no problems.

This was way too easy...  Was it because we had come at night and the lighting we had made the correct line easy to spot?  At first that is what I thought.  What a great job I had done of showing people "the line".  Well, not so fast...

Once everyone was over, Jim and I were going back to get his wife and young son who opted to watch from outside the Jeep.  As we walked down the waterfall rock, we found out why it was so easy.  With flashlights trained on the rock, we discovered 100's of stones filling the holes, chinks, ruts, and irregularities in the entire rock.  

Comparison of Kephart with and without extra rocks

It was basically paved!  What the...?!  No WONDER it was so easy.  It was so smooth a marble would roll right straight off without even bouncing!  This will not do!  Whoever did this spent some serious time and carefully chose each rock to place into the surface of the obstacle.

Needless to say I was disappointed that we had come all the way out here in the dark to attempt one of the few challenges in the forest, only to find that someone had been here before us and fixed it so they could drive their Honda CRV up it.  We discussed removing the stones and restoring it to the condition it was first found, but it was already 10pm and dark.  We all wanted to get back to camp and get some sleep.  Jim had his little boy with him and no doubt wanted to get him in bed too.  Reluctantly, we turned around and headed out, leaving this "trail clean-up" for another day.  On the way out, we were treated to some silly jokes, fit for PG-13 audiences, and a "scary" story about the "Bunny Man"....  As we reached the pavement, a van was coming in so we just hit the road for the campground.

Epilogue

So it was that we returned to camp from our night run, spread out around the fire for a while telling stories and remembering the day.  Eventually, everyone went to bed.

Brandywine Campground Overflow areaBrandywine Campground Overflow areaThe Neighbors

In the morning we cleared the camp and hit the road - Carl, Jim and I for the Metro DC area, James, Mike, Jon and Amanda would be staying a while longer to run some more trails. 

Rt 33 Descent from Shenadoah Mt.Route 33 Climb from BrandywineRt 33 Descent from Shenadoah Mt.

Those of us leaving met in Harrisonburg and had pizza at Pizza Hut, with Carl and Kelsey feeling a little bit the worse for wear.  Perhaps they drank the water?  I went to the car wash (what a surprise!) and Jim soon appeared as well.  Then we hit the road and parted ways when we once again reached Routes 81 and 66.  It was a great weekend that has me looking forward to the next camping/wheeling outing!

 

Jim Culfogienis Photos

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