Ramble On

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Compton Peak: An Easy SNP Day Hike

Last month, on my vacation in early September, I did this short, 2.4 mile out-and-back of Compton Peak at the recommendation of Ranger Mike at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. This little hike is in the North District of the Park with a trailhead off of Skyline Drive, but I forgot to note the milepost; if I recall correctly, it is near Indian Run Overlook.

This trail includes a short part of the AT, and while I rate it as easy, it does include a climb of more than 800 feet.
At the summit of Compton Peak, there is a crossroads to overlook hikes to the right and left – the one to the right has better views, looking out on the Shenandoah Valley, while the one on the left is a bit overgrown with forest and looks over the Park, and you descend 200 feet to get to it. However, I’ve subsequently learned from neighbor Dan that the one on the left has a significant geological feature that I did not see while I was there.

Frequent Park and Valley visitors will recognize the name Compton – it is the name of a little borough on US 340, and there is a rapids on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River going through here. I was surprised to find there also was a mountain that shared the name.
According to the Heatwole guide (URL is http://ajheatwole.com/guide/log1/log12.htm) the exposed rock on this hike are Catoctin lava, which can be seen throughout the Park.
There are large boulders along the trail, including basalt, and as you approach the summit, the path is covered with the rocks. I was worried in this section for a couple of reasons – it was the beginning of leaves falling so there were slippery places, and in general I am very wary of the potential for snakes resting on sunny rocks in the Park.

As far as the geologic features at the second overlook, I am going to quote directly from the Heatwole guide:

“…it's rather rough and rocky, and the last part of it is quite steep. If you skip it you can shorten the hike by 0.4 mile, and reduce the total climb by 230 feet. But I recommend that you go anyway, to see a fine example of columnar jointing. (This particular rock raised my interest in geology from near zero to the threshold of enthusiasm. Maybe it will do the same for you.)
"Follow the blue blazes downhill to a boulder that rises ten or fifteen feet directly in front of you. Climb to the top. There's a view directly ahead, out into the Piedmont. The Blue Ridge goes to the right, with a good stretch of Skyline Drive, including Jenkins Gap Overlook, in view. Straight out from this rock, The Peak rises beyond the near ridge. At the right of your view are the two summits of Mount Marshall.

"The blue blazes continue down the left side of the rock you're standing on, but I consider that route a little dangerous. To be cautious, climb down the rock the way you climbed up, and then go around it. You'll promptly pick up the blue blazes again. Follow them for about 50 yards, steeply downhill, to the base of the cliff. Then look up. The lava cracked into these prismatic columns when it cooled, some 800 million years ago. The thrusting force that formed these mountains tilted the columns to their present angle. During subsequent erosion, the downhill side of the cliff crumbled away, so that you now look up at the lower ends of the giant prisms.”

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