Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hazel River and Sam's Ridge Trails - Still Lots of Snow

It really didn't look like we needed snowshoes from the road.  Even on the quarter-mile walk up the road to the park boundary, it still didn't look like we needed them.  About 50 feet after we entered the park, the trail was covered in snow and all five of us were too stubborn to go back to the cars for the snowshoes.  All of us had some type of traction device, however, so we were still in pretty good shape.

We started out on the Hazel River Trail and quickly passed Sam's Ridge Trail.  I had hiked Sam's Ridge as part of a loop in 2006 and was interested to see if it was as horribly steep as I remembered when we climbed up it.  This time, we were going to come down it in the snow at the end of our hike.  When we drove to the trailhead, we were not sure if we would even be able to cross the Hazel River due to the warmer temperatures and rain last week.  It turned out that the river wasn't that high at the road.  Still, crossings are serious in winter, so we were not completely sure we'd be able to hike until we arrived at the first of six crossings.  We were able to rockhop across with little difficulty.  The Hazel River is one of the prettier streams in Shenandoah, with lots of waterfalls and interesting rock formations.

We took a short break for lunch at the intersection of Hazel Mountain Trail and Hazel River Trail.  The 1.5 miles from the cars took us about an hour.  Given the snow was about a foot deep by this point, that was not terribly surprising.  Most of the time, we didn't sink too far into it.  Given that the snow was only going to get deeper as we climbed higher, we opted for the shorter loop:  continuing up Hazel River Trail directly to Sam's Ridge.  The Hazel River Trail turns south and climbs away from the river, following an old road bed 1.6 miles to the top of the ridge.  The trail is pretty steep and the snow added to the challenge.  We were the first group to hike that trail since the last snowfall.  At the top of the ridge, we turned east and walked the 0.3 cold and windy miles to Sam's Ridge Trail. For the rest of the afternoon, it was cloudy and snow flurries fell on us, even though we could see sun on the valley to the east.  It was a cool demonstration that even the low mountains of Shenandoah can have very different weather than nearby areas. 

Sam's Ridge is one of the steepest sections of trail I've hiked in Shenandoah.  I remember it as two miles of brushy, steep pain.  This time, even though we were going downhill, it lived up to my memories of it from a few years ago.   In several places, it was steep enough to glissade - with my microspikes still on.  It is much more fun to descend Sam's Ridge than it is to climb it.

In spite of the chill and lack of snowshoes, it was a great day.  Typical of hiking in the snow, we were really slow.  We covered 5.3 miles in about four hours, but at that pace, you get to enjoy the scenery.  

Tomorrow is March 1 and spring seems very far away. 

Pictures (click to enlarge):
A waterfall on the Hazel River near the park boundary.
Looking east down the Hazel River
Small falls just above the first crossing of the Hazel River
Snow covered rocks on the Hazel River.
The Hazel River Trail climbing towards Sam'sRidge.
Ice on a pool on a small stream.
A large blowdown, likely from the windstorm a couple of days ago, blocking Sam's Ridge Trail.

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