Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ramsey's Draft Loop: November 10, 2010

Ramsey's Draft is a federally designated wilderness area west of Staunton and just off of U.S. 250.  It is named after the creek, or "draft" that flows through the middle of the wilderness.  I have hiked several of the trails in this wilderness area over the past few years, but because some sections of the wilderness are so far away from roads, there are major portions of trail I have never experienced.  And since one of my favorite trails skirts the wilderness - the Shenandoah Mountain Trail - I have wanted to get deep into this trail system for a while.
Ramsey's Draft is very dry this time of year.

Normally, this is an overnight backpack trip.  That is how all of the guidebooks describe it, and usually they are describing a shorter loop.  I prefered not to do this as an overnight and hoped I was still in shape for the hike after this summer's 19 mile Half Dome ascent in Yosemite.  I calculated this hike to be a little over 17 miles.  I asked a friend who through hiked the A.T. a couple of years ago to come along, and we were on the trail by 10 AM, dressed in orange because you never know when hunting is in season in Virginia.  The season seems to be different in each county!

I've been on several parts of this loop in the past where access is straightforward from various trailheads.  But parts of this hike are so remote that access is really only possible by backpacking overnight or by a long dayhike.  I was excited to experience these parts of the hike.

View from Bald Ridge Trail towards the east.
The loop started near U.S. 250 and the Mountain House Picnic Area.  We cut right (east) and ascended the Bridge Hollow Trail for 51 minutes, just over 2 miles, and 973 feet elevation gain before reaching the Bald Knob Trail.  The Bald Knob Trail took us along a ridge that, over the next 4.5 miles, took us over or alongside The Peak, Bald Ridge Knob, The Pinnacle, and Gordon Peak.

We briefly stopped at an overlook near Bald Ridge Knob for a snack and to place a new geocache two hours into the hike and just outside the boundaries of Ramsey's Draft Wilderness.

We reached the Leading Ridge Trail at just before 1PM.  At this point, we were 6.5 miles into the hike and concerned that we might not have enough daylight to complete the loop.  Neither of us had a flashlight, but we elected to move fast and complete the loop before losing light.  Maybe one of the campsites near Hiner Springs wouldn't have been a bad option, but we were equipped only for a day hike.  Gone was the opportunity to take the one mile side trail to the top of Hardscrabble Knob, the highest point in the wilderness and the 44th highest peak in Virginia.  We passed this trail at 2:41 PM, and reached the Shenandoah Mountain Trail at 3:00.
Elevation Profile of the Ramsey's Draft Loop

The Shenandoah Mountain Trail is a wonderfully level trail that constitutes the western edge of Ramsey's Draft Wilderness.  We needed a level trail, and moved quickly over the next 5.7 miles, reaching the Road Hollow Trail in less than 1 hour, 50 minutes.  The Road Hollow Trail took us back to our car, 2.5 miles by trail.  We got back to the car at 5:43, within 5 minutes of total blackness.

Clearly, I'm going to have to get on the trail earlier or choose shorter hikes until we start getting longer days again.

Ramsey's Draft Loop 
 November 10, 2010
 PATC Difficulty Factor 364.9
 Total Altitude Gain 3622
 Total Distance 18.4
 Low Point 2248
 High Point 4119
 Time of Hike 7:31
Hemlocks still live in Ramsey's Draft.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rocky Mount/Gap Run Loop: October 31, 2010

Halloween day opened up as a hiking opportunity quickly, and I took advantage to take the dog on a training hike. It also happened to be her five month birthday, and I aimed to get her out for a seven or eight mile trip, after she had performed spectacularly on a five mile hike around Humpback Rocks the week before.

I settled on the Rocky Mount/Gap Run loop in the Southern District of Shenandoah N.P. Although I had climbed to the top of Rocky Mount years before, I had never done the whole loop.

This is a trail that gets mixed reviews online. On the Hiking Upward site, one user complains that it is just too hard a hike to justify the occasional view, and real, the best view is at the start and end of the hike, from the parking spot on the Skyline Drive. Even the Hiking Upward guys rate this hike a "5," meaning it is one of the hardest hikes in the area, at least in their view.

I concur with the position that there are no better views than from the car on this hike. But is that really the point? Whether the hike is worth taking depends on your own outlook, I suppose. I am now a little closer to achieving my goal of hiking every trail mile in that part of Shenandoah, though this is admittedly not a spectacular hike. And there were some nice views and great solitude. I loved the workout. The day was beautiful. And the dog hiked exceptionally well, staying behind me at my feet for 90% of the hike.

I don't think the hike justifies a reputation as one of the hardest in Shenandoah. Statistically, it is nearly identical to the White Oak/Cedar Run waterfall loop a few miles north that is very popular - if you go all the way up to the Skyline Drive via the Limberlost Trail, and don't cheat by taking the fire road from White Oak to Cedar Run. These two hikes have very similar elevation gains and hike distances.

The difference is that the White Oak loop has all of its elevation gain at the beginning of the hike, while Rocky Mount saves some of its gain for the end of the hike. If you like to limit yourself to an 8 mile hike (as many of us do), the last couple of miles of uphill is not necessarily welcome.

I recommend climbing Rocky Mount first. The hike is not as steep this way, as the steepest section of the trail is a 25% grade on the back end of the mountain. There are some nice campsites in the hollow along Gap Run after you have gone over Rocky Mount, and I doubt there is much competition for these sites.

As I returned to the overlook on the Skyline Drive where I parked, a young couple inquired about hiking opportunities in the area. They were just out for the day and clearly new to the area. I did not send them down this trail, but instead directed them to the waterfalls south of Loft Mountain Campground. That sums up this hike for me - it is not the first hike to take in this part of the Park, but it is a nice workout and a great hike for solitude.

I thought often on this hike about the last time I hiked part of it. It had to be over 12 years ago, and was with my friend and co-worker Beth. As we hiked, Beth and I swapped stories of our weddings. Beth's family has now expanded to include three children, and there is no parent more devoted than Beth. Beth has taken those children around the world and the family has now settled in New England. The family chose to leave because Virginia laws are not kind to her kind of family. Losing Beth, those children, and Beth's partner is a loss for all of us in Charlottesville. 

Rocky Mt/Gap Run Loop 
 October 31, 2010 
  PATC Difficulty Factor 222.5 
 Total Altitude Gain 2630 
 Total Distance 9.4 
 Time of Hike 3:58  

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kennedy Ridge Trail: October 17, 2010

I joined a group of folks from Charlottesville for a hike on Sunday. I have hiked with many of these folks through the PATC's Charlottesville Chapter. The parameters of Sunday's hike were that it needed to be close by, and to the south or west of Charlottesville. Two of the hikers wanted to make it to a party that started around 3 PM. And I needed to be home to help my son sell popcorn for the Cub Scouts.

The group was 6 people, which meant we needed to take two vehicles to the trail, but we could handle all hikers in one vehicle for a short distance. So a hike with a car drop became a parameter, because the opportunity presents itself so rarely. And closely connected was the requirement that it be a trail we had not hiked before. There are actually a number of these trails still out there!

We settled on the combination of the Kennedy Ridge Trail and FDR-162, a forest road that is one of the boundaries of St. Mary's Wilderness over by Wintergreen Ski Area. We would drop one car on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Bald Mountain Overlook (MM 22), and the other on the Coal Road over near Sherando and the town of Stuart's Draft. Didn't look too far on the map, but ended up being about a 45 minute drive from point to point, ultimately adding an hour-and-a-half to the hike and meaning we got back to town later than we'd planned on. Sorry Iva!
On the Kennedy Ridge Trail.

The other end of this hike is on the Coal Road, which heads off of the Sherando Road  (Va-664) near Lyndhurst (south of Waynesboro).  My old Hiking Guide to the Pedlar District (Second Edition), copyright 1990, recommends taking Va-610 (the Howardsville Turnpike) to Va-660 (Lake Road) past Shenandoah Acres campground.  Va-660 becomes FDR-52 at the NF boundary.  Turn left onto FDR-42 (the Coal Road) and park at the second road on the right.  The trailhead (unmarked) is the third road on the right.

The group chose to hike this from higher elevations to lower, robbing us of true aerobic benefit. This meant that we started out on the Blue Ridge Parkway. FDR-162 is open to traffic, but is so deeply rutted that we saw little use. We were passed by only a couple of vehicles on the hike. Trails from FDR-162 access St. Mary's Wilderness and Sherando Recreation Area, but you have to know where you are, as we saw no trail signs anywhere on this hike except for on one side trail. Campsites and apparent roads head off from FDR-162 at regular intervals, making it difficult to determine for sure where the trails intersect with the road.
Elevation Profile

Fortunately Ken had hiked this road as a part of a circuit in St. Mary's fairly recently (my only experience on the same loop is over 15 years old), and he had some readings on his GPS. The St. Mary's Loop is a popular one (see here and here), which probably accounts for the majority of the hiking traffic on FDR-162.  I am glad we had Ken's coordinates, and recommend that anyone trying this hike should have GPS coordinates to make sure they are on the right trail.

According to my guidebook, the Bald Mountain Trail intersects on the left at 0.7 miles.  The Torry Ridge Trail intersects on the right at 1.0 miles, and the Mills Creek Trail intersects on the right at 1.3 miles.  None of these trails are marked with signs, though the latter two are pretty evident as roads leading towards Sherando.  The Kennedy Ridge Trail intersected at a wide spot in the road at 4.1 miles, and shortly after that a rock cairn signaled the Saint Marys River Trail on the left.

Partridge Family or Into The Wild?
The highlight of FDR-162 was the abandoned bus we came across and used for our group photo.  There were a couple of campsites with views, but nothing particularly memorable.  I liked the bus because it must have a story, though we could not know what it was.  Who drove it there?  Why was it abandoned?  And why did folks bring paint up here to alter its appearance? The bus held tight to answers.

Green Pond in Saint Marys Wilderness
At 4.1 miles we reached the intersection with the Kennedy Ridge Trail and the Saint Marys River Trail.  We took a left and had lunch a little ways off of FDR-162, down the St. Mary's Trail at Green Pond.  Ken claimed that this is a glacial tarn, but I do not believe glaciers ever touched this part of the country and could not find any support online for this assertion.  It appears instead to be a bog.  The Pedlar District Hiking Guide states that this is a bog and adds that it had shrunk by one third between 1980 and 1990.  It would be interesting to camp here sometime and have a chance to observe the wildlife attracted to this unique location.

Sassafras in Autumn.
After lunch we hiked .3 miles back to FDR-162 and crossed over to the start of the Kennedy Ridge Trail.  No sign here, either.  The Pedlar District Hiking Guide describes the Kennedy Ridge Trail has having "no special feature to commend it," other than one view from a rock outcrop.  Fortunately, Autumn makes any outside trek a great experience.  The Blackgum trees had already shed, but the leaves were still crimson on the trail.  And the Sassafras trees were turning bright yellow.  Parts of the trail looked nearly free of overhead leaves, while others were still so leafy that the trail was still dark.

The single overlook was actually two overlooks very close to each other, and the downhill one had more room.  The view was great from there.  You can see where the overlook is on the elevation profile, it is the notch to the right of the profile, before we begin a steady descent.  I calculated the descent to be 14%.  The trailhead is unmarked at the Coal Road, but we came out at these coordinates:  N37 58.731 W79 01.536.
Kennedy Ridge Overlook view.

I am not sure I would recommend this hike, though I certainly enjoyed it.  The drive between car drops takes a long time.  And if I did this hike by myself, I think I would have found it pretty dull.  But it was enjoyable for me because of the company and the time of year.  And the Kennedy Ridge Trail portion would be a good workout if going uphill.

I am glad I crossed this one off of my list, but doubt I will return anytime soon.  I should do the St. Mary's loop again sometime, though.  Maybe over the holidays; especially since Devil's Backbone Brewery is on the way home.  A great way to end a hike.  Thanks, Ken and Marie, for the beer!

Heading downhill.
Kennedy Ridge
October 17, 2010
Total Altitude Gain 819
Total Distance 7.7
Low Point 1797 (at the very end of the hike)
High Point 3525
Time of Hike 2:29 (including lunch)

If I had gone the other way and hiked uphill...
PATC Difficulty Factor 186.5
Total Altitude Gain 2273
Total Distance 7.7
Time of Hike ?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Doubletop/Wilhite Wagon Trail Loop - September 21, 2010

I joined the PATC Vigorous Hikers Group for a second outing on September 21st.  There was very little overlap in attendance from the first group because many of the folks hiking this week had just gotten back from hiking California's John Muir trail when I joined them the first time.

We met at the trailhead, which was off of Rt. 649 (Chapman Mountain Road), a road I had never taken before.  The PATC map made it look pretty sketchy, but it turned out to be in great shape.  It splits off of the road to Graves Mountain Lodge near Criglersville and would eventually pass Hoover Camp and ascend to Big Meadows Campground if Shenandoah National Park permitted traffic that far.

This is the map the hike leader sent me for the hike,
showing our parking are near the southeast corner.
Nobody in our group ended up taking the entire route highlighted above,
as none of us reached Monkeyhead.
(Monkeyhead is the westernmost section of the loop, on the left.) 
We started out at 8:50 AM, heading north on the Chapman Mountain Horse Trail.  I believe that this trail is primarily used by guided groups from Graves Mountain Lodge, because it is not marked well.  This was not a problem for the first half of the hike, as the trail was clear.  But we traveled through a gate onto pasture land, and cattle trails crisscrossed the land, which was on the edge of fields and woods.
Time to agree that we are no longer on the trail!
Maybe the trail continues over here.
At one point we were in some woods and the trail ended, with cow bones strewn all over the ground.  And when you are on a cow trail and the only cows appear to be long dead, it is time to look for a new trail!  We eventually made our way north to the W Trail (not shown on the map), and then to the Doubletop Mountain Trail.

The Doubletop Mountain trail is not for the faint of heart!  For the first half of the ascent, it climbs at a 29% grade over a little over a half mile.  The entire ascent lasts 2 miles and averages over 975 feet of elevation gained per mile.  And these guys could move.  The trail was quite overgrown in spots, particularly on the top of the ridge.  Several times I looked down at my feet only to be able to see nobody when I looked back up.  I was glad I had done this hike before.
At the top we stopped for lunch very near a spot where I had hiked back in April.  Right at the intersection of the Wilhite Wagon Trail and the Doubletop Trail was a large rocky area where we could sit and have lunch.

Having Lunch.
Our view at lunch.
The group lunched for over a half hour while it deliberated about the rest of the hike.  Some of the group was very anxious to explore the Staunton River Trail, and nobody seemed jazzed to check out Monkeyhead.  I wanted to go as far as the summit of Doubletop so I could retrieve a geocache I left when I'd hiked some of this trail in April.  So the rest of the group went west on the Doubletop Trail to the western section of the Wilhite Wagon Trail (which a website says is misspelled on the map), then off of Doubletop to find the Staunton River Trail.  I stayed on Doubletop, retrieved my geocache (looking good, though it had fallen out of the tree).  I felt like I was Apollo 12, which retrieved part of an unmanned Surveyor spacecraft from the surface of the moon.  I doubt anyone had been near my geocache since it had been placed 5 months earlier.

Can you see the cache on the ground?

Heading back to the car, I decided to take the Wilhite Wagon Trail's eastern section.  The map says that it is not maintained, but one of my fellow hikers told me that he had taken the trail in the Spring, and it was definitely in good shape.  The trip down the Wilhite Wagon Trail from the Doubletop Mountain Trail back to the Chapman Mountain Horse Trail took about an hour, and it was a delightful trail.  I believe the map says that the trail is not maintained because it is one of the few trails in Shenandoah National Park that the PATC does not maintain.   But though it needed some work and one section was tricky to follow, the trail is in good shape.  It was originally a road that was closed when Herbert Hoover bought his camp on the Rapidan River in 1929.  It is wonderfully constructed, with rock walls securing the downhill portion of the trail along large portions of its existence.  And it drops at a consistent 8% grade, as shown on the right side of the elevation profile above.  It had only one difficult section to follow, but after I figured out that the trail was marked via pink ribbons on the trees, had no problem negotiating it.  I would recommend this trail wholeheartedly, except during hunting season as it ascends into the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area.  It is also somewhat difficult to find at the bottom of the trail, so I have listed GPS coordinates at the end of this report.  It looks like an old road here, but there is no trail sign.
Wilhite Wagon Trail, with rock construction.

Upon returning to the parking area, I found 2 of my fellow hikers had taken off in their cars, and the carpool van had another hiker waiting for the Staunton River hikers.  Mike told me he had twisted his ankle, but reported that the section of the Wilhite Wagon Trail I did not take was also in great condition.  Using the Hoover Camp Road, this makes a nice little loop hike that I am going to have to recommend to the PATC Charlottesville Chapter.

GPS Coordinates:
Parking:  N38 27.355 W78 21.662
Eastern Wilhite Wagon Trail/Chapman Mountain Horse Trail Intersection:  N38 27.528 W78 21.557
Lunch spot with great view: N38 28.879 W78 22.693
Eastern Wilhite Wagon Trail/Doubletop Mountain Trail Intersection:  N38 28.898 W78 22.687
Western Wilhite Wagon Trail/Doubletop Mountain Trail Intersection: N38 29.188 W78 22.957

Hike Details.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 286.9
Distance:  11.5 miles
Total Time: 6 hours 15 minutes, including lunch and brief stops.
Steepest Uphill: from 4.13 to 4.64 miles, 29% grade.
Average Uphill: 18% grade
Average Downhill: 8% grade
Lowest point: 745 ft. 
Highest point: 3216 ft.
Total uphill:  3588 ft.

In an attempt to get a hike in before mid-week rains, I joined a couple of other hikers for a loop hike here a week after this description.  We did the Wilhite Loop, which is described below.  Highly recommended during non-hunting season!  It starts from the parking lot described above.

Directions:  Take 29 north through Madison, then turn off on Rt. 231 towards Sperryville.  Turn left in Banco at the sign for White Oak Canyon.  Just after Criglersville and the Stonewall Jackson historic marker, turn left onto Rt. 649 and an immediate right.  Follow Rt 649 past the End State Maintenance sign and up a couple of hairpins, to a parking area right at the SNP boundary.  (You also can drive further, to the WMA boundary where there is a kiosk, and start and end the hike with a walk on the Rapidan Road.).  The road, though not paved, is in great shape.

Elevation profile for Wilhite Loop

Start the hike by taking the gated road to the right (North) for 5 minutes (1350 feet) to a road that comes in from the left.  There is an SNP boundary sign on a tree here, and it is the first road or trail entering from the left.  This is the Wilhite Wagon Trail.  Follow this road another 5 minutes to a slight fork, and stay left, where it becomes a trail.  The trail rises to an overlook just below the intersection with the Doubletop Trail (not obvious unless you are looking for it, but it is only about 20 feet before the intersection), where we stopped for lunch.  This section is 2.2 miles long and took us 1:08.  We stopped for lunch, then then followed the Doubletop Trail for a little over 10 minutes (2200 feet) then cut left on the other part of the Wilhilte Wagon Trail (1.4 miles, 38 minutes) to the Rapidan Road.  All sections of trail were in good shape and easy to follow.  The Rapidan Road is used to return to the car. The road was 3.1 miles long and took us 1:12, including a stop to look at the RWMA kiosk at the boundary between SNP and the RWMA.  Though this is a road, we did not see a single vehicle (other than a parked one) the entire route.  There are a number of established campsites along the side of the road, with fire pits.

Wilhite Loop
September 29, 2010
PATC Difficulty Factor
Total Altitude Gain
1813 ft
Total Distance (miles)
Low Point  (ft)
High Point
Time of Hike

(includes about 20 minutes for lunch)

Ragged Mountain Reservoir - September 12, 2010

The Cub Scouts of Pack 222 took their monthly hike just west of Charlottesville at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.  After this hike, 3 scouts were awarded their 30 mile staffs at the next Pack meeting.  These were the first scouts to get such awards.

After 1/4 mile uphill, this scout wanted to rest.
The Ragged Mountain Reservoir hike was a little over 3.5 miles.  I am not a big fan of the place because there are too many rules thanks to the Ivy Creek Foundation which has taken over managment.  No running.  No loud noises.  No collecting.  No dogs.  No geocaching.  Even the national parks allow dogs on most trails!  But it was close and convenient.

And to make it worse, I find out a couple of weeks later from an official with Albemarle County that a benefactor wants to donate land adjacent to this property for parkland, but has not done so because she thinks the Ivy Creek Foundation imposes too many rules.  So we don't get to enjoy that land.  Thanks Ivy Creek Foundation! 

Back to the hike.  We had a new dad who is a forester, so we got to learn about stinkweed and newts. And the boys got to see the earthen dam and wonder about the strange house in the water.  It was a good afternoon journey.
Get out the maps, boys, and tell us where to go next!

Group shot on the dam with the crazy house behind us.

Mary's Rock - September 11, 2010

It was the last Saturday before soccer season, so Will and I joined the PATC Charlottesville Chapter for a relatively short hike on the Appalachian Trail in a section of Shenandoah National Park that I have never hiked.

Here is the trail club's description:

September 11 Jewell Hollow to Marys Rock: Iva Gillet. 6.8 miles. Walk the AT north from Jewell Hollow to a short side trail to the magnificent view at Marys Rock. Directions: Route 29 north to Madison, then route 231 to Sperryville, route 211 to Thornton Gap, then about 5 miles south on Skyline Drive, parking on right.

There was a good crowd for this hike, though no other hikers from the 10 year old set, which disappointed Will.  We drove past Sperryville to get to the trailhead, bringing us into the DC hiking sphere, which is why I don't come up this way often.  But it was a great day for a hike, and the trail wasn't too crowded for the most part.  There is not a lot of elevation gain here, as the lowest and highest points on this hike are within 500 feet of each other.  But it was great for taking kids hiking, and the view from Mary's Rock is a great one.

Most folks seem to hike to Mary's Rock from the north, just off of U.S. 211.  It is a much steeper hike this way, and made me think that this is the DC/NoVa equivalent of Charlottesville's favorite hike: Humpback Rocks.  There was a big crowd on Mary's Rock, and it was always changing.  But the view was worth braving the crowds.

On the way out and back we passed the Leading Ridge Trail.  I am very anxious to try this hike sometime, as I am told it may be the steepest hike in this part of the state.  That makes it worth trying!
Mary's Rock
Lunching on the Rock.
On the way home, the entire group stopped for ice cream in Sperryville before driving back to Charlottesville.  It was a great day for an easy hike!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Three Peaks in Shenandoah - September 7, 2010

I have not posted in a long time on this site because I have not been hiking in Virginia.  I spent a month traveling, some with my son, some with my son and wife, some with a friend, and some by myself.  I drove to San Francisco and back and managed some life list hikes during the trip - hiking below the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for an overnight with my son, scaling Half Dome and the 4 Mile Trail in Yosemite with my wife's niece, and climbing the 13,000 foot summit of Mt. Wheeler in Great Basin National Park with a friend.

I returned to Virginia in late August and had little incentive to go to the gym until I noticed the calendar for the PATC's Vigorous Hiker's Group.  There were a number of appealing aspects to joining this group.  First, they hike on Tuesdays, and I work 9 hour days so can take a day during the week twice a month.  Second, they go on aggressive hikes with elevation gains in excess of 4,000 feet, which would force me to stay in shape.

I checked out this group's calendar and found that some of their hikes are in Pennsylvania, but probably 1/2 are near enough to Charlottesville so that I could meet them at the trailhead.  The next hike was on September 7th, the day after Labor Day, and started and ended at the White Oak Canyon parking lot.  I decided to join them.

Here is the group's description of the hike:

To celebrate the return of sub-90s temperatures we'll take on a tough hike. This hike hits three of the biggest peaks in SNP in almost 17 miles and 5600 feet of ascent in the Central District.  
We'll start at White Oak Canyon parking at the entrance to Berry Hollow.  Our route starts with a straight-forward ascent of Hawksbill via the Cedar Run Trail.  After regrouping, its on to Stony Man summit for lunch via the Salamander Trail, the AT, and the Summit Trail.  After lunch we return to Stony Man parking, cross the Skyline Drive to find the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail, which we can take a mile or so to the Old Rag Fire Road.  Turning left on ORFR, its again less than a mile and a half to the Robertson Mountain Trail, where we turn left and ascend our third peak for the day.  Continuing on we eventually descend to the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, turn right and follow it and the Berry Hollow Fire Road back to the cars.
This dog hiked with us and is a full blooded Walker Hound.
Gives me hope that the family pup will someday be a hiker.
The others all came down from the DC area, so I met them at the trailhead.  I was the first to arrive, at 8:30.  Shortly afterward, a woman arrived in her car, then a van full of five men showed, along with one dog.  A couple of the men did not actually hike with the group as they are in their 80's and can no longer keep up.  So they took their own hike. The rest of us started up the Cedar Run Trail, ascending over 3000 feet in 3.6 miles to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain, the tallest peak in Shenandoah National Park.  The ascent took me an hour and 55 minutes.  

At the summit of Hawksbill was a group of Princeton students.  I didn't actually go to the summit because of the crowd of students, and instead hung out at the Byrds Nest day use shelter 100 feet from the overlook to wait for everyone in our group to arrive.  We didn't wait long, and were quickly back on the trail.

From Hawksbill, we descended to the Appalachian Trail and headed north to Stony Man.  I remember last climbing Stony Man on my first trip to Shenandoah, back when I was about 12.  I had never bothered to hike it as an adult, and had forgotten how beautiful the views are from this mountain.  Stony Man is not as tall as Hawksbill; my GPS measured it at just under 4000 feet high.  We stopped here for lunch and talked with a nice young couple from Austin Texas.  The Vigorous Hikers are not ones to stay in one place long, however, and we were back on the trail after exactly 10 minutes.  We descended the way we came up, then cut across the Skyline Drive to a horse trail that led to the Old Rag Fire Road.  

View from Stony Man summit.
I spent most of the rest of the hike talking with Bob, a retired researcher for the Feds in their weather department.  He is quite an accomplished hiker, having completed the entire A.T., the Long Trail, and vast sections of the Pacific Crest Trail.  I learned about how weather prediction is related to physics, and the history of the Vigorous Hikers.  Together, we scaled the final mountain of our hike, near the 3296 summit of Robertson Mountain, and caught views of Old Rag.  From there we descended to the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, which is part of the Old Rag Loop.  We saw our first hikers since the summit of Stony Man on the fire road.  This road took us back to our cars.

We returned to the parking lot at 4:12 PM, 7 hours and 23 minutes after beginning the 17.7 mile hike.  I enjoyed the day and look forward to joining these folks again when they return to this part of the park.  A future hike will allow me to return to Monkeyhead, which is a particularly appealing destination.  

Hike Details.
PATC Difficulty Factor 418.8
Distance:  17.7 miles
Total Time: 7 hours 23 minutes.
Average Uphill: 17% grade
Lowest point: 1141 ft.
Highest point: 4028 ft.
Total uphill: 4954 ft.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hiking outside of Virginia.

No posts lately, but life is good.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

White Oak/Cedar Run Loop - July 5, 2010

Taking advantage of the Independence Day holiday, I set a hiking record I never expect to equal again.  I went hiking on a day that the high temperature hit 99 degrees in Charlottesville.  Perhaps this is good experience for my Grand Canyon hike, less than a month from now.

Lunch break overlooking White Oak Falls.
Some folks I have hiked with through the Charlottesville Chapter of the PATC wanted to get out to train for their trip later this summer to Glacier National Park.  Since Monday was a holiday, I was able to get dropped off in Madison by my family heading south from Northern Virginia, and picked up by this group heading north from Charlottesville.

The transfer occurred at 9:45. I met up with Iva, a PATC trail leader and great party host; Dan, a veteran PATC hiker and rock climbing teacher; Marit, who last year hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine; and John, who always agrees to the hardest club hikes. We had to decide first where to hike. We settled on Shenandoah National Park's White Oak Falls/Cedar Run loop because we would be near water much of the time and the trail has a good uphill section.
At the high point on our hike,
the Skyline Drive near Hawksbill Mountain.

We started out from the parking lot east of the park near Syria and Graves Mountain Lodge. We headed up the White Oak Canyon trail, which ascends steeply starting about a half mile from the parking lot.  We passed by a number of folks who had stopped to enjoy the water as we headed uphill, and a couple of hikers from our party did the same.  I didn't stop because I didn't want to realize that I'd be much happier doing something besides hiking.

But it really wasn't unbearable to hike - much easier than I would have thought, given the temperature in Charlottesville.  I've hiked this loop several times before, but always when the leaves were off the trees.  So it was nice to see the falls during the summer.

There are several loops possible with this hike.  We took a longer one, which took us over the Limberlost Trail, a handicapped accessible trail.  We agreed that we would keep this trail in mind after 30 more years had passed, and we'd meet out here and call ourselves "The Hobblers."  We eventually reached the Skyline Drive and Appalachian Trail near Hawksbill Mountain.  We didn't climb Hawksbill (the tallest mountain in the park), but had some nice views from a cliff near the Skyline Drive.

After that, it was downhill along Cedar Run.  The group had split into two parts at this point, with part taking the Skyline Drive because John's ankle was bothering him, and part taking the AT.  We should have checked the map, as the Skyline Drive is shaped like a paper clip here, so it was a much longer trip.  The group reconnected at a swimming hole on Cedar Run, however.

And what a swimming hole!  There was already a young family there, complete with a 3 year old in a bike helmet.  They happily let us try out the water slide, and our group took it several times.  This water hole wasn't more than a mile and a half from the end of the hike, so it is an easy reach for families.  The rocks look a little dicey at first (you think, "am I really going to make it in the water?"), but you slide so quickly down the rock that it really isn't a problem.  I hope to make it back here soon with some children.  Maybe I'll even warn them that the water is really cold!

Hike Details.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 229.0 (Roughly equal to the Old Rag circuit.)
Distance:  9.4 miles
Total Time: 6 hours 50 minutes, including lunch, talking and swim breaks.
Steepest Uphill: from 1.42 to 1.58 miles, 31% grade.
Average Uphill: 9% grade
Average Downhill: 15% grade
Lowest point: 1125 ft. 
Highest point: 3609 ft.
Total uphill:  2778 ft.