Ramble On

Friday, November 15, 2013

Strickler Knob - a Moderate GWNF Day Hike

There are a few of them:  Strickler Knob has been one of those hikes that I've strived to complete, but things just never have seemed to work out.  There have been weather-related cancellations, and then there was the time we tried to do it in January 2011, only to fail (check out the Strickler Knob label at the end of this post for more info about the trail and the 2011 attempt).  So when Chris and I arrived at the trail head at 11am last Saturday, I was happy to realize that we were going to finally check the box on this one - even if we were using a shorter version to make sure we completed the summit in daylight!

The trail we used starts at the Scotthorn Gap parking area - a spot in the GWNF we are very familiar with, since we started several of our training hikes for the 2005 Half Dome trip here, hiking up some of these very same trails.  Our planned route was about 5.4 miles long with approximately 800 feet of elevation.

Back in 2005, Strickler Knob was a true bushwack, I guess, which is one of the reasons we never found it.  The trail had been roughed out and was blazed, but it wasn't maintained and the route was lost.  Over the last few years, as discussed in the Hiking Upward review (http://www.hikingupward.com/GWNF/StricklerKnob/), it has been rediscovered and the route has been partially reblazed.

Our route led up the fire road - we'd hiked this many times before, and our familiarity was one of the reasons I wanted to start out and end the hike here, since if we ran out of daylight, we would be on a familiar stretch of trail.  Eventually we passed through a clearing - great campsites here, and we paused to rest on the fire ring - and then a slight descent to a beaver pond and the crossroads, where we had turned back from the summit in the 2001 attempt.

After another short climb, the intersection with the summit trail is hard to find because it is not marked with a sign or blaze. Instead, someone has built a rock pile talisman there, which is the spot where you should make your way to the north to begin following the ridge.  Before you cross the ridge, look up for a few pink or magenta items nailed high on tree trunks - the old blazes for this trail were that color, or pink.

For the most part, this hike follows the ridge of Strickler Knob, which is handy since the blazes can be hard to see - they are either not there, having been worn off, or there are long stretches where they haven't been placed, since the scrubby tree growth up here doesn't allow for the usual placement.  Being up on the ridge like that offers two key benefits:  as long as you continue north, eventually you will reach your objective; and there are incredible views to the east and west of the Luray Valley and the folds of the Massanutten Mountain, with glimpses that stretch off to West Virginia in places!

The highlight of this hike, which is a main feature of the Hiking Upward review, is the rock scramble that comprises the last third of a mile before the summit.  The terrain requires hand over hand climbing in two or three places, to heights of 10 to 12 feet - fortunately, the rock on this summit is mostly eroded limestone layers from the old seabed that was here prehistorically, so there are plenty of hand- and foot-holds.  Even in my out of shape condition, I didn't find it too difficult.

The ridge scramble becomes progressively more intense as you approach the summit.  The last few yards require a scramble over large bolders and rocks, and through a rock crack, more of a tunnel - I've got a shot of Chris standing in it.  And then finally, you're there on the summit, where you will find several stacks that you can climb up to take a seat on, and where there are even surfaces large enough to stretch out on for a sunny nap, if the weather permits.

For our part, we stayed up there for a half hour or so, resting and preparing for the descent.  We started back down the path, satisfied that our preparation and planning meant we'd have plenty of daylight for the hike back down.  We passed a couple of back country campsites, and even three hiking parties just getting to the ridge on our way back down.

I didn't envy those people, as this trail would be quite difficult with headlamps in the dark - I don't know that I would even attempt the scramble with any threat of darkness, and that's why we had bailed before.

But this time - we had accomplished what we set out to do.  This is definitely a highlight of the trails on Massanutten Mountain - and it is one I'm looking forward to trying again sometime!

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