Saturday, April 17, 2010

Shenandoah Days

After leaving Washington, I took Lora's suggestion and aimed for Old Rag, a craggy peaks on the edge of Shenandoah National Park that I was promised has lots of rock scrabbling, which suits me just fine. It was what I consider a great day for driving: overcast with a light rain that diminished as I drove west. I opted for a route less traveled to avoid towns and stop lights and what I found was exactly the mode of travel I'd hoped for on this trip: gorgeous winding two-lanes through amazing countryside. I'll admit, I was in a mood to leave the camera shuttered and selfishly enjoy the scenery and hike for myself. No apologies, but please forgive me.

Old Rag, the day after I hiked it

Old Rag did not disappoint with some of the most technical hiking I've seen. With the rocks a little wet, I was happy to have some old rocking climbing experience to recall and I did feel a touch of concern for others on the trail who were having more of a struggle in what what becoming a late afternoon hike. High in my concerns was a dog seemingly left to wait for his owners as the point in the trail where the steep downs and ups began. Talking to groups as I caught them along the loop and well past the top, it seemed there was no owner to be found, but timing saw me return to the trail head to find the dog had followed an out-and-back pair down along with their dog. Being more inquisitive than I, these two had taken the time to read the pooch's tags which explained he lives across the street from the parking lot, and is a regular on the mountain. It seems "Junior" enjoys a good hike like the rest of us, even on his own.

Junior: the old man of the mountain.

After returning to the parking lot which is a short walk down from the trail head, concocting some dinner, and chatting with a father and son--the younger of whom had just completed a whirlwind nine day cross country tour of most of the country's national parks (it took me two weeks to make it from CT to half way down Virginia),--I decided to stay put for the night, so I had the time to befriend Junior with some good ear scratching as he hung around the parking lot. To my surprise, when I woke in the morning, I discover he had decided I needed his company more than his owner; he had sleep on the grass next to my car. Good pup!

There's Karlee.

The next day I covered the southern 2/3 of Skyline Drive, having a seven day pass to the park for access to Old Rag. Like the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is a fantastic road if you aren't in a rush, although after a time, the scenery, while amazing, can seem a bit repetitive. I did three shorter walks through the day to see a few waterfalls, a small cave, and some expansive views from Stony Man Mountain. All time well spent, but it had me arriving just after 4pm in the lot for Chimney Rocks, the fourth and main loop I'd planned for the day. With a specified time of nearly 9 hours for the full loop, the shorter 3+ hour option to the rocks and back seemed wiser, but sometimes wisdom can be substituted by youthful vigor and speed. When I made it to the outcropping in a half hour, I decided to give the full loop a go. Simply put: a great hike that had it all.

Sweet trails

Great views

Cool rock

A crevasse

Remote waterfalls

And a wonderful pool that I didn't have time to swim

So after just under three hours and over 2300ft of climbing, I returned to the car well spent, but well satisfied. I can also now say that yes, while it may feel a little silly, bellowing a deep "Hey bear!" while hiking in areas of dense flora near noisy streams does serve as good advance warning of one's approach to the ursine population. While at my farthest point from the road and along some loud water, I caught a fleeting glance of a black bear's hind end at about 200 yards working his way up the rock scree away from me. In my book, that is the ideal view of a bear.

At about 10 feet, I think this deer was convince I was not a threat.

From the park, the next day saw a bit of mileage pass under Karlee's tires as I continued down the long edge of Virginia to Abingdon, current home of my old college and Greenfield-days chum Shane. While timing, traffic, and one way exits had me cover the distance from Roanoke down on I-81, in the morning I took the time to amble down route 11 which runs a similar route to the interstate, again an option more to my preference for this trip. Best of all, I found my new favorite pedestrian bridge in the sleepy little town of Buchanan.

Ghost bridge

Signs that inspire confidence


The approach ramp IS steep

I hope the bridge to any afterlife is this cool


  1. I spent some time in Shenandoah circa 1989, ans have a renewed desire to return.

    Here's wishing you continued safety from bear-assed woodland creatures.

  2. A most excellent pun, dear sir.