|Lunch break overlooking White Oak Falls.
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!
Average Downhill: 15% grade