Ramble On

Monday, January 4, 2010

Skyline Drive Misadventure

I did a quick turnaround out to Hawksbill Cabin this weekend, primarily to meet the roofer and discuss some ideas about pesky lingering problems that seem to emanate from the chimney. I arrived while it was still daylight on Saturday, and had a goal of leaving Sunday afternoon while it was still daylight – I have a favorite country route that I like to take whenever I can, but the secondary roads narrow down to one lane in places and I won’t take it after sundown.

More about the roof repair later this week, but I decided during breakfast on Sunday that I might like to take a drive up into Shenandoah National Park and do a short hike to Stonyman or Hawksbill Summit, both of which I have reviewed a number of times here on the blog. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the entrance station, I found that Skyline Drive was still closed due to the winter’s ice and snow – the area had another four inches during the week, on top of what’s already on the ground.

I made a quick change of plans, deciding to see how the trail up to Mary’s Rock might be – there are two ways to the trailhead that don’t require getting on Skyline Drive. One is to enter from the lower Panorama parking lot, off of US 211, and the other is to hike a short way up the Appalachian Trail, also from US 211. Park visitors are still obligated to pay the Park entry fee even if they don’t pass through an entry station – keep that in mind.
I have an annual pass that I was prepared to show anyone who asked for it, and parked in the icy Panorama lot. After bracing myself against the bitter cold wind (my car thermometer read 19 degrees), I took the short walk to the trailhead and decided that it would be not so bad once I got moving, since the trees and mountain could block much of the wind, and because it looked like direct sunlight was shining on much of the lower part of the route.

There were three or four cars in the lot, so I knew I wouldn’t be the only one on the path, and it looked like quite a few people had been up and down the mountain despite the snow on the ground. As I started up the hill, I noticed that the most recent tracks were made by someone who wisely wore ice cleats – the center part of the path, with the most footfalls, was slick and icy.
Good traction was still to be had on the sides, but the path narrows under banks of rhododendrons as it hugs the mountain on switchbacks, and I thought there might be some tough spots. Tough spots that meant I'd hike on my ass during the downhill.
I made it slowly through about 250 feet of climb and about a half mile of distance before deciding that I simply wasn’t geared properly for the attempt. I came back down, and met a couple who were ascending right at the power lines.

They asked me how the trail was and if I thought they could make it to the top. “Oh, I think you could make it,” I told them, “just be patient with the icy spots and know your limits about the cold.”
“How about views?” they asked. I told them that views were the highlight of this hike – even if they didn’t make it all the way to the top, since the leaves were down there should be views to enjoy. I told them to turn around and take a look at Page Valley behind them – New Market Gap and Duncan Knob were both visible from where we stood.
“It’ll be cold, but beautiful,” I said, “good luck and enjoy it!”
With that I made it back to my car, and went back down to Luray and the Hawksbill Greenway, where I did my four mile loop before grabbing lunch in town. I was disappointed I didn’t get to see more of the Park in winter, and I didn’t get the prized view of the Valley covered in snow, but I was satisfied with the adventure. Maybe I’ll get some cleats and try again soon.