Highlands Mountain Bike Challenge Course
Distance: 12.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Length: 12.8 miles
Riding Surface: Gravel Road, Grassy Doubletrack, and Singletrack
Start: Intersection of Forest Road 90 and State Route 58
End: Intersection of Forest Road 90 and State Route 58
Maps: Trail Town Maps, Trail Guide to Beartree/ Damascus VA, Area
USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle, Konnarock VA
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area Map
Elevation change: The loop begins at an elevation of about 2900 feet at the FS 90/ Rt. 58 pullover. It then climbs steadily to 3100 feet at the first turn off. You will gain another 400 feet on this grassy, doubletrack section of the Bushwacker Trail, reaching a maximum of 3500 feet. A descent of 140 feet to FS 90 follows. You will do more climbing on the Iron Mountain Trail, to the tune of 150 feet of elevation before you drop 100 feet to the Sawmill Trail intersection. It’s more descending, as you will loose 360 feet of elevation to the FS 615 intersection. Then it’s a steady climb of 400 feet on FS 615 to the FS 90/Iron Mountain Trail intersection. Over the next 1.4 miles you will gain about 450 feet, cresting the top of the ridge at an elevation of 3805 feet. Prepare for the descent into Shaw’s Gap, as you will loose 240 feet. Then it’s onto the Beartree Gap Trail, first gaining about 50 feet, then dropping all the way to Beartree Gap Road, a descent of 540 feet over this 1.7 mile section of the course. Drop another 40 feet as you return to the starting point. Total elevation gain is 1650 feet; total elevation loss is 1420 feet.
Description: The Virginia Highlands Mountain Bike Challenge race is held in early May of each year. This ride follows the original course that Teddy Helton laid out for the first race in 1993. The Virginia Highlands Mountain Bike Challenge has become a local favorite and has been well attended averaging 130 competitors each year for the last five years. The Feathercamp Ridge Trail section of the course was almost “lost” after an ice storm in 1993 due to the large number of trees that were knocked down. The trail was almost invisible because of the fallen tree canopy, but thanks to the hard work and sweat of the many volunteers from all three neighboring states, the trail was cleared and the race took place. The winner does it in a few minutes under one hour, but this course also make a great day-ride for those who are more laid back. There are many challenging climbs, great technical sections and fast downhill sections, all on some of the areas premier singletrack.
Mile 0- Start at the intersection of FS 90 and Route 58 about 6 miles east on Rt. 58 from Damascus. Proceed up FS 90 for one-half mile.
Mile .5 - Turn left and proceed around a gate and onto the Bushwacker Trail. There is a directional trail sign here and the trail is blazed with yellow diamonds.
Mile 1 - Turn right when you see a large rock pile and a large log next to a trail on the right. There is a yellow diamond blaze on tree about 50 feet in from the trail. Dismount your bike and carry up the side of this hill (very short).
Mile 1.1 - Turn right, cross the creek and follow this trail as it ascends, levels out, then starts to descend.
Mile 1.6 - Bear left and pass the Sandy Flats Shelter to your left. There is a trail sign here as of 4/1/97. Continue down the trail to FS90.
Mile 1.7 - Turn left, go through the “upper gate” and up the grassy road. (Note: The Feathercamp Trail that is on the left and is blazed blue is a hiker only trail!)
Mile 1.8 - Look for the Iron Mountain Trail entrance to the left. There is a yellow rectangle blaze on the post. Stay straight on this trail until you come to a "T" intersection. Continue to follow the yellow rectangle blazes.
Mile 2.9 – Turn right at the “T” intersection. The Iron Mountain Trail (yellow rectangle blazes) goes left to Damascus. The Feathercamp Ridge Trail goes right and is blazed with yellow triangles. There is a blaze on the tree. Continue on this Feathercamp Ridge Trail as you descend down a steep slope, over some rubber water bars, through a creek crossing, down the new log ramp and over a log French drain.
Mile 3.5 - Bear to the right, look for blaze and directional trail sign. Do not take the Wright Hollow Trail. Go about 50 yards then turn a sharp left onto Sawmill Trail. Look for the yellow diamond blaze on the tree. You will pass the Buzzard Den Ridge Trail intersection. Bear right downhill following the yellow diamond blazes. As you continue on this trail you will descend, with a few short climbs. Enjoy the views and the long downhill!
Mile 4.9 – Bear to the right on the trail as you come into the wild life clearing with the number 15 painted on the trees.
Mile 5.3 - Go around the gate and turn right on FS 615. Continue on FS 615 for the next 1.2 miles until you come to the intersection with FS 90. (You were just at this intersection.)
Mile 6.5 - Turn left at the FS 615 & FS 90 intersection and continue to climb up the gravel road (FS 90) until you reach the top of the hill.
Mile 7.0 - Turn left on the Iron Mountain Trail. Look for the yellow rectangle blaze on the tree near the trailhead.
Mile 7 .0+ - Turn right, about 50 yards from FS 90, and look for the yellow rectangle blaze. (Note: Rush Trail is the yellow square blaze, Iron Mountain Trail is the painted yellow rectangle blaze).
Mile 7.1 - Climb the steep hill with the rubber belt waterbars. You will cruise along the spine of Iron Mountain, with some nice rolling ascents and descents. This section is typical of the Iron Mountain Trail with the large embedded rocks and grassy singletrack.
Mile 8.5 - Descend down a steep hill that has rubber-belt water bars and log check-dams installed on it. At the bottom of the hill is Shaw Gap, which is a major intersection for many of the trails around Beartree Recreation Area.
Mile 8.7 - Turn right on the Beartree Gap Trail, look for the yellow diamond blaze. The Beartree Gap Trail is also blazed with old purple blazes, but they are very faint.
Mile 10.4 - Turn left heading down a long downhill section, look for the yellow squares of the Yancey Trail. Take this trail all the way down to the Beartree Pay Station. The trail turns to gravel near the end.
Mile 11 .4 - Turn right at the pay station and ride down the paved Beartree Gap road to Rt. 58.
Mile 12 – Turn right on Rt. 58 and descend to the FS 90 intersection on your right.
Mile 12.8 – Arrive back at the FS 90 pull
How to get there:
I-81 to Abingdon Exit 19. East on Rt 58 12 miles to Damascus. Rt 58 from damascus east 7 miles to FR 90 on left.
Stop by Adventure damascus Bike Shop for more great rides in the area. We have over 200 miles open!
|Posted by: Jonathan Jennings on 5/19/2005
this ride showcases some of the best terraine in south west virginia- incl difficult rocky descents, thrilling low-tech dirt-packed descents, difficult climbs and great scenery. The approx. 1 mile climb up gravel road can be a bit aggravating but is also a nice break/ good conditioning. Probably not for beginners unless up for the challenge.