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)