Saturday, March 5, 2011

Day trip to Half Moon Mountain Lookout, Virginia/West Virginia

We took off again last Saturday for the mountains to take advantage of another round of some very nice and not-so-February-like weather.  Our destination was Half Moon Mountain Lookout, a peak and favorite hike of ours in the Great North Mountain area of the George Washington National Forest.  It sits along the Virginia/West Virginia border not too far from the small West Virginia town of Wardensville.

The trail to the peak of Half Moon Mountain is not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, and there are trails along the Blue Ridge over towards the east which are probably more scenic, and it certainly does not compare to some of our hikes out west.  There is something about the Half Moon Mountain area, however, that continues to draw us there. We have taken the trek to the peak about a half-dozen times over the past 7 years, while T has probably hiked, mountain biked, or run it another 15 times prior to meeting H.   When T would take folks to the mountains for hikes, this is usually the trail he would take them to.  It is also the first mountain hike we did together.

The peak of Half Moon Mountain provides some nice views and the area itself is somewhat remote, if the mountains 100 miles from the DC area can be called remote.  Rarely do we see people on the trail.  Maybe that is what keeps bringing us back.  Or, perhaps it is the lovely streams, multiple creek crossings, the view of Trout Run Valley, the meadows, and the old abandoned farm the trail provides. 

It is almost 4 miles one-way to the lookout, so the out-and-back trip is close to 8 miles.  We usually do the round trip, however, which tops out at 11.6 miles.  T's GPS says the elevation gain to the peak is around 1,300 feet, starting at 1,500 and reaching a tad over 2,800 at the top.

The trail starts along Waites Run in an area called Wilson's Cove.
The only drawback of the area is that it is used by hunters in the Fall, largely for deer hunting, although T once met some guys seeking black bears.  We have nothing against hunters, but men with guns wandering around the woods make us nervous, so we are careful in the Fall.

The first leg is on the Pond Run Trail.

The trail follows Pond Run up a gorge to the top of a ridge.
And crosses Pond Run 9 times on the way up, making for some tricky crossings during Spring runoff.

 Most of the climb to the ridge is in the last .75 miles or so, and even then is not really very steep. 

At the top of the ridge, a few foot bridges have been built over some marshy areas.
Also at the top of the ridge, the Pond Run Trail links up with the Half Moon Trail, and from the junction it is another 1.5 miles or so to the peak.  The route along the ridge is an easy and pleasant walk through the woods.

Half Moon Mountain from the ridge.  Hard to tell from the photo, but the ridge linking the point where this photo is taken  and the peak in front of you forms a crescent shape, giving the mountain its name.  The trail follows the ridge off to the right of the photo and then reappears along the crest in the right background.
From the ridge, there is a network of other trails to try.

And places to camp.  This site is just under the Lookout.  About 50 feet beyond is a 500-foot drop off.

And here is the lookout...or the remains of what was an old fire tower.
The view from the top.  The ridge on the right is Long Mountain.  It's counterpart to the left is Mill Mountain, and the low ground between is called Trout Run Valley.   Off in the center distance about 10 miles away is Wolf Gap.  The rocks in the foreground provide a nice place for a picnic lunch and taking in the scenery.

The northern nob of the Long Mountain ridge.

From the Lookout, we head back in a generally southward direction along Half Moon trail towards Sugar Knob. 

It is a nice walk through  picturesque woods dotted with interesting rock formations, including this one, which resembles the wall of some ancient fortification.
A few miles down the ridge, one turns east on the Peer Trail for the return to our starting point.  Unfortunately, this trail over the years has not been maintained and one must navigate numerous felled trees.   This descent is the most tiring part of the hike.
But when you reach the bottom, you are greeted by the pastures of an old abandoned farm.

And the upper reaches of Waites Run.

With more creek crossings.

And a pleasant walk down an old farm lane through former pastures and a small orchard towards.....

An old farm house.  When T first started hiking through here, the house was occupied and this was a working farm.

The old house looks to have been a modest, but nice place.  It probably has been abandoned now for more than 10 years, although hunters still use the area.

The land it sits on is beautiful.
This view is towards the west.  The sun is sinking behind the hills.

The property also includes a pond.  Ice continues to cloak almost half its surface even though temperatures were close to 50 degrees.

Our last creek crossing.   This is Waites Run again.

On the backside of the pond is an old water mill.

The end of our hike and a last shot of Waites Run.
A tiring, but nice way to spend a day.  If you like the hike and need directions or wish to see a more detailed description, we suggest using Circuit Hikes in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

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