Ramble On

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sunday's Blackrock Summit Hike

I’ve written about Blackrock Summit several times since I first discovered it back in September 2009. Back then, I was in pursuit of my goal to complete all of the hikes in the Best Easy Day Hikes – Shenandoah National Park (Amazon link at end of post). I achieved that goal last spring, although I still have two or three posts to complete about the remaining hikes.

Now, when I think about the hikes in that book, I try to focus on my favorites – trying to sort them into jaunts that I want to call “hiking adventures.” I haven’t fully defined that term yet either, but when I do, Blackrock Summit will certainly be one of the featured outings.

The Appalachian Trail passes only a few yards to the west of the parking area, and that is my preferred route for this hike. Photo 2 shows a stretch of the AT here.  The official trailhead is easier to find, since it is on an old fire road marked by a sign in the parking lot. The fire road (photo 3) is still in great shape, even though it’s not used anymore, and if you go that way the hike follows it for about a quarter mile before the AT comes back around close, and you step off of the road onto it for the rest of the route.

I expected crowds, but also thought that the distance to this hike and its location in the South District might discourage them. I ran into a couple of family groups – going, coming, and on the summit, and a group that had done a backcountry camping trip down the Furnace Mountain Trail. I traded photo favors with them, snapping a group photo in exchange for this one of me in the little rock gap just below the summit of Blackrock.

Despite its shortness – the trail is a total of one mile round trip, and negligible altitude gain – Easy Day Hikes says there is only 175 feet of elevation here, this hike is truly one of my favorites. The rock scramble rewards you at the top, and the views of the surrounding mountains – Buzzard Rock, Trayfoot, Horsehead, and Furnace – are beautiful, especially in their fall colors, as they were on this day.

The rock formation is Hampton Quartzite, and is very similar to what you find on Duncan Knob in the GWNF, and even some formations I saw in Dolly Sods. As a scramble, it is nothing like two other well-known scrambles in the Park, Old Rag and Bearfence. Those two scrambles are typically lava flows and large expanses of exposed granite. Here’s what Heatwole’s Guide has to say about the quartzite, which is leftover from some “great monolith:”

“When it was exposed by erosion it had already been cracked and weakened by pressure, and by cycles of heating and cooling. Rainwater seeped into the cracks and froze, and melted and seeped and froze again. In a very short time, as geologists measure – probably less than 100,000 years – Blackrock crumbled into the magnificent but messy pile you’re standing on.”

Heatwole goes on to describe the rock tripe, the lichen that this summit gets its name from. He adds an oral history note – apparently, this hike was a favorite for guests at the old Black Rock Springs Hotel (he describes the trail to the site also, which I will have to try this winter). The story goes, that scratching a name or initials in the rocks was a big deal. I’ve never seen a sign of this activity in all of my trips so far – I suppose, as Heatwole speculated, that all they did was scrape off a bit of lichen, which has grown back in the century or so since the Hotel burned down.

Just a little ways from the summit, 200 yards or so, there is one of my favorite places in the Park, this little cut that has been cut in the rocks to make a path.  I've taken pictures of Mary and Chris there - and this time, I had the group take a picture of me standing there.

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