Shenandoah National Park – hiking and a little bit of running

We entered the National Park in our trusted Neville at the most Southerly Point – at Rockfish Gap. We started our leisurely drive up Skyline Drive stopping at many of the look out points. We stopped a few miles in to do a short walk to the summit of Turk Mountain (all the trails we did have information on them on the website if you want to look). It was a really clearly marked and easy trail. I am not hill fit at all so it was a little more sweaty and huffy/puffy than I wanted it to be but it was a great walk. 

It took us maybe an hour and a half to go up and come back down and there were some good views from the top. After that we continued our drive up to Big Meadow Lodge. We had lunch (with really poor service), drove back down to the waystation, visitor centre and shop and looked at that for a bit and then eventually got checked in after being told to be back at 3pm for our keys and waiting until 3.20. When we got to our room the housekeeper was still there. It was not a great start and we were both tired and a bit grumpy. 

We decided to head out for a little explore and were soon cheered up by chipmunks which are darting about all over the car park. We walked up to the Black Rock summit – an easy ten minutes from the car park and watched the weather blow in. We managed a selfie in a bit of a cloud gap but that was all we got. After a bit of a chill out we had food and a bottle of local white wine in the tap room and planned the next set of adventures.

6thJune didn’t start well. I struggled to wake up. Even after coffee I felt sluggish and sleepy. Probably the wine – which had been nice but clearly hangover inducing. We set off for a little run and it was so so hard. The plan was just to run down to the big meadow, have a walk round that and then run back up. I really struggled and as we turned off one trail onto another and started going up a little bit I felt really sick. I stopped and we walked a little. Kath had some polo mints in her vest and having one helped with the nausea. We saw a deer and that cheered me up.

We got to the big meadow and followed some little tracks through for a while watching some deer in the distance and people with ridiculously sized cameras watching the deer and probably looking out for bears too. Then we ran/walked our way back to our room and I had a little cry. I felt utterly crappy and unfit and like the best thing would be just to stay in the room and let Kath go explore. Then I got over myself and we went for breakfast and set off on the days adventures.

First up we were going to to the Hawksbill summit loop which would take us to the highest summit in the National Park via a looped trail that was described as moderate and busy in the guidebook that we had bought the day before. We pulled into a car park and then realised that we had pulled into the one before the one we were actually meant to park in. A quick look at the map determined that we could get to the summit from this spot and that it would take us up a fire road and would be an out and back walk. We decided to do that to avoid a busy trail and to give me some confidence. It was a nice walk up and while a little huffing and puffing definitely happened, it wasn’t too bad. We were rewarded with some stunning Blue Ridge Mountain views.

After the Hawksbill summit we walked back down the way we came and saw quite a few people making their way up now so we had definitely timed it right and chosen the right trail as there was a steady stream of people on the other one as far as we could tell. We drove onwards a little and stopped at the Skyland resort for a pee. It was a little early for lunch but we had read about a short easy trail which was only a roughly 1.5 mile loop and close to Skyland so we decided to walk that. It was called the Limberlost Trail and was a path aimed at families or those struggling to walk longer or more challenging trails. There were frequent benches and an activity sheet for kids at the start of the trail. We walked round listening to the birds and chatting. When we were done it was time for lunch.

After lunch at Skyland we drove back towards Big Meadows to do the Dark Hollow Falls walk as an out and back or, if we felt like it, with tagging on the Rose River Loop. The Dark Hollow Falls trail starts with a gentle but steady decent. It’s a definite trail rather than track with roots and rocks and later on some muddy sections but it really isn’t too technical. I was doing ok and really enjoying being out. I was thinking about how much trail running has taught me about my ability to do this sort of thing and some of those reflections formed the basis of my latest #Run1000Miles ambassador blog which went live today.

We arrived at the top of the Water falls – just above the Dark Hollow Falls where there is a little cascade. We sat for a bit on the rock, sipped some water and waited for the walkers around us to clear. Then we moved on. It was steeper downhill here and I had a few moments were I didn’t really want to be doing this. However, the setting was too stunning to consider not doing it. It was busy though so we just kept moving, stopping only to let people who were making their way up the path come past us. When we eventually arrived at the bottom we had a proper look at the falls. They are stunning and then decided that we would walk on.

We looked at the map. After having come all the way down the way we did we thought that going back up that way with the number of people and the steep bits would actually not be fun so we decided to walk part of the Rose River Loop but then pick up the horse trail that runs between Skyland and Big Meadows and walk back along that to the car park. That would avoid the worst up and should avoid people altogether. I looked at the map and declared ‘that sounds good because we are nearly at the lowest point now so should start gently climbing again soon’.

And off we went. Down. More down. And then more down. Clearly I can’t read an elevation map. We were not in fact nearly at the lowest point. We were about half way down at this point. We wound our way along the river which was a stunning and set to a wonderful soundtrack of trickling water which got stronger through the cascades and quieter in the pools. We spend about a mile and a quarter going down a fairly technical trail. Every time it evened out and we spent a bit of time walking alongside a pool or slow flowing sections we thought we were at the bottom and then came the next cascade. Eventually we were as low as we could go though, crossed the river over a bridge and started going up.

We came to some more water falls. They were busy again which struck me as odd because on the trail itself we hadn’t really seen anyone at all. As we made our way further up a family coming down told us that they had just seen a bear. I was a bit scared and excited at the same time. We kept our eyes open but there was no bear to be seen. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or disappointed.

Once at the end of the trail we needed to find the horse trail. The map in the book turned out to be inaccurate but luckily we had the paper map the visitor centre had given us. With the help of that we found the trail and continued walking up hill a while. We were a good mile or so into the trail, maybe even more when we say our bear. There it was. Maybe 60 metres off the trail munching on leaves. It knew we were there as it looked over a couple of times. We stood and watched, in awe. I felt very grateful for being allowed to be in its space, to watch it and to share a brief moment with it. Then we moved on and left it to it. Given how quickly it could just disappear from view even while we were watching it, I am sure we had probably been seen by quite a few bears all day – this one just chose to let us see it.

After a shower and some tlc for my really quite impressive heat rash we bought some Limberlost Lager to celebrate a good day of hiking (and having hiked the trail of the same name) and sat with that in the Great Room in some rocking chairs to talk about the next day, plans and to wrap our heads around the fact that we had seen not only deer and all manner of birds including a peregrine but also a black bear. It had been a 38000 step day though so we didn’t last very long before falling into bed.

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