Monday, May 26, 2014

Liberty Mountain Trail System: Peak-2-Peak Trail (to Monogram) (Blog Hike #467)

Trail: Peak-2-Peak Trail (to Monogram)
Hike Location: Liberty Mountain Trail System
Geographic Location: southwest side of Lynchburg, VA
Length: 1.6 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2014
Overview: A peak-hopping route to the LU monogram.

Directions to the trailhead: This hike starts at Liberty University’s Snowflex, which is located on Candler’s Mountain Road just south (up the mountain) of US 460.  Park in the gravel general parking area to the right as you enter.

The hike: If you were a university, what would you do with 5000 acres of forested, mountain land that is too steep for constructing buildings?  Build a trail system, of course.  At least, that is what Liberty University did…eventually.  Though the university was established in 1971, the trail system was not built until 2006.  The lightly worn pathways still have the feel and problems of a young trail system, but the potential for a great hiking and biking destination can be seen already.
            The trail system consists of two-track old logging roads and single-track newly constructed trails.  Over 50 miles of trails are open to hikers and mountain bikers during daylight hours.  As the system’s name suggests, some of these trails are quite steep, but others have only moderate elevation changes.  Also, the trails close to campus are quite popular, while the more remote trails are seldom-used.
            Obviously, many different routes are possible through the trail system.  Due to the expansive views it offers, the most popular destination is the gazebo atop the infamous (in some circles) LU monogram.  The best hiking route to the monogram has changed over the years due to construction on Liberty Mountain.  At the time of this writing, the shortest hike leading to the gazebo that avoids long stretches along the road is the one described here.
Start of Peak-2-Peak Trail beside Monogram Road
             Walk around the front of Snowflex, following black and white signs for the Monogram.  Pick up the Peak-2-Peak Trail where it starts beside a yellow vehicle gate to the right of gravel Monogram Road.  The trail heads through a recently graded area before entering the forest and beginning its climb to the first peak, the peak that features Snowflex.  True to its name, the Peak-2-Peak Trail traces three peaks, the third of which bears the monogram.
            At 0.2 miles, you reach a post marking the intersection of the Monorail and Peak-2-Peak Trails.  Although nothing about the sign would indicate such, you need to take the second trail going left here to stay on the Peak-2-Peak Trail.  Angling right will take you down the Dirty Ridge Trail, which circles the knob and heads south toward Camp Hydaway.  If you reach a hand-carved sign that says “Dirty Ridge,” you have missed this turn, as I did the first time.
Eastern box turtle on the trail
            The trail descends gradually to reach the south shoulder of Monogram Road at 0.3 miles.  Rather than crossing the road, the trail ducks back into the woods on the same side of the road where a couple of other trails exit right.  A trail sign reassures you that you are on the Peak-2-Peak Trail.  On my mid-May hike, some mountain laurel was in full bloom near this junction.
Mountain laurel in bloom
            After topping the second peak, which is considerably lower and more gradually sloped than the first one, you again come out on the south shoulder of Monogram Road, this time at a major trail intersection.  Champion Road and a couple of single-track trails exit right, while the dead-end Luge Trail exits left. (Parenthetical note: the Luge Trail was the best route to the monogram before its lower end was obliterated by construction.)  The Peak-2-Peak Trail again stays on the south side of Monogram Road as it begins the final push to the monogram.
Beginning the final climb to monogram
            The final 0.2 miles are the steepest of the hike, as the trail gains more than 200 feet of elevation over this segment.  Just before reaching the top, you get an interesting side view of the monogram, a view people who drive up here never get to see.  At 0.8 miles, you reach the gazebo atop the monogram and the best view on campus.  On a clear day you can see the entire campus in the foreground, the wooded Piedmont hills in the middleground, and the rugged Peaks of Otter in the background.  I came up here on a cloudy day, and the view was still excellent.  Also, there is an interpretive sign presented by Liberty University’s graduating class of 2010, the last class to have Jerry Falwell Sr. as Chancellor.
View from monogram
            The Peak-2-Peak Trail continues past the monogram, but there are no more fantastic views.  If you wish to explore deeper into the Liberty Mountain Trail System, make sure you print and bring a trail map: many of the trails beyond here are unmarked, and most of the intersections are unsigned.  Enjoy your trip to Liberty Mountain, but make sure you get back to the Snowflex trailhead before sunset.

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