Gimlet Ridge Overlook to Little Hogback Overlook

MILE 18.4, GIMLET RIDGE OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,675 feet. The view is straight out toward Signal Knob, at the right-hand end of the Massanutten. Farther to the right you can look across the Browntown Valley and the Shenandoah Valley. The sketch shows the right-hand end of the view, beginning just to the right of Browntown. The cliff on South Marshall, shown at the right end of the sketch, has a very worthwhile view, and it's an easy walk from Mile 15.95 on the Drive. (See page 95.)

To your left, the high peak with the radio towers is Hogback, with Gimlet Ridge descending to the right of it. Gooney Run, which drains the Browntown Valley, flows away from you—past Browntown and out through the notch between Dickey Ridge and the last of the three small

View to right from Gimlet Ridge Overlook
View to right from Gimlet Ridge Overlook

hills that enclose the Browntown Valley on the left. These hills, with nearly the same elevation and almost equally spaced, are, from left to right, Round Mountain, Long Mountain, and Buck Mountain.

MILE 18.9, A.T. CROSSING. Elevation 2,805 feet. There's parking space in the grass, on the east side. Distances on the A.T.: North (on the east side of the Drive) it's 1.3 miles to Gravel Springs Gap, Mile 17.6. South (on the west side) it's 0.6 mile to Little Hogback Overlook, Mile 19.7.

View from Mount Marshall Overlook (No. 1)
View from Mount Marshall Overlook (No. 1)

MILE 19.0, MOUNT MARSHALL OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,850 feet. The view is wide, and I've used two sketches to show it. The first one shows the left part of the view, from the Marshalls to Harris Hollow, which is a little to the left of straight out from the overlook. The cliffs on both Marshalls provide fine views, and can be easily reached from Mile 15.95.

Report: People who live in the Piedmont near here call Mount Marshall "Big Bastard", and The Peak "Little Bastard."

View from Mount Marshall Overlook (No. 2)
View from Mount Marshall Overlook (No. 2)

In the second sketch, the hollow between Jenkins Mountain and Keyser Mountain is locally called Gib Brown Hollow, though I can't find that name on the maps. In both Gib Brown and Harris hollows you can see trees in rows. These are some of the apple orchards for which Rappahannock County is famous.

Geology: Note that The Peak, Wolf Mountain, Jenkins Mountain, and Keyser Mountain, all of which you can see from here, are separated by gaps from the main Blue Ridge. From overlooks farther south you can see that Pignut, Fork Mountain, and Oventop are similarly separated from the main ridge. A fault line passes through the gaps that separate these mountains from the ridge. It was not movement along the fault that caused the separation; but such movement shattered and weakened the rocks, and made them more susceptible to erosion.

History: As I've mentioned, Lord Fairfax kept seignorial rights to several huge estates in this area. One of these was the Manor of Leeds, which consisted of 119,927 acres, including the two peaks of Mount Marshall and lands to the east and north.

Lord Fairfax must have seen the American Revolution coming, for in 1767 he "conveyed" his estates to his nephew, who promptly "conveyed" them back. Thus Fairfax acquired a private title, as well as a seignorial title, to his lands. After the revolution the seignorial title was worthless, but the private title remained valid.

Fairfax died in 1781. His heir later sold the estates to a syndicate of speculators, who divided the land among them. The speculator that got the Manor of Leeds was John Marshall, who was Chief Justice of the United States from 1801 to 1835. The two Mount Marshalls are named for him.

MILE 19.4, KEYSER RUN FIRE ROAD, east side. A.T. access, west side. Hikes. There's a small parking area beside the fire road, a few feet from the Drive. Note: This is the former Jinney Gray fire road. The name was changed in 1980 on the grounds that nobody knows who Jinney Gray was.

Legend: Jinney Gray was a mountain girl who was so friendly that mountain men beat a path to her door. In the late 1930's the Civilian Conservation Corps made the path into a road, even though Jinney was no longer there.

Look at the map on page 107, and note that I've given a separate letter of the alphabet to each trail junction. You're at point "A", at right center of the map, at one end of a network of trails and roads that offer a dozen or more different hikes. The best starting point for most of them, I think, is point "L", at top center of the map. In the discussion of hikes from that point, page 106, is a table giving the distance and climb for each link in the network. Using the table and the map, you can put together your own hikes. I will suggest only three that you might start from here.

HIKE: Keyser Run, Piney Branch, A.T. Circuit 6.8 miles; total climb about 1,145 feet; time required 5:30. This is a medium-difficult hike. None of it is very steep, and only a few stretches are rough. (The only views are from Hogback and Little Hogback Mountains, which are easily reached from Mile 19.7 and Mile 20.4 on the Drive.)

Follow the Keyser Run Road, mostly downhill, for exactly a mile to four-way. Here the Little Devils Stairs Trail goes left, and the Pole Bridge Link goes right. Turn right. The Pole Bridge Link is nearly level, following an old road trace most of the way; it is less than one mile to point "J". Continue straight, onto the Piney Branch Trail, and cross the stream at the site of the former 'pole bridge'.

From point "J" to point "K" it's mostly smooth, and gently uphill. At "K" the Piney Branch Trail and the A.T. meet. Turn right onto the A.T. and cross the Drive at point "M" on the map, with Rattlesnake Point Overlook in view to the right. Ascend easily past the summit of Sugarloaf; pass the junction with the Big Blue Trail on the left, and then cross the first of the four humps of Hogback.

Cross the Drive and climb the second hump. A short side trail on the left leads to some large granite boulders above Hogback Mountain Overlook, with a view down the crest of Gimlet Ridge and, to the right, Browntown Valley and Dickey Ridge. Descend, cross the Drive, and climb the third and highest hump of Hogback. On the summit are antenna towers of various radio systems, including the one used by the Park. There's no view from here; but descend about 150 yards on the far side of the summit, and watch for a short side trail leading to a viewpoint at the left. (This point is used as a hang-glide launching site, because the slope is abrupt.) Straight ahead you can look down the Browntown Valley to Front Royal, with Dickey Ridge ascending to the right. On your left, Gimlet Ridge descends from the high point on Hogback.

Continue across the fourth hump of Hogback, and descend to Little Hogback Overlook. About 125 yards beyond the overlook, with the summit of Little Hogback on your right, the A.T. takes a sharp right turn; straight ahead a side trail leads to a ledge with a view similar to that from the hang-glide launch site. Continue on the A.T. for another quarter of a mile, and watch for the side trail that will take you back to your starting point.

HIKE: Little Devils Stairs. Round trip 4.8 miles, total climb about 1,585 feet; time required 5:15. This hike takes you to the bottom of the canyon, and back again by the same route; it requires a fairly strenuous effort. (There is a small parking area at point "D" on the map. If you can get some one to meet you there, you can make this a one-way hike and save a lot of climbing.) Little Devils Stairs is very much like Big Devils Stairs (page 96), and not a great deal smaller.

Take the Keyser Run Road, mostly downhill, for one mile to "Fourway" (point "B" on the map). Turn left onto the Little Devils Stairs Trail, which descends and curves right, down to the stream. Just to your left at this point is a small waterfall. The trail turns right and descends beside the stream, crossing it many times (more than I've shown on the map.) The next mile is pure rock scramble, with no relief. You climb over boulders in a narrow gorge between high rock walls, beside an almost endless series of cascades. The going is a little easier if you watch for and follow the blue blazes, but it doesn't really matter. There is no trail, only a suggested route for your rock scramble. and there's no way you can get lost while you're hemmed in by sheer rock walls.

The stream crossings aren't difficult because the stream is small. But the rocks can be deceptively slippery, even when they're dry. Use caution, especially on the way down the gorge. (For some reason the footing seems a little more reliable on the way up.) If it's raining, or if there's snow or ice on the rocks, I suggest that you call the whole thing off.

At the bottom of the gorge (point "C" on the map), the trail flattens out and swings to the right, away from the stream. Turn back here.

HIKE: Little Devils Stairs. Circuit 7.7 miles, total climb about 1,845 feet; time required 7:15. This hike goes down the gorge and then returns by fire roads. Because of its length and the amount of climbing, it's a fairly difficult hike.

As above, to the foot of Little Devils Stairs, at point "C" on the map, page 107. The trail swings to the right, away from the water. Look for evidence of the mountain people who once lived here: a split rail fence, an old stone wall, and rock abutments where a bridge once crossed the stream. (I have a report that the bridge was built by the CCC, not the mountain people.) Continue to point "D" on the map, where you will find a small parking area beside the Keyser Run Road.

Turn right on the road; pass the posts and chain at the Park boundary, and continue to the junction at point "E", 1.4 miles from "D". Turn right. The Bolen cemetery is now in sight, diagonally ahead on your right. As you can imagine, it once was fairly elegant; but now the wall is crumbling, and the gate is off its hinges. Inside the wall are 21 inscribed markers of marble or granite, and a dozen fieldstone markers. No one has been buried here since the Park was created. The Bolens were relatively prosperous farmers, millers, and blacksmiths. Two Bolen families, owning a total of 795 acres, were displaced from this area when the Park was established.

Continue on the Keyser Run Road, mostly uphill, another 3.3 miles to your starting point. Note on the map that, about half a mile before you get to Fourway, the road makes a 90-degree turn to the left. After you make the turn, if you're not too tired, look off to the right for a view of the cliffs that border Little Devils Stairs.

NOTE: You can, of course, take this circuit hike in the opposite direction. As I've said, it's a little safer to climb up the canyon than down, and going up gives you a better view of the cascades. The clockwise circuit, as I've described it, has the advantage of doing the hard part first, before you get too tired.

MILE 19.7, LITTLE HOGBACK OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,035 feet. A.T. access. Short walk to viewpoint. The overlook itself provides a narrow view down the Browntown Valley. At your left, the crest of Hogback Mountain rises above the treetops. The summit of Little Hogback is out of sight in the woods, about 500 feet to your right. The A.T. passes below the overlook, 25 yards beyond the wall. And 25 yards beyond the A.T., the slope drops off steeply into the Browntown Valley.

Access to the A.T. is via a 25-yard trail at the north end of the overlook (that's the right-hand end, as you face the Valley.) Distances on the A.T.: North (straight ahead from the end of the access trail) it's 0.6 mile to the Drive crossing at Mile 18.9. South (a sharp double-back to the left from the end of the access trail) it's 1.2 miles to the Drive crossing at Mile 20.8, at the north end of Hogback Overlook.

The round trip to the viewpoint is a little less than 0.2 mile, with a climb of about 80 feet. Take the connecting trail at the north end of the overlook and continue in the same direction on the A.T. to where it makes a sharp right turn. A side trail goes straight ahead here, fifteen yards to the viewpoint. The view is straight out through the Browntown Valley to the north end of the Massanutten. Dickey Ridge ascends to the right; Browntown is in a line between you and the high point on Dickey Ridge. Hogback is at your left, with Gimlet Ridge descending from it to the hills that close off the Browntown Valley on the west.

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© Copyright 1997 Antony Heatwole, All rights reserved