Iron Mountain (Mar 23, 2016)

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iron_mtn_coverConditions: Day Hike
Gear: nothing special
Map: USGS Laurel Bloomery, TN
Area: Laurel Bloomery, TN
Reference: n/a
Stats: 6.43mi, 1553' gain (round trip)

Vacation plans changed this year. The planned two week trip to Death Valley and Joshua Tree was instead replaced with a trip to TN to visit my parents. Wow...I'm really glad for the change.

I was hoping to get out for a couple of hikes while I was visiting. I didn't realize how easy it was going to be. Yesterday I walked off my parents property and up the street a bit looking for the connector trail my dad said was there. At the sharp bend in the road, where Deer Run Rd makes a sharp left turn, there is a trailhead. It is not marked and by my standards (20 years of hiking in WA) it just doesn't look like a trailhead. There is not trailhead marker, no trail register, there isn't really even a wide spot to park in if one drove to the trailhead. Instead, the trailhead was just a wide slit of land sandwiched between private property with barbed wire on both sides and the private property clearly marked with "No Trespassing" signs. The trail looks more like an old wagon road, I hope someday I can find out what the history is behind this connector trail.

On the day of my hike I just walked out my parents front door and off the porch, then down the long driveway and up to Deer Run Rd for about 1/2 mi until I got to the "trailhead" (elevation 2928'). The trail/road (I think I saw some info during my research that indicated this was a 4WD road with the road continuing down the other side of the ridge). The ridges in TN are tame by my standards so i wasn't surprised that the road just headed straight uphill at first. At about 3150' the ridge gets a bit steeper and the trail/road starts to zig and zag a bit. I reached the ridge of Iron Mountain at 3485', about 557' from the trailhead.

Once on the ridge the choice was to head right (north) towards Damascus, VA or left (south) towards Sandy Gap. The family was planning a hike for Saturday when more people had arrived in town for the Easter weekend and it was possible we might choose to hike the north section of the Iron Mtn trail into Damascus so I decided to head south. It is easy ridge walking, lots and lots of rolling bumps along the way.

TN is many weeks behind WA for Spring. Except for the green leaves of the laurels and rhodies, everything was brown. There were no wildflowers blooming yet. That's OK because the openness of the trees allowed for big wide views in all directions.

The Iron Mountain trail section I hiked is interesting...the map showed a trail heading up from the east side of the ridge and it looked like it could connect the Iron Mtn trail to the end of Deer Run Rd...but I couldn't find the trail. To me it looked gone. But it just could have been hard to see under all the oak leaves that covered the forest floor. It was interesting though that I did see one old trail (I could see tread under the leaves and cut logs marking the route) along my way AND near where I turned around...there was flagging and what looked like a newly constructed trail both coming up from the west side of the ridge. Neither of those trails is marked on the USGS map.

The Iron Mtn Trail is quite long. There is a northern section (running north out of Damascus, VA) and a southern section running south also out of Damascus. North to south the trail looks to run some ways...about 16 miles south of Damascus and another 10+ to the north of Damascus. I was surprised (I shouldn't have been) by the extensive trail systems in the area. When I looked up more info on the Iron Mtn Trail I was surprised to find that this was actually the original route of the Appalachian Trail in the area. According to this wiki there was a major relocation of the trail in 1972 which moved the AT into the Roan Highlands further to the west as it avoided communication towers and was more scenic. Now on my short hike I didn't see any communication towers and I thought the hike was very scenic...but I'll take their word for it.

Anyway...I continued on my hike until I reached a minor highpoint along the ridge then I plopped myself down for a snack before I turned around and hiked back "home". I got home about in time for a late lunch. I have to say it is very strange to be able to walk off the porch and basically be at a trailhead. No driving to a trailhead, no walking a long closed road section to get to a trailhead...basically...I was there at the start.

Notes: The connector trail up to the Iron Mtn trail looks to be an old wagon road. It's OK in most spots but pretty rocky, rutted, and wet in a few spots. The Iron Mtn trail is just a rolling ridge walk. Very nice. I could have roamed for hours if I had the time. It would be nice to someday go back and hike the IMT in it's entirety.  Being a ridge hike...there is no water along the way.

3/24/2016: Rogers Ridge
3/26/2016: Appalachian Trail to Iron Mountain Loop
Iron Mountain Slideshow

(click on map to view a larger version)

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