Sunday, November 29, 2009

Overall Run - Heiskell Hollow Circuit

Yesterday we hiked almost 13 miles with a friend of ours who is within 50 miles of having hiked every trail in Shenandoah National Park. We helped her check off an out-of-the-way 1.2 mile section of the Heiskell Hollow Trail near the park boundary. This is a strenuous, interesting hike with few people except around Overall Run Falls.

The weather was great, if a little chilly and windy up on the ridge. We started at the Thompson Hollow trailhead on the west boundary of the park. Then we hiked up the steep Overall Run Trail and had lunch at the Overall Run Falls overlook. Overall Run Falls is the highest waterfall in Shenandoah National Park.  When we've done this hike in the past, the falls haven't been much more than a trickle, but all of the creeks are up, so the falls were running pretty well. It was pretty cold up there and by the time we ate lunch and took a few pictures, we were all ready to continue hiking to warm up. Remarkably, we saw no one at the falls, although we later saw a couple of groups of people on their way down to them.

From there, we continued up the Overall Run Trail to the Weddlewood Trail, which took us down off the ridge to the Heiskell Hollow Trail. Some areas of the trail were like hiking on baseballs - lots of small loose rocks covered in leaves. We hiked that out to the park boundary, 1.2 miles beyond the junction that would take us back to the car. It was pretty clear that very few people ever hike that small section. We did not expect to see much on that section, but we were rewarded with a pretty little waterfall and the ruins of an old farm. The waterfall poured over a 6 foot drop into a deep pool that would be great for swimming in the summer. The ruins of an old farm actually included an intact chimney and wall. There was a gate at the park boundary and a deer stand just beyond it with a view into the park (just for reference, hunting is not allowed in the national park). It is deer season in Virginia and we could hear a fair amount of gunfire in the distance.

After exploring for a bit, we returned to the junction with an unnamed trail connecting back to the Overall Run Trail. The unnamed tail was hard to follow at times because the leaves were barely packed down on the trail. We made our way back to the car by the Thompson Hollow Trail.

Pictures from top to bottom:  Overall Run Falls, Mansanutten Ridge from the Overall Run Falls Overlook, small waterfall on lower Heiskell Hollow Trail, Heiskell Hollow trail, Intact stone wall, and ruins of a chimney.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

(Almost) Winter Waterfalls: White Oak Canyon

Sunday, we hiked 10 miles. We started at the White Oak parking lot on the east boundary of Shenandoah, hiked up Cedar Run, crossed Skyline Drive and climbed Hawksbill, the highest point in Shenandoah National Park. After taking pictures at the overlook on Hawksbill, we returned to Skyline Drive via the Appalachian Trail. Then we hiked down the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail to the White Oak Trail and finally back to the car.

All in all, it took us seven hours to hike 10 miles. It was not because the terrain was difficult or because the trail was too steep. It is nearly 3000 feet from the parking lot to Hawksbill, but we were moving pretty fast...when we were actually walking: We spent the better part of two hours taking pictures of waterfalls. All of the creeks in the area are running high because of the recent rain, so all of the waterfalls were going gangbusters. Cedar Run and White Oak Creek have so many pretty waterfalls, one loses count.

The hike up Cedar Run is tough. The trail climbs relentlessly for nearly three miles from the parking lot to Skyline Drive. There are two crossings of Cedar Run, neither of which turned out to be a problem, even through the water level was high.

We had lunch at the Lower Hawksbill parking before heading up the short, steep trail to the summit. It was chilly in the shade, but quite nice out in the sun on the summit. The Shenandoah Valley to the west was fogged in, but it was clear to the east towards Old Rag.

From Hawksbill, we returned to Skyline Drive and made our way to White Oak Canyon, where the big waterfalls are. We were not disappointed. The major falls on White Oak Creek were full of water. Every seep and tiny side stream was spilling over the trail. Below the middle fall, we were hiking along the cliff edge and noticed the opposite side of the canyon was one, large sheet of falling water. This was not White Oak Creek, but a number of normally small side streams that feed White Oak Creek. We have been to White Oak Canyon several times and have never seen anything like it.

Pictures above: Small waterfall on Cedar Run (top center); waterslide on Cedar Run (above right).

Pictures from the top: Middle White Oak Falls;Old Rag from Hawksbill; a small waterfall where normally there is just a seep; and small waterfall at Middle White Oak Falls