Ramble On

Monday, May 18, 2009

Signal Knob - A Moderate Day Hike

On Saturday, my new “hiking group” got together for a hike on Signal Knob, a mountain in the Massanutten Ridge that is near Front Royal. About two months ago we did the Duncan Knob hike together, so we decided to follow-up with this one, a little more rigorous and technical – a 10.5 mile trek with 2,500 feet of elevation change in two ascents, and two stream crossings.

Chris and I started out from the cabin, while Andy and Tom came down from the Leesburg area. The logistic challenge of meeting halfway came off without a hitch, as we arrived at the trailhead at exactly the same time! Here’s a photo of the group at the start of the hike.

The route we had chosen (from the Hiking Upward site) starts immediately with a 1,600 ascent over three miles, to the summit of Signal Knob. Following the summit, there are several peaks and a ridgeline walk in the route. We started in the sun, with temperatures around 80 and with a forecast of several thunderstorms possible.

We were only about 500 yards into the hike when we met a group of Koreans from a church group heading downhill fast. As they passed us, one of them told us there was a snake laying on the trail ahead. Well, I have my history with snakes now, thanks to encountering one in the cabin laundry room twice (check the "snakes" label), so we pressed on, and soon found a six-foot black rat snake sunning itself there on the trail. Hearing us approach, it quickly moved off and over the edge, disappearing into some brush.
Continuing upwards, we came across a group of 30 or so people, kids and adults, sitting around on some rocks and having lunch. Further along the trail we eventually ran into three more groups – two groups of scouts and one of some guys dressed in tie-die shirts, which we immediately dubbed the dead-heads. This was the most people I have seen on any of the Massanutten hikes. Other than these groups, which we encountered early in the hike, during the ascent – there was no one else on the trail.

Once you are most of the way up this first ascent, the view opens back to Fort Valley; this photo of me was taken there. We had stopped for lunch at this point, and needed to assess progress. The heat and the climb had made for a slow trek and we figured we were only three miles in on a 10.5 mile hike, so we were a little worried, given our past history of not getting off of the mountain until after dark.
I'm not saying we're slower than average. But maybe we are - the Hiking Upward site shows this as a 5.5 hour hike, and reading the reviews, on average it takes longer. So the fact that we found this a challenging trail is probably a typical experience.
Lunch out of the way, we got started again, heading for signal knob – which coincidentally, has a (television) signal tower on it, it turns out – shown here. In my post tomorrow, I’ll write about some of the technical aspects of the hike, and more of the views.

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