GET Section 6b Trail Report

August 22, 2009

FDR 173 (Benson Run Road) to VA 627 (Scotchtown Road) on Shenandoah Mountain (14.3 miles)
      This was the next section north from where I had gone the week before. 
      It rained early in the hike, was foggy for much of the day, and cleared off near the end.  The drive had its own excitements.  Just before reaching VA 627, my car got hit by a deer.  I saw a fawn running from the right, heard a smack, and then saw the deer flipping over up in the air in my rear-view mirror.  I thought it was a goner, but immediately after it landed, it got up and ran off in the direction it was heading.  My hiking partner David didn't know it was a deer until it got up and ran off.  We had company with a biking group of about 18 from Raleigh, NC who were doing the same section of trail that day.  None of us had ever done, hike or bike, this section before.  Since we drove further up the road before starting the hike, we were hiking before they got on the trail.  It took about one hour before the first ones passed us, and another two hours before the last ones did. 
      After the hike was over, we got caught behind a parade in Deerfield.  Deerfield is not a big town, only 60 buildings, but each house had at least 8 people watching the parade.  Still, the parade was finished in less than 10 minutes, even with help of fire departments from places like Churchville, Craigsville, and Verona. 
      The trail is nearly all footpath, just a tiny bit of old road, and the grade is very gentle (see observations below).  It is signed at both ends. 
      Some observations:

  • Finding FDR 173 at its intersection with VA 629 (Deerfield Valley Road) is fairly easy if you are heading south, but easy to miss if you are heading north, out of Deerfield.  There is no street sign at the intersection, just a sign with "173" and an arrow.  
  • FDR 173 has a gate at 0.8 mile that you have to open to get through, then you must close it once through.  
  • The first 2 miles of FDR 173 are a good surface gravel lane.  After that the 2.6 miles up to the Shenandoah Mountain Trail are difficult driving on a mud and rock road.  In that distance, there are 40+ regularly spaced near-road-wide puddles, evidently put there intentionally.  Next time, I'm going to park at the 2 mile mark.  
  • There was no notable Gypsy Moth damage on the trees on this section of Shenandoah Mountain.  
  • The Shenandoah Mountain Trail is blazed with either yellow plastic diamonds or two-part paint marks shaped like an "i", except the dot is usually wider than the stem.  But there are long sections where no blazes are to be seen.  There is only one place where there is uncertainty as to which way to go (see below).  
  • The SMT is a narrow footpath, except for the first 200 yards from FDR 173.  The grade is gentle the whole way.  
  • All of the maps show the trail climbing to the top of South Sister Knob (elev. 3088') and then dropping incredibly steeply down to VA 627 (elev. 1957') in only 0.6 mile.  This is not true.  Just as it starts up South Sister Knob, it starts to skirt the mountain on the west side and is evenly gently downhill the rest of the way.  
  • There is very little poison ivy--just one little patch about 3 miles south of FDR 173, not reaching into the trail.  There are several stinging nettle patches, though, some fairly big.  But I was wearing shorts, and did not get stung, although I was wary of them.  
  • The main in-reaching plants on this section of trail were Black Locust.  Although thorny, they did not snag my clothing.  Perhaps other people pulled most of the thorns off.  Because of the length of the hike, I did not try to prune any of these plants.  It would not be too difficult to do so.  Most of the trail is wide open with no plant growth reaching in.  
  • Although the tread is fairly well defined, there are no water bars on it, and a few places have some erosion problems.  
  • There are not many blowdown problems.  
  • There are two trail intersections in this section: Nelson Draft Trail at mile 4.3 and the combination Jerkemtight Road/Marshall Draft Trail at mile 10.5.  Nelson Draft Trail goes to the right (west).  Jerkemtight Road goes to the left into a field, then left again and an abandoned road goes right toward Wallace Peak.  Marshall Draft Trail leads right, almost parallel to Shenandoah Mountain Trail for about 0.2 mile, visible below it.  Both Nelson Draft and Marshall Draft Trails are blazed with yellow triangles, same as Shenandoah Mountain Trail, so there can be some confusion.  There is a triple diamond at the confusing intersection.  
  • The trail is probably used more by mountain bikers than hikers.  It is good for that purpose mostly, but there are just a few rocky places (rockslides on the side of hills) that are difficult for them.  All told, they probably make up less than 1% of the total distance.  
  • I saw no camping sites in this section, although there are a number of places where a tent could be set up.  
  • A few of the mountain bikers started further north, and reported more Stinging Nettles in that section, which I still have not hiked.  I'll have to be on guard for that. 


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