Climbing Rich Mtn. – 1 – 9 -2020

After a 72 day period of not being able to hike since our last trip, I thought it was high time to get back into the woods. I had been wanting to get back up on Rich Mountain to relocate the old Mill Creek Pond to clear up some fuzzy memories from the old days back when we could drive up there however, now that one must climb an insanely steep hill just to get to the top of the mountain, I misjudged my physical ability to do so. Having not been hiking near as much as my usual in the past year due to health issues and other obligations, I was definitely out of shape for this particular hike. Knowing the daylight hours were short and bad weather on the approach, my son Tyler and I got an early start to take advantage of the fair weather and time that we had to work with. It was a nice sunny morning as we made our way up the South Fork of Sill Branch on our way to the Hill from Hell !

rich mountain
Snow seen in the distance on the tops of the Rich Mountain range
Postcard blue sky and bright sun on the MonkeyHead Rocks as we began our hike

Water levels were up so, the creeks were running good though, we were not here to take waterfall pics. We had a very steep mountain to climb. It was slow going and my legs were burning by the time I could even see the top high above us. I was very happy when we reached the old log road and I could finally enjoy being on a more level grade. I had to lay down in the grassy road to rest awhile before I could even continue. It was not long before we could see some patches of snow then some visuals off in the distance of solid snow on Wilson Knob and the surrounding mountains there.

Beginning of South Sill Branch
Waterfall on South Sill Br
Nice rock cliffs above South Sill Br
Tyler somewhere on the hill from Hell
Almost to the end of the hill from Hell !
Hiking along the old log road. It is still uphill but, nothing like the hill from Hell !!!
First snow we seen
Snow on Rich Mtns and Wilson Knob in the distance

Hiking on the graded road was much easier and way more enjoyable but, I could tell I was already feeling drained and to add insult to injury the wind was picking up and the clouds were starting to come in. By the time we reached the end of the road near the top of Rich Mountain, my feet were starting to hurt. We had a quick snack and some water to refuel our bodies and started searching for the old route I was trying to recall. The first direction I chose took us up a hill to a point that I realized this was not it. More wasted energy that I did not have. The second choice was also incorrect and was slightly uphill coming back which burned more of my dwindling, precious supply of energy. Continuing in the right direction out the ridge this time I did find the right road but, looking down it I could see it was a steep descent and I knew immediately it was the right one and knew how far down it would be to reach the pond. I was so tired at this point that I was not even taking pictures ! The wind was starting to roar now and we could hear limbs and trees falling in the woods around us. My feet and legs were starting to ache in numerous places and we only had a couple hours of daylight left so, I felt like if I descended down to the pond that I would not have the required energy to climb back out of there and be able to make the long, arduous journey back to the vehicle. I knew that going back down the Hill from Hell was going to be a slow go and was going to hurt not to mention the miles it would take to get to it and the mile or so after reaching the bottom of it. Unfortunately, we had to turn around and start hiking out as quick as we could.

Distant views from the high country log road
Although this leads to the Mill Cr headwaters, it does not lead to the pond.
Dead end looking into the headwaters of Mill Creek
Large gnarly tree near the dead end trail

I was sad that we did not reach our destination but, I had found the right road which did solve the confusion that I and some of my old hiking friends were having about the various ponds we had visited on this mountain in the past. Mystery solved that this was NOT the one we thought it was and had been referring to another one with the wrong name etc. That alone was worth the effort and I will get back here when I am in good enough shape to actually reach the pond to get some documentation of it. Plus any day in Nature is a good day ! I certainly miss the times when we could drive up here and wish they would reopen the gates from time to time to allow this again. After all it IS public land.

Tyler looking down the Hill from Hell. (Too bad pictures do not show steepness as this is really steep yet looks level in the image !)
Looking back up you can not tell it is 40% grade !!
I am not sure exactly what this marking means but, it should mean that this hill is a real ‘cod wrencher’ !!!! lol

On our way back the wind was gusting at 40 to 50 mph easily. Lots of debris and limbs flying. We could hear trees falling ever so often. It was a bit risky to be in the treeline during all of this. Hiking as fast as our aching feet and legs could go, we finally reached the hill which was a grueling slow descent which ended up causing both my big toe nails to turn black and blue, one of which I would end up losing a few months later. Note to self: “Always keep your toenails trimmed before hiking ! “

Video of the strong winds along the high mountain log road on our way back !
Small waterfall along the upper part of South Sill Br
Same falls with slight delayed shutter speed

It started raining lightly by the time we got to the bottom but, not enough to soak us beyond our gear`s capability. We hiked slowly out the remaining distance to the vehicle and I was really happy to reach it to sit down and take a load off. It would take me awhile to recuperate from this adventure and although I should have been able to hike again after a week or so, several factors would cause it to end up being almost 8 months before I would get out for another epic outing. As you know, 2020 was not going to be a good year for much of anything. Hoping for a better future. Until next time ,,,

Parting view of the MonkeyHead Rocks as we turn onto North Sill Br on the last leg of the journey

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Posted on 4 January '21 by , under RATtreks.

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