I'm really glad I found the GPS coordinates of the parking area and studied Google Earth to see where I was going in advance. Directions to this parking area are scarce on the web. On the ground, though, the trailhead wasn't that hard to find as it occurs in a big bend in FS 92 just after it crosses Little Stoney Creek. One set of directions had the parking lot on the right coming from our direction; clearly it is on the left. In any case, the trailhead is in a fairly remote area and the roads are not well marked. I navigated by mileage taken from Google Maps.
Once in the parking area, we checked out the signboard that offers the map below. Our journey to Big Schloss took us in a counterclockwise loop initially heading north on the yellow-blazed Little Stony Creek Trail to the junction with the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail at the Sugar Knob Cabin. Then we climbed west up to the junction with the orange-blazed Mill Mountain Trail and hiked back south to the white-blazed trail leading up to Big Schloss. From there we backtracked north to the Carolina blue-blazed Big Schloss Cutoff Trail back to FS 92 and the car. Our GPS had us at about 13 miles total for the day for the roughly 12-mile loop and a bit more for visiting overlooks along the way.
|We Did the Little Stony Creek-Mill Mountain Loop|
|Trails Are Very Well Marked|
We both started out the day in shorts and long sleeves as the temperature was in the upper 40s to about 50 when we started our hike. About a mile in as we were getting limbered up, the sun started filtering down in the little creek valley and we took a quick break to shed our outer layers. I noticed in the first mile that my left ankle was a bit tender from my fall two weeks before on the Massanutten Trail. I was then glad that we took last week off from hiking. About two miles in, I first reached for my bandana to wipe the sweat from my brow: so much for it being cool. The climb up to the cabin is gentle but relentless.
At some point about an hour in and a few minutes before we hit the cabin, we were both working up a good hunger, not really having eaten much breakfast. Ann asked what I had made for lunch and I enthusiastically described the Canadian bacon and tapenade roll-ups that I made, my mouth watering. And as I finished describing them, I said, "And, I left them at home!" Doh! I did forget something in my early morning stupor. It wasn't a big deal other than we were both really looking forward to tucking in to them a bit later. We always leave plenty of emergency food in our packs and I had just made a big batch of trail mix for Ann. All day, we snacked on that bag of dried cranberries, peanut M&Ms, and oats and almonds roasted with maple syrup and a lot of salt.
|Break Time at Sugar Knob Cabin|
|Color on Tuscarora Trail|
|Blueberries Turning Color|
|Lots of Barren Trees|
|The Mileages Were Very Accurate|
|Great Acorn Crop This Year|
|Fall Still Life|
|Virginia Creeper on Lichen|
|Columbine Changing Color|
|Still Life with Pine Cone|
|Neat Mushroom Cluster|
While we were at the overlook, we climbed up into the sun and took a moment to look out over the Lost River south of Wardensville. When Ann climbed back down to me, I noticed that she had scraped her leg climbing the rock, but it appeared to be minor and she didn't mention it. Only the next day did I see that the little scrape was surrounded by a big bruise. She has no idea how it happened.
We took our leave of the group who were still taking a water break, heading out to Big Schloss several minutes ahead of them. It wasn't too far from here that Ann said something about her left foot hurting and we stopped to put some padding over a newly forming blister. Annie got new boots this past week after discovering the hard way that her former shoes were too small. And over my objections, she insisted on wearing the new boots anyway, with predictable results. I even carried her old shoes in my pack so that she could switch out after a while. But no, I have a thick-headed wife! I would rebandage the blisters up on top of Big Schloss so that she could continue on to the car.
|Mountain Goat Annie|
|Looking at Lost River, WV|
|Striking Fuchsia Stems on Pokeberry, Phytolacca americana|
|A Few Asters in Bloom|
|Phenomenal Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare|
|Knotweed Still in Bloom|
|A Snakeroot on Top of Big Schloss|
|Solidagos Among the Few Plants in Bloom|
|Rare Photo of the Photographer|
As we turned onto the summit trail, we noticed the same hiker sprawled out on the ground, sucking wind, and pulling a full 2-liter bottle of iced tea and another of water out of his brand new and immense pack that was loaded with tons of other stuff and festooned with shiny pastel-hued carabiners. One of the hike leaders was staying back with him. He was clearly a novice hiker who had decided to make one of his first jaunts a 12- or 13-mile hike. I was worried about his ability to get back to the car and no doubt so were the hike leaders. He finally did make it to the summit where he rested in the shade. I don't imagine that he was enjoying himself or the spectacular views very much.
After a brief hike to nearly the top, as we came out of the woods, we were rewarded with spectacular views both east and west. Continuing on just a few more yards, right before the summit there is a 45-foot long wooden bridge across a small chasm. The bridge leads to the top of the rock formation that we could see from the trail below. Sadly, we were nowhere near alone: I would estimate that there were 30 people up top, way more than I wanted, but with Big Schloss being only about two miles from the Wolf Gap parking lot, a lot of casual use is to be expected.
|Looking West Over the Lost River|
|Looking South from Big Schloss|
|The Bridge at Big Schloss|
|Color and Scenery Was Fantastic|
|Big Schloss East Side; People for Scale|
|Color at Big Schloss Peak|
|Annie Enjoying the View...|
|...And Her Obligatory Boot Shot|
|Looking West from Big Schloss|
|More of the Stacked Sandstone Formation|
|Annie in Another Yoga Pose|
|And Again, Little Sluice in Background|
And With a Friend
We left the big group at the summit, but they passed us about three-quarters of a mile down the trail, and then we caught up with them once again at the cutoff trail. We let them go ahead of us there, but we passed the newbie hiker a mile and a half later. Clearly he had taken a big spill, but fortunately was apparently unhurt save for his feelings. We passed the group for a final time at FS92 as they waited for their stragglers to catch up. The relatively flat dirt road proved smooth sailing for my knee, so we made good time back to the car. We arrived a couple minutes before the main group.
We enjoyed a beer in the parking lot while getting out of our hiking shoes and stowing our gear. At 5pm, it was starting to get dark back in the woods. We said our goodbyes to the group and took a short walk down to Little Stoney Creek after they had gone. I took a tumble on the rocks as one of my flip-flops came off and that was enough of a day for us. We packed it up and headed back to the house. During the ride home, Carter texted to ask if we would go to Chili's with him for dinner. This is where he now works and he wanted to show us off a bit. At this point, having noshed only on granola, we both felt like we could have eaten horses.
|Post Hike Next to Little Stony Creek|
|Post Hike with Carter and Jess at Chili's|