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
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