Hiking Duncan Knob

Sometimes hikes don’t go 100% according to plan. This was one of those times. Still, we recommend this hike to most of our outdoorsy friends who have enjoyed trails like Old Rag and are looking for similar experiences without the crowds. Despite the unplanned bits, this stands out as one of our favorite Virginia hikes and we’d like to pair it with Strickler Knob as an overnighter someday soon.

HIKE INFO

hiked on March 27, 2016
George Washington National Forest, near Luray, VA
14 miles-ish*
difficulty rating, access information, terrain map & more:  Hiking Upward Link

*Soooo…when you read our Hiking Notes below, you’ll discover that this is one of those hikes where we sort of deviated from the original plan. What started out in our mind as an 8-9 mile hike became closer to 14. So it goes, sometimes.

Henri stands atop Duncan Knob, checking out the view.
“Pensive Henri” stands atop Duncan Knob. That’s Fergus’ trusty North Face day pack (he’s had & used for something like 20 years).
GETTING THERE

It’s an easy 2 hour drive from our home in Fredericksburg, VA to Crisman Hollow Road between Luray and New Market, VA, which is the starting spot for several great Virginia Hikes in the George Washington Forest Park (a particularly easy drive for Henri, who almost always falls asleep on the way while Fergus drives).

PARKING NOTES: So, Crisman Hollow Road says it is “closed to vehicles from Feb. 1 to the Friday before Youth Spring Turkey Season in April.” Two things to note here: (1) We did not actually know these parameters before setting out to hike, we only vaguely knew that the road may or may not be fully open and simply hoped for the best as we started out, and (2) March 27 was actually earlier than “the Friday before Youth Spring Turkey Season” in Virginia — something neither of us even knew existed — which began April 9 in 2016 (meaning April 1 should have been the “Friday before.”) To be 100% honest, we had to figure out if “Youth Spring Turkey Season” referenced youth turkeys, youth hunters, or both. Turns out, it means youth hunters.

This is all to say that the road turned out to be closed when we got there, anyway. We had to park in the little parking area near Story Book Trail, then walk past the ‘no parking beyond this point’ cable and up the road a good three miles before reaching our trailhead at Scothorn Gap Trail. So, 8 miles became 14 right away with this added walking there and back.

The reward at the top of Duncan Knob is a great view!
The reward at the top of Duncan Knob is a great view! (including Fergus’ feet?)
WEATHER/CONDITIONS

Luray, VA on 27 March 2016
luray-weather

This was our Easter hike for 2016, the first time in many years that we decided to break our annual Old Rag tradition and opt to try new trails each year on this holiday. Easter hikes can vary when it comes to Virginia weather. We’ve had some where it was close to 70° F and some where it was south of 30° F. The temp on this day hovered around 55°, with some chilly wind at the top of the Knob.

This hike rated super high on our "SOLITUDE" scale.
This hike rated super high on our “SOLITUDE” scale.
OUR PREP/GEAR

This was planned as a day-hike coupled with 1 night of car-camping at a Luray campground called Outlanders. So the hike itself wasn’t much additional prep than we’d do for an Old Rag hike or any 8-10 mile day-hike — day pack with snacks, lunch, water, basic first-aid stuff, and layered clothing in case of weather changes along the way. We only took 1 pack (Fergus’ old North Face) and traded off with it throughout the day (typical for us on a day-hike, really).

The weekend prep, however, included planning for & packing our camping stuff (including what we call the Big Tent, camp stove, camp chairs, etc.) in the back of Fergus’ MINI Countryman and making sure we had all the fun food and drink for a luxurious one-nighter at a campground filled with amenities (read: picnic tables, tent pads, toilets and showers). The Big Tent is an inexpensive 4-person tent we bought years ago from Bass Pro Shops when the kids were still living at home. It’s great for car-camping even when it’s just the two of us because it’s easy to put up and yet has plenty of room if we need to pull in the gear (or the dogs) due to weather.

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We forgot cups, but necessity is the mother of invention (and we hadn’t forgotten Rex Goliath ‘juice boxes’).
OUR HIKE NOTES

Here is where we tell you that this hike was super fun and offered a lot of beauty, but didn’t go exactly as planned. The first half was fine. We knew that we might have to hoof it from the parking area to the trailhead if Crisman Hollow Road wasn’t open, so we were mentally prepared for the added 6 miles that tacked on when we found it closed. When the hike immediately changed from 8 to 14 miles, we didn’t blink too much. The first three were just walking up a road to the trailhead, and the last three would just be walking back down it to the car.

The hike to Duncan Knob went without a hitch, also. The Hiking Upward route directions are perfect, and the trail is varied and interesting — with some good steep hiking, and several good campsites along the way that we noted for future reference. We really enjoyed the Class 3 rock scramble to get to the top, pretty akin in terms of difficulty with Old Rag’s rock scramble, but not the same type of experience/feel because Duncan Knob’s is more a big pile of rocks to surmount rather than boulders to get over and through.

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Henri heading up the big pile o’ rocks to reach the top of Duncan Knob.

We enjoyed the views and lunch at the top of Duncan Knob, despite some pretty chilly wind, then headed back down. The “fun” began when we reached the junction with Scothorn Gap Trail once again. Henri felt that it might be best to just hike back out the way we came in (walk back down Crisman Hollow Road to the parking area); however, Fergus noted the sign to “Massanutten Trail Connector” and figured it wouldn’t add any extra miles to go that way instead. Henri deferred to Fergus, who turned out to be right…BUT.

The return hike along the Massanutten Trail was beautiful and the terrain was varied and interesting, and well worth the time and effort. It included lovely views as it wound pretty steeply down to the creek. It was when we had to hike back up to Crisman Hollow Road that Henri realized the folly of listening to Fergus. What goes down, it turns out, must come up.

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This stream is a pretty feature of the Massanutten Trail hike.

The climb up the Massanutten Connector Trail to Rte 211 is steep. Had it been the end of an 8-9 mile hike, Henri may have been a bit less whiney about it, but facing that Unrelenting Up at the tail-end of 14 miles was just plain hard work. She says it felt like doing 30 minutes of lunges after running a half-marathon. Let’s just say that it’s very good that the trail offered so much solitude because some of the words coming out of Henri’s mouth weren’t meant for family-friendly hiking.

By the time we got to the Outlanders campground for our overnight car-camping, Henri was thrilled with our spot (literally right next to the Shenandoah River), but somewhat less than excited to find that we were required to park on a hill above the river and hand-carry our gear down (and then back up the next day) rather than being able to pull right up, unload, and start relaxing.

These are the moments when you know your relationship is solid. No matter how tired and grimy we were (and we were), no matter that the sun had set already…we sucked it up and helped each other take the Big Tent and all our comfy-camping accoutrements down that hill and cooperated to set up camp without a single fight. That’s love, people.

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In the morning, rested, we were happy to have tromped down the hill with our stuff the night before. What a great spot.

As it turned out, being “off season,” the tent camping sites by the river were ALL vacant except for ours. Henri noted that she probably wouldn’t love camping here during busy season because the pads are very close to one another. Unless we decided to group camp, we might not enjoy having neighbors just a few feet away. As it turned out, though, we had the riverside to ourselves. We woke up early and enjoyed coffee in our make-shift wine-box coffee cups (even when car camping, we sometimes forget stuff) and enjoyed the views, breakfast, and each other’s company for a few hours before tearing down the Big Tent, hauling all our stuff back up the hill, and heading homeward.

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Relaxing next to the Shenandoah on a beautiful spring morning.

It should be noted that we have learned a lot about hiking and about this area, in particular, in the months following this hike. There are half a dozen things we would do differently if we were to hike Duncan Knob again. Having said that, we both had a really good time and remember this as a terrific Easter hike.

OUR FAVORITE BITS
  • Rock scramble: always a favorite on a hike
  • SOLITUDE: we saw only 2 other people on the trail all day long (a couple of mountain bikers who were even less pleased than Henri when they discovered the steep climb back to Rte. 211)
  • Views!
  • Camping by the riverside and making plans to backpack & camp along the trail soon

TBT: “Smiling Lisa”

Today’s TBT post remembers that one time several years ago when Fergus actually caught Henri on film SMILING during a 10-mile run (a rare event, trust us)…and then her friend Slam Duncan got ahold of the photo and generated more than 120 “Smiling Lisa Memes” over the next couple of years. Here’s the original photo…and 40 of Henri’s favorite Smiling Lisas.

The original photo (Hartwood 10 Miler).
The original photo.

You can click on any image below to see a bigger version of it or to switch to slideshow/gallery mode:

[Henri would like everyone to know that she didn’t bandit the race. Her bib is in her hand; she had not yet finished moving it from rain jacket to shirt when Fergus took the photo.]

Hiking Wildcat Mountain

A terrific little hike for hanging out with family and exploring the history of the hills of Virginia. This would be a great first hike if you wanted to introduce a friend to it. Lots to see and talk about, and not too taxing.

HIKE INFO

hiked on 30 December 2016
Near Warrenton, VA ~ protected & maintained by the VA Nature Conservatory
3 miles
difficulty rating, access information, terrain map & more:  Hiking Upward Link

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Hunter leading the hike while his silly parents take photos of a wall.
GETTING THERE

It took about an hour to drive to the parking area/trailhead from Fredericksburg, VA.
IMPORTANT PARKING NOTE: Pay attention to the parking information on the Hiking Upward site. The road to get to the parking area (England Mountain Road) is labeled “PRIVATE,” which could easily throw you off. The directions on the Hiking Upward link about finding the hike and parking are perfect. Follow those and you’ll be A-OK.

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Henri and Hunter, our poorly-named son who opts to eat no red meat.
WEATHER/CONDITIONS + PREP/GEAR

Warrenton, VA on 30 December 2016

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Our 21 year old son Hunter-the-Gatherer joined us on this hike. We did the usual brief day-hike prep, with the addition of extra food and Fergus’ Jetboil to make coffee. The plan was to make the most of the short hike by stopping to hammock and picnic for awhile. Colder weather meant more clothing layers than we’ve been needing so far this month. It was a bit windy and felt pretty chilly, until we got moving. Even got some minuscule snow flurries while we hiked. Almost as if it were the end of December or something…weird.

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Never too chilly to hammock for a bit?!
OUR HIKE NOTES

Finding the parking area is easy (once you get over the uneasy feeling of turning down a road marked “PRIVATE”), and there’s plenty of room to park. The site includes a big information board and some printed maps, placed there by the Nature Conservancy. The trailhead and trail are marked really well, somewhat obnoxiously so. Hiking Upward warns (in red even) of disoriented hikers wandering off trail and requiring emergency rescue…but it’s more-or-less impossible to imagine that ever happening, the way the trail is marked. In addition to prolific trail markers and Nature Conservancy signage, several large “END OF TRAIL” signs and chains contrive to prevent any unintentional deviations from the prescribed course.

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In case you were to forget…you’ll see these on every other tree.

The first mile of the trail is Up, through a series of switchbacks, but the entire elevation gain on the hike is only about 800-850 feet, so it’s not too daunting. Because the leaves were off the trees this time of year, we got some nice views of the surrounding hills as we climbed upward. The Wildcat Mountain hillside is super pretty, with lots of rocks and entwined roots, as well as many vestiges of its former human inhabitants — namely a series of stone walls in various states of disrepair.

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Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…. (“Mending Wall“)

The hike itself is easy, and not very long at 3 miles. Would be a great beginners’ hike and it was the perfect one for this day when we really wanted to spend some time together hanging out more than we wanted to take on a big physical challenge. Having not really researched the spot much before heading out, we were pleasantly surprised by how interesting it is!

The history of this hiking area is pretty damn fascinating, and makes us want to learn even more. This website does a nice job of concisely summing it up while also revealing quite a bit of information. A good starter site for learning the basic history. It mentions a “pond,” and we could clearly see where it had been at about 1.5 miles along the trail…but it was absolutely bone dry. It sits next to a deserted mountain home.

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What remained of the pond was a large dry depression, clearly once a body of water.

There’s not much creepier than happening upon a weathered, gray, decrepit house with broken windows and foreboding “NO TRESPASSING” and “DO NOT ENTER” signs around it, unless it’s the single black buzzard that was hunched ominously atop a crumbling chimney stack, its head cocked to the side as it warily considered our approach. Horror films have featured more cheerful settings. Movies with dueling banjos leap to mind.

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Winter is coming.

Turns out, this was the abandoned homestead of Enoch Smith (1832-1915) and his family.

“…a few farmers and loggers remained on Wildcat Mountain into the 20th century including the family of Enoch “Nuck” Smith who, still spry in 1902 at age 70, would ride his horse each week down the rocky trail to the Enon Baptist Church at the foot of Rappahannock Mountain….The Enoch Smith house was built around 1900….The remains of the original cabin built by Enoch Smith’s parents in 1830 sit behind the house, consisting of a clay-mortared chimney.” ~ from Fauquier Trails Coalition

[Henri, our resident English teacher geek, would like to point out that Enoch Smith and Robert Frost — author of the famed “Mending Wall” poem referenced earlier in this post — overlapped in terms of the era they were alive. That poem was first published just 1 year after Mr. Smith’s demise.]

We agreed that we were OK with the idea of ignoring the signs to check it out, but not OK with vandalizing. Though the back door had fallen off its hinges, leaving the gutted property open to exploration, it looked as if merely stepping into the home might leave it worse off than when we found it. Henri was envisioning falling through the rotting floorboards…and Henri has seen enough thrillers to know that when there’s a large black vulture and ominous “STAY OUT” signs, smart people don’t run into the basement or attic when there’s no power just to see what the strange noise was. Henri, it should be noted, can wax a bit dramatic.

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Henri contemplates entering to check it out, but thinks better of it.

We opted to peek inside, but not enter. A little over a year ago, an intrepid young Youtuber apparently shared none of our reservations, and so ventured into the abandoned home & spring house to shoot some video and stills:

We’re sharing this video here in the hopes that future hikers will just watch it to see what’s in the house, noting that there’s nothing in there worth risking your safety or trespassing in it (potentially damaging it) to see.

 

OUR FAVORITE BITS
  • The history and evidence of human occupation made it fun to explore.
  • Easy, but interesting terrain.
  • SOLITUDE: We saw only 1 other family hiking (a mom with 2 young kids, entering the trail as we left it).

52 Hike Challenge

So, we just signed up for the “Adventure Series” of the 52 Hike Challenge. We’re starting with the first hike we posted on this blog, which is also the first hike of Henri’s 48th year on the planet (having turned 47 on November 20). Seems like a fitting starting place.

We’ve already knocked off several of the Adventure Series Objectives:

  • 5 Waterfalls (even if they are dry) — 2 DOWN in Hike #2
  • 1 Forest (if not possible, go to National Park/ Site) — All 3 to date have been in Shenandoah National Park, but we’re likely to get a few hikes in at Prince William Forest Park too.
  • 1 National Parks, Monuments, Preserves, Recreation Area or Historic Trail — see note above
  • 2 Hikes to bodies of water: Lakes, Rivers, or Ocean
  • 1 Stewardship hike (pick up trash or join group to help with a restoration project)
  • 1 Group hike (if you are regular to one group, visit a new group to meet new people)
  • 1 Introduce someone new to hiking (on an easy trail)
  • 1 Hike from your Bucket list (somewhere you have always wanted to go) — we hiked Sedona a few years ago, but we’ll look for a new BL one for this year!
  • 3 Reflection hikes (journal at the beginning, middle, and towards the end of your challenge). — all the hikes we put in the blog count, we think

Hiking Strickler Knob

This quickly became our new favorite hike in Virginia, to date. Although not a loop hike, this one had all of the features we both love: water, cool camping areas, rock scrambling/climbing, varied terrain, solitude, and enough distance & difficulty to feel like a physical challenge. If you enjoy hiking Old Rag, we think you’d enjoy this one.

HIKE INFO

hiked on 27 December 2016
George Washington National Forest, Near New Market Gap & Luray Valley
10 miles
difficulty rating, access information, terrain map & more:  Hiking Upward Link

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view of New Market Gap from the summit stack
GETTING THERE

It took about 2 hours to drive to the parking area/trailhead from Fredericksburg, VA.
IMPORTANT PARKING NOTE: We were glad that the Crisman Hollow Road was open for us to get to the parking area at the trailhead. That’s not true year-round; it was closed when we went to hike Duncan Knob last Easter, adding a 3 mile walk up the road to our trailhead [“Crisman Hollow Road is closed to vehicles from Feb. 1 to the Friday before Youth Spring Turkey Season in April” …now we know!]

Strickler Knob Hike
Fergus got to park right by Massanutten trailhead.
WEATHER/CONDITIONS

New Market, VA on 27 December 2016
luray-wind

Absolutely GORGEOUS, unseasonably warm day (the reason we decided to venture out on this hike, really). Our iPhone weather apps were telling us it was about 62-65° F during most of our hike. Nearby Luray, VA weather reports suggest that temps topped out there at 70° F for the day, so it’s possible that once the sun was beating down on us, we may have moved higher than 65°. Both of us ended up stripping off layers and hiked in short sleeves most of the day (until the windy summit). Unbelievable that it was 2 days after Christmas.

Had to add the wind speed information here because once we got to the summit, we’re pretty sure we were feeling some of those 32 mph gusts. Henri was legitimately afraid to climb to the unprotected summit because the wind seemed strong enough to blow her right off!

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“THAT is where we’re headed.”
OUR PREP/GEAR

The usual day-hike prep, although each time we head out we get a little smarter about adding safety and “what if” items. Because the description of this hike included mention of possible bushwhacking towards the summit, Fergus sharpened his machete and we carried it in with us…didn’t end up needing it, but were glad to have it just in case. Henri also packed her headlamp this time. Didn’t use it, but if we’d been even 30 minutes slower or lingered 30 minutes longer at the vistas, we would have.

As usual, Henri carried in her Go Girl, but this is the first hike where she actually used it in the wild. She says, “Ladies, let me just tell you that stand-up peeing is a REVELATION on the trail. Aside from the views, it was the most magnificent part of the hike. Took a little finessing to make sure there wouldn’t be any mess, but once I got it figured out…I was sold. I will never squat again.”

This was Henri’s first hike in brand new Merrell Moab hiking shoes (Christmas present from Fergus) and she was very happy not to have accidentally peed on them. She’s been hiking in Merrell’s Azura Carex mid boots for the past few years and has loved them, but wanted a low hiking shoe instead of a boot. Really pleased with the Moab’s performance on the trail, and comfort.

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Henri’s new Merrell kicks!
OUR HIKE NOTES

This is not a loop. It’s an out-and-back. Usually, that would deter us (boring), but the terrain on this hike is so varied and interesting that we actually wanted to hike back the way we came just to see/experience it again. There is a way to exit to Crisman Hollow Road along Scothorn Gap Trail which would have made for an easy trek back down the road to the parking area, and we thought about it, but opted for the tougher Massanutten Trail hike out instead. This is our 2nd time on this stretch of the Massanutten Trail. Last time was at Easter 2016, when we took an un-planned detour along this stretch after hiking up to Duncan Knob. You could do a loop that includes both Knobs, but we don’t think we’d want to do that unless we were planning an overnighter.

As usual, the Hiking Upward description of the hike was pretty spot on and super useful….except…distance. Our GPS showed that we reached the summit in about 5 miles, making the entire out-and-back hike a good 10 miler (as opposed to the 8.6 miles listed in the description). We did not deviate from the trail outlined in the description, follow any tangents, or get lost. It was legit 10 miles out and back.

The blazes on the Massanutten and Strickler Knob trails appeared really fresh/recent. Although the Hiking Upward description stated that the pink blaze at the Knob trail might be gone or hard to see, we found the opposite. Trail markings were bright, frequent, and easy-to-spot. We did not need to bushwhack to get to the summit at all.

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Henri trying not to get blown off the rocks, climbing to the summit.

There is a shorter version of the hike coming in from Scothorn Gap trail, but we wanted a challenging hike on this day…and we got it! Having read descriptions of the hike a couple of places online and having hiked the Massanutten Trail in the past, we knew this one was going to be grueling in places (most notably, climbing steeply back out the last mile to the trailhead).

Saw (very nearly stepped in) LOTS of scat on the trail. Fergus was convinced much of it was bear. Henri was equally convinced it was not. Some of it was definitely big cat or coyote. Horse hoof prints and horse scat definitely present on the orange-blazed Massanutten, before we turned off for Strickler Knob itself. Impressive because the trail along the ridge was super narrow. The only wildlife we ran across was a toad trying desperately to pretend to be some dry leaves, and a couple of buzzards in a dead tree at the very summit (our welcoming committee, as it were).

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“Nothing to see here, folks. Just some leaves.”

The first mile heads dowwwwwn, very steeply so. As you enter the trail, you just know that hiking back up that ridge is going to absolutely suck, but it’s beautiful and so you tell yourself it will all be worth it.

The Massanutten Trail to Strickler Knob turn off is a nice mix of up and down (mostly up) and levels off in enough places that you get a respite from the climb. Beautiful stream and light rock scrambling along the way. The trail is nicely varied in terms of terrain. Once you reach the turn off to the pink-blazed Strickler Knob trail, there’s a lovely view, and from there to the summit it’s pretty much view-after-view-after-view.

The rock/boulder climb to the summit is no joke. If you enjoy Old Rag, you should also enjoy this, although this seemed even more challenging (maybe just because we’ve done Old Rag so many times now). It may have also seemed more difficult simply due to the wind. As we neared the summit, the gusts were really, really formidable on the New Market Gap side. It was pretty protected from the wind on the Luray Valley side, where someone had built a fire pit perfect for hanging out and having a snack before heading back down.

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Fergus getting some shots of the Luray Valley.

 

Some ass-clowns had decided it would be a good idea to spray-paint the rocks at the very summit. We couldn’t really read what it said, and we hope the elements take care of erasing it soon.

The camping sites along the path beckon. Someone had stacked firewood near the one about a mile from the trailhead. So inviting! We really want to pack in our hammocks and/or ultralight tent and spend a night down by that stream.

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Great campsite about 1 mile into the hike.

The hike back up the ridge to the trailhead/parking area from the stream…whew. Steep. We knew it would be, but Henri underestimated how tired her legs would be at mile 9. Not for the faint of heart nor the out-of-shape. We stopped quite a few times to catch our breath. The good news is that it was, by this time, sunset. Each time we paused, we looked back out at the pink-orange light illuminating the ridge and the valley and felt glad to stop and see it. We could see the Knob we had just climbed, illuminated in pink, purple, orange sky…just gorgeous…and it was all good.

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Henri & her favorite Osprey day pack.

 

OUR FAVORITE BITS
  • The vistas. Holy wow, the views!!
  • SOLITUDE: We literally saw no other people all day long (had the same experience on Duncan Knob hike at Easter).
  • Interesting and challenging terrain, with lots of variation.
  • Climbing. The summit has a fun, challenging rock scramble with some near-vertical climbs.
  • Some great hiking along (and crossing) streams, too.
  • We want to go back and camp at the campsite near the stream. Maybe hammock-camp.

Hiking Overall Run/Beecher Ridge

Nicknamed the “Trail of Many Nicknames” (see hiking notes below), this one goes in the category of half-fantastic, half-dull and tedious. We would do a shortened out-and-back version of this hike again to see the waterfalls in various seasons, but we probably won’t do the entire loop again.

HIKE INFO

hiked on 23 December 2016
Shenandoah National Park, near Bentonville
8.5 miles
difficulty rating, access information, terrain map & more:  Hiking Upward Link

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View along Overall Run Trail
GETTING THERE

It took us about 1 hr 30 min to drive to the parking area/trailhead from Fredericksburg, VA.

Pay attention to the parking notes on Hiking Upward. There is no “lot” to park in, just a little bump-out in the road at the tail end of 630 at the start of someone’s private drive. You have to walk up that drive (with homeowner’s blessings, we assume from the signage at the base of the driveway) to get to the trailhead. There are lots of “private property” and “keep out” signs on both sides of the drive and at the start of the trail, until you get on the trail proper. SNP is definitely encouraging hikers to honor those signs so that trail access can be preserved amicably with the landowners. The parking area is so small that only maybe 3-4 cars could park there safely, and then only if they cooperated with one another. Two cars parallel-parked filled the area entirely when we were there.

WEATHER/CONDITIONS

Bentonville, VA on 23 December 2016

Saw the sun for a short time just as we reached the bigger waterfall. Beautiful!

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Gratuitous Couple Selfie! (Fergus used his remote & tripod to get the shot)
OUR PREP/GEAR

Just typical day-hike prep…water and snacks in day bags and out the door. Put a little thought into what to wear because it was chilly to start, but we knew we’d get warm as we moved…so, layers. Henri is the cold-weather wimp of the two of us, so she wore fleece-lined tights under hiking pants with a long-sleeve sport-tech tee, a sweatshirt, and a jacket. By the time we were 1/4 way up the first hill, the jacket was unzipped, her beanie was off, and she says she felt pretty comfortable. There wasn’t much wind, so that was good. It was cold enough for the waterfalls to be iced over, which was beautiful.

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Henri with her trusty Osprey Daylite pack, heading up the private drive to trailhead.
OUR HIKE NOTES

Somehow we managed to do the trail backwards (as Hiking Upward has it mapped out, anyway). This had some pros and cons…and the cons, to us, outweighed the pros. Doing the trail backwards meant that we started up Beecher Ridge Trail, which we have now nicknamed “Boring Ridge Trail.” We were super glad that it was December and the leaves were off the trees because were it not for a vague glimpse of the mountain ridges through the branches, there was just about nothing to see for the first 3-4 miles of the hike…which was UP. So we also called that leg of the trail “Unrewarded Up.” No vistas along the way. And, once we were past the stream at the start of the trail, no water feature for the first half of the hike. Didn’t even get to see a black bear (Fergus was so bummed). The other downer of the Up on this part of the loop was that the trail had not been cleared or maintained in a long time, so we were slogging through 6-8 inches of fallen leaves, earning the trail the additional nickname “Ankle Turner.” Lots of hidden rocks and roots and brambles under those leaves! In a couple of spots, branches or small trees had fallen across the trail and we either cleared them ourselves or found a way around them. It wasn’t un-fun, honestly, but it was one of the least maintained trails we’ve seen so far in Shenandoah National Park.

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Henri doing some trail clearing on Beecher Ridge Trail.

Once we turned down Overall Run Trail, things instantly improved. It was cleared/maintained (though still leafy…which was fine until we started to go down and then we wished we’d brought a sled to slide down the slippery blanket of leaves). This is where we picked up the stream, as well. And, of course, the UP was pretty much over, which meant less physical work to just move forward. It wasn’t long before we came across the top of a lovely waterfall that was partially iced over. Had a snack there and then proceeded down to a REALLY gorgeous vista and waterfall, just as the sun was starting to go down beyond the ridge. Lovely.

 

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Fergus getting some shots from the top of waterfall #1.

In a way, we’re glad we did it backwards because we got the work & boring bit over and ended with gorgeous views and interesting terrain. Had we done it the “right” way, we would have left the cool stuff behind and spent the last 2/3 of the hike trudging/slogging through the boring leaves back to the car. So, maybe we take our “cons outweigh the pros” comment back, after all. We remarked afterwards that it really changes your experience to come across waterfalls from the top rather than the bottom…you hear them, but can’t see them until you’re almost falling over the edge. Kinda cool.

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Oh hey there, Waterfall #2!

We decided we would do this trail again, but probably only hike (the “right” direction) up to the waterfall and then back. We don’t think we’d do the whole loop again, just because so much of it was pretty dull in comparison to that part…and there are so many other trails to try!

OUR FAVORITE BITS
  • The waterfalls and vistas on Overall Run Trail
  • SOLITUDE: We only saw 1 other person on the trail the entire day (5 hours of hiking)
  • A few animal encounters: 1 white-tailed deer, 3 pheasant, and a small bear (we think small…it was jussssst on the other side of some brush from us. We heard it moving around, heard what was clearly a bear cub sound, but didn’t get to see it). The audio below wasn’t taken by us, but it’s the same sound we heard.

 

 

Lewis Ginter Gardenfest of Lights

Took Hunter and his GF Sarah down to RVA’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden last night to walk through the “Gardenfest of Lights.” On the way out, we discovered the miniature trains (and the fun, eager older gentlemen who were running them) and the library full of miniature houses (and house like things). Here are some of our favorite photos — click on any of them to see a bigger version or change to slideshow mode. Merry Christmas!

Little Devils Stairs

A great little day-hike with lots of UP at the beginning and plenty of time near the burbling stream & pretty waterfalls. You get rewarded with lovely views after the first two miles of steep climbing and criss-crossing the water. The remaining four miles are down, partially on a fire road. The stop at Bolen Cemetery makes this one worth doing.

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Hard to argue with a view like this.
HIKE INFO

hiked on 26 November 2016
Shenandoah National Park, near Sperryville
6 miles
difficulty rating, access information, terrain map & more:  Hiking Upward Link

WEATHER/CONDITIONS

Sperryville, VA on 26 November 2016
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Saw the sun for a short time. We got some brief snow flurries up at the top!

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Henri’s usual day hike gear: Merrell boots & Osprey pack.
OUR PREP/GEAR

Almost no prep. This was a spur-of-the-moment hike that we decided to do midway through our day, so we pretty much just threw some snacks, water bottles, and minimal gear into day-hike packs and headed out the door. It was a good bit warmer in Fredericksburg than in the hills of Sperryville that day, so Henri was really glad that Fergus had an extra wind-breaker in the car; otherwise, it could have turned out to be a lot less enjoyable!

OUR HIKE NOTES

The Hiking Upward notes/directions were spot on for this hike. No real danger of getting lost. It’s just about all UP for the first 2 miles — some of it pretty steep — with some fun rock scrambling and criss-crossing back-and-forth over the stream until you get to the top. To us, that was the best part of the hike. The remaining 4 miles are mostly down, 2 of them on a fire trail and then 2 on hiking trail. The 6-mile hike is kind of cool in that it’s divided neatly into three 2-mile segments: 2 miles up with rocks and stream, 2 miles down fire trail (a nice rest after all the climbing, and a good chance for conversation, if a bit bland in terms of view in most places), and then a stop at Bolen Cemetery before turning through some forest for 2 more miles down to the parking area.

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Learning about the history of the hills was worth this stop.

We were on the trail from about 1PM to about 5PM, pushing the amount of daylight left towards the end…so we didn’t stop to eat, hammock, or hang out for more than few brief moments to catch our breath (on the way up!) and get some photos.

OUR FAVORITE BITS
  • The climb up at the beginning…love the rock scrambling and the water!
  • Bolen Cemetery, which appears to have a really interesting history and features a plaque with a poem that pays homage to the story

This hike caused us to learn more about the history of the beautiful Shenandoah National Park that we enjoy so much. It’s a story worth learning, if you haven’t yet.

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Henri for scale.
AFTER THE HIKE

We stopped for an early dinner at Thornton River Grille in Sperryville, then headed to the real reason we picked this hike  —  our ulterior motive for the day: a visit to Copper Fox Distillery to buy some white dog whiskey for Aaron to age in his at-home barrel kit.