Frothy whitewater rushed in a blur inches beneath my dangling feet. Lurching back and forth under a heavy pack, I shimmied across the huge tree trunk spanning Ramseys Draft. My companions had stepped across confidently, but vertigo prompted me to inch across on my butt.
Once on terra firma, I paused for a look around. The boulder-strewn cleft of Ramseys Draft was littered with trees a recent hurricane-strength storm had tossed around like toothpicks. High water had sheared through the stream’s banks, erasing entire sections of a trail leading to the heart of this 6,500-acre wilderness area in Virginia’s George Washington National Forest.
Ahead, my friends were crossing again, hopscotching from rock to slippery rock. These crossings became routine during our 7-mile hike to Hiner Spring, the headwaters of Ramseys Draft. Few hikes I’ve taken were tougher, but none held the reward of camping amid stands of virgin hemlock, some more than 300 years old.
Trails in this wilderness aren’t marked, and they’re only minimally maintained; some aren’t even on the map. If you’re up for rugged and remote, this is the place. Excellent views are also part of the bargain, especially from atop 4,282-foot Hardscrabble Knob.
For daytrippers and overnighters alike, water is the big conundrum in Ramseys Draft; there’s either too much or not enough. You’re guaranteed wet feet along the main trail that follows the draft, and campsites near the stream are prone to flash floods. Choose a campsite carefully along other trails, as well. There’s no water at all on Bridge Hollow. Along Bald Ridge, there is none until you reach a mountain pond at the Wild Oak Trail juncture, 6 miles from the trailhead.