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.

W&OD Trail: July 4, 2010

Having grown up in Illinois near one of the original rail trails in the United States, getting a rail-trail in Charlottesville would be on top of my "wish list."  Unfortunately, because Amtrak would not agree with my priorities, it is unlikely Cville will get a rail-trail any time soon.

The trail is a popular place!
So whenever I have a bike and the opportunity, I love to check out other rail-trails.  A family visit to friends in Northern Virginia gave me the opportunity to check out some of the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, which heads west past Leesburg from Arlington.

I took several rides on the trail in the Vienna area.  I headed into downtown Vienna to find a couple of geocaches with the children, and later in the day headed west to Reston with Miles before cutting off the trail to go to the host family's swim club pool.

The trail is very popular, with kids learning to bike, spandex-clad power bikers and joggers, and dog walkers among the many demographics on the trail.  Will was almost hit by a couple of tiny fawn crossing the path on our ride to town, so I guess we should count wildlife as trail users, too.  I could not help thinking about how the county government in Illinois reserved the right to transform the Illinois Prairie Path corridor into a highway in the future when that path was first started.  Such an action would likely create a riot, because these trails are such a great resource in their communities.

From the front: Miles, Teddy, Will, Sophie and Phoebe
head through Vienna.
There were some imaginative geocaches that we found along the trail, and these seem to thrive despite the large crowds using the trail.  It makes the ride that much more fun.  Folks living near the W&OD should count themselves as lucky, because they have a healthy alternative to the traffic-choked streets and highways in the DC area.