HUMPBACK ROCKS

GPS: 37.969127, -78.896155

TIME: 1H 10M

LENGTH: 1.6 MILES RT

ELEVATION CHANGE:  800 ft

We get to the trail head just in time to hike up to humpback rocks and see sunset. Fingers crossed. It was 7:15pm and sunset was at 8:25-ish. At the trailhead there are several different options for trails. We walked up to the kiosk and saw this posting. There was an alert for bear activity but there were several other people on the trail. So not really worried… As the sign said, the trail to humpback rock was right behind the kiosk.

To ensure hikers are going the right way, they also have these signs. We were only doing the 0.8 one way, but it’s many feet to climb in a short distance.

For anyone worried about the steep climb, there are benches along the way. It’s perfect for someone who needs to pace themselves to reach the top.

The trail is wide and has blue blazes all the way up. They almost felt redundant as the trail is very clear to follow. However, in the dark the blue blazes were helpful. As we climbed the steep trail, I almost stepped on this little guy. I was so glad he was a bright orange color because it caught my eye and he got to live another day.

You’ll come across about 45 wooden stairs that have been placed in the middle of the trail. It helps to gain some elevation rather quickly.

So, let’s talk about the bear. At this point we are still following the blue blazes and people are steadily heading down dogs and all. After the section below, the trail turns left. There was a black bear about 20 feet from the trail. The woman who saw him before us said they saw each other but the bear did not seem to want to interact. We decided it would be best to wait for two girls who were a few minutes behind us and walk up as a group. And that’s exactly what we did. One of the girls had seen a bear before on this same hike and said nothing came of it. Good to hear.

And then you’re almost there! Even though this hike is only 0.8 miles long, it felt eternal. After the bear, every dark shape seemed like it was another bear to me. The tension and adrenaline did not help make the hike any easier on my body either.

Then out of what feels like no where, you turn a corner and see this opening. I completely forgot about the bear and was so happy to see this view.

If you’re dumb brave enough, you can climb up on either side. I climbed up the right side and Nicole captured this shot from the top of the left side. It was a hazy evening, but the view went on for miles. Days with clear skies must have what seems like a endless view. But alas, no pretty sunset. FYI, those rocks are also super sharp and gloves would have been a plus to have on my person.

I have zero pictures of the descent from humpback and with good reason. By 8:25pm it was getting really dark really fast. Knowing that bears are dawn and dusk animals we made lots of noise on our way down. We essentially were running downhill yelling at each other and clapping randomly. We didn’t want to give a bear a chance to sneak up on us. And I’m sure we looked like a pair of crazies. But as Beyonce says, “I’d rather be crazy.” Below is the view from my car as we left the park.

Exactly…

“True Compassion is showing Kindness towards animals, without expecting anything in return”

– Paul Oxton
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SOUTH RIVER FALLS

GPS: 38.381196, -78.518068

TIME: 2H 30M

LENGTH: 4.1 MILES RT

ELEVATION CHANGE:  993 ft

The picnic area where the trail head is located is encompassed by a one way road. You’ll see a large sign next to a facilities structure. When we arrived at 7:20am there was plenty of parking.

There are two options for this waterfall hike. You can do an in-and-out hike to the observation point or a loop with the option to hike down to the waterfall. There was no way I was skipping standing at the base of the waterfall. So I mentally prepared for the long climb back.

From the parking lot you walk onto a well defined trail. There is a slight decline as you walk deeper into the trail.

When you approach the AT (Appalachian Trail) cement pillar, you’ll have a clear idea of which way to go. Whether you’re doing the loop or the in/out hike continue straight on the path past the intersection.

You’ll follow the blue blazes down. Keep in mind that every step you take carries you deeper into the valley. Meaning you’ll have to climb back up if you decide to retrace your steps. There are a few portions where stairs have been made on the trail. They seem to also serve as retainers for that corner specifically.

It took us just under an hour to reach the overlook. It had rained the night before and there was plenty of water flowing down from the South River. Unfortunately, the trees obstruct the view a little. The falls are only slightly visible from this point. If you decide to walk down to the falls that will add on an additional 1.5 miles that are very steep. Trust me, my calves have not recovered yet lol.

Like I said, I wasn’t missing this waterfall. So we kept walking past the overlook until we came upon another pillar. We made sure it was pointing towards the base of the falls and we headed deeper into the valley.

You’ll get to another point on the hike where the pillar below is standing. This is not the end of the hike. Continue following the blue trail blazes on the tree to the right.

Not too long after you’ll have an awesome view of the falls. It was awesome to be the first ones there that morning and have the place to ourselves.

The blue trail takes you right up to the falls on the right hand side.

After about an hour of hanging out and taking pictures we saw the first sign of humanity. An older couple from Naples, Florida joined us at the waterfall. They were amazing. They shared their stories with us of traveling to Iceland, Peru and several states to visit national parks. They are retired and have decided to travel as much as possible in their golden years.

Having had our fill of stories shared with the elderly couple, we were ready to head back up. We decided to save time and retrace our steps. Truthfully it was so nice and tranquil by the waterfall that I didn’t want to leave. But it was also a nice idea to leave the waterfall to the nice couple for them to enjoy alone.

I also learned a couple things about myself that day:

  1. I cannot wait for Tony and I to retire to travel whatever corners of the world we haven’t reached by then. We have done a good amount of traveling since we started dating in 2012 but is it ever enough? For me the answer is no. God willingly we live long lives and get to do something like the couple from Naples.
  2. I will hike the most strenuous hikes with steep inclines. So long as I’m going UP first. That means I’ll be hiking down at the end of my hike and I love that. I am NOT a fan of down then up hikes. Especially when gaining over 1000 ft in elevation. If I’m somewhere that requires me to do a hike like this, I’ll still do it. But I remain steady on NOT being a fan.

We also saw a few creepy critters on this hike as well. Some hiding in plain sight and others camouflaged to their environment. The frog and crayfish were hardest to spot:

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

– Anthony Bourdain

BEARFENCE MOUNTAIN

GPS: 38.452349, -78.467136

TIME: 1H

LENGTH: 1.2 MILES RT

ELEVATION CHANGE:  380 ft

Bearfence mountain is 1 hour away from the Airbnb. The hike is 1 hour long. Sunrise is at 5:50am… It’s not everyday I get out of bed at 3:00 am. But when I do, it’s not for work. It’s for a hike. That’s what I call commitment.

Staying on the southern-most part Shenandoah allows me to take the 340 north. It runs parallel to the park but without all the twists and turns. That makes the drive so much faster. After turning east onto Route 33, I made a left to head north on Skyline Drive. Notice how dark it still is.

Parked at the lot located at the trailhead I try to get my bearings. Nicole and I are petrified worried about a bear encounter. It is still very dark and we have one lantern between the both of us. Neither one of us have done this hike before. No one else is on the trail or in the lot and my brain starts to wonder if the other hikers know something we don’t.

And then my prayers were answered. A car pulls in to the lot with three hikers climbing out. They seem to know where they’re going as they didn’t really bother approaching the map. Excited to not have to fight the bears alone we happily follow them into the dark.

At first we didn’t really need to look for the trail markers because we followed the trio in. But they were much faster rock scramblers than me and at some point I had to make sure I could see the blue blazes. In the dark they are much harder to find, but not impossible. This picture has the flash on so you can see what it looks like with headlamps or lanterns.

This picture is with no flash. I did notice that as the minutes went by the trail got easier to see. The overcast sky was serving as a faint source of light.

By the time we got to the higher rock scrambling portion the lantern was put away. We continued following the blue blazes.

When you get to the top of the rock scramble you are going up and over the rock formations.

The trail continues back down into the trees but we sat at this clearing. It was perfect. I could see almost 360 degree views and if there was any sun to be seen that day I was in the spot to see it.

The sun lit up the sky, but there were no pretty colors dancing on the horizon. Another bust for sun activity today.

After drinking my coffee it was time to head down. The trail looked so different in the light of day. And the markers were so much easier to spot.

Follow the blue blazes back to the junction and head down to Skyline Drive.

The picture below is the entrance of the trail. I took this picture once the sun had risen and I was standing by my car. When starting the hike, you cross Skyline Drive (carefully) and make your way up the hike following the blue blazes.

After finishing the hike I was truly grateful to have been able to follow the three hikers in. I believe there’s strength in numbers. And it gave me the courage to go into bear country in the dark. I would have still done it had they not showed up. But the company was a relief.

I didn’t see any bears and I didn’t see a picturesque sunrise. Sometimes it’s not about the big “ta-da” moment at the end of the hike. Bearfence was 100% about the rock scrambling in the dark. The adrenaline pumping through my body. Hearing sounds in the dark and praying it wasn’t a bear. As I write about these things in the safety of my suburban lifestyle I have to laugh. My parents would tell me I’m crazy for going out there, but being outdoors is what makes me happy. Even if it causes fear.

“If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie

LITTLE STONY MAN

GPS: 38.605948, -78.367514

TIME: 30M

LENGTH: 1 MILE RT

ELEVATION CHANGE:  400 ft

Recently I have been thinking a great deal about the national parks. How to see them all and not break the bank. So I started looking at which ones were driving distance and found Shenandoah to be the closest to New York. Google Maps shows it can be between 5.5-7.5 hours away to the northern-most portion of the park.

So we packed up the car and headed south. We arrived just shy of 7:30pm and entered the park at the Thornton Gap entrance. I showed the ranger my America The Beautiful pass and ID; officially crossing another park off my list.

We drove 5 minutes to Tunnel Parking Overlook. This neat tunnel is right next to an overlook. There were barely any other park-goers and I’m sure it was because of the weather.

As you can see below, the day was overcast and the views were hazy. That’s Booger (Nicole’s dog) on the ledge trying to see through the haze

We weren’t at the overlook very long because we still wanted to make it to the top of Little Stony Man for sunset. We drove another 15 minutes south on Skyline Drive to Little Stony Man Parking.

The trail is pet friendly, just make sure they stay on the leash and are physically able to do the trail or be carried. And here’s a friendly reminder to leave no trace behind…

Start walking the trail from the parking lot. You’ll soon come across the trail markers for the Appalachian Trail. The small concrete pillars will point you in the correct direction depending on what you’re there to hike that day. For now, make a left and follow the white trail markers.

At about 0.3 miles you will reach a trail junction. There is an overlook there or you can continue climbing. Doing both is also a great idea if you have the time. Here’s what the clearing to the first overlook is like. I’m pretty sure you can typically see mountains, but on that day it was clouds.

From these viewpoints you can see the Blue Ridge. On most days anyways. On days like the one we went on, you can really watch the clouds rolling in. We caught a quick glimpse of the mountains before they were covered in clouds again.

We decided to head back down seeing how we weren’t going to get any good views of sunset. Not to mention it was getting dark and starting to drizzle. I’d made the amateur move of leaving my raincoat in the car.

When you get to the junction heading down, you are 0.25 miles away from Little Stony Man Summit if you went up to the right. We decided to skip it and head down to the left. If you’re doing sunset hikes don’t forget to bring headlamps or lanterns for the walk down. It wasn’t totally dark as we headed down. In certain sections however, like the one Nicole is going to enter, the trees make it darker.

I like the ease of this hike. I’m sure this counts as a high reward low effort hike when the sunsets are visible. The trail is easy to follow and the overlook has flat areas where you can lay down a blanket. The best part is that you can share it with your four legged friends.

Once we were in the car, we continued driving on Skyline Drive and found this interesting sign. I had read on google that there can be anywhere between 200-1,000 bears in the park at any given time. Not wanting to hurt a bear or potentially hurt ourselves, I slowed down my driving.

And then this sign asked me to slow down even more.

And with good reason. Remember the clouds from the overlook? Well now we had a very dense fog that reduced visibility even more. I feel like this picture doesn’t even begin to show how dense the fog got in certain areas.

I spent the rest of the night on Skyline Drive trying to see through the fog and avoiding potential bears/deers on the road. I recalled route 33 ran through the park. That was going to be my escape to a straighter highway and hopefully faster way to the Airbnb. The road curves a great deal in the park and that adds more travel time then I expected. Before making a right off the Skyline we saw a pair out for a stroll. Being the optimist I can be sometimes I thought to myself, “Tomorrow is another day and another chance to see some pretty scenery.” Good night guys!

“Tomorrow we’ll see the sun rise”

Mariana Torres (before checking the weather)