Ramble On

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bearfence Mountain - an Easy SNP Day Hike

On Sunday we had one of those exceptional Indian Summer days in the Valley – the temperature rose to the mid-seventies, although it was probably a few degrees cooler up in Shenandoah National Park – so I decided to take in another one of the easy day hikes from my guide book. I chose Bearfence Mountain, which was my 21st of the 26 little hikes in the book.
I’ll refer to the Heatwole Guide for a description of this hike, and for the origin of its name:
“Bearfence Mountain, elevation 3,620 feet, reportedly got its name from the palisade-like rocks, resembling a fence, that surround its summit. From the summit you have a 360-degree view; this is one of only four or five places in the whole Park from which you can see all around you. The hike to the summit is fairly easy in that it's short, with less than 300 feet of climbing. It's difficult in that part of it is pure rock scramble for which you'll use both hands and perhaps from time to time the seat of your pants. But the climb is not dangerous if you observe a few simple precautions.”

I was excited about this hike because a couple of friends have endorsed it – Evan, who put together a book of wildlife photography in the Park (see the link in the right hand column) wrote about this hike a few times, and Park Ranger Sally, our neighbor, has told us about leading ranger programs up here. I heard “rock scramble” and pictured something like the Blackrock summit I’ve done a few times recently – this one is more like an abbreviated Old Rag hike.

The photos that accompany this post are of the view of the trailhead across Skyline Drive from the parking area, a very tame deer alongside the lowest part of the trail (it looked at me several times, not at all afraid of me, despite it being hunting season), a couple of the scramble portion itself, and then two from a section of the nearby AT – you can make a circuit hike out of this one and avoid scrambling back down the way you came up, or vice versa.

All of the guide books recommend good hiking boots, and not carrying small children up this one. On my day, it was a popular outing for young families – I got some good advice from kids on the way up about which direction to go so I didn’t make a wrong turn – also, dogs aren’t allowed on this trail. I’m not sure that I would try this one on a day where there was any kind of precipitation, or in fog.

The final two photos are the prize of the day. The summit is one of few places along Skyline Drive where you have a 360-degree view. Although I did not go all the way to the top of the rocks – there was a place where I decided against a chest-high climb without a partner – I found a great spot for a little picnic almost at the summit. These photos are the view I enjoyed on such a near-perfect Fall day.

If you are up for a leg stretcher with a bit of a challenge, this hike is a great choice. I am looking forward to getting back out there with Mary or Chris sometime soon.

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