Sunday, February 13, 2011

Windy Day on Buzzard Rock

The original plan was to spend the weekend snowshoeing in Dolly Sods.  Unfortunately, the job that supports my outdoor habit interfered with the plan to be out of town all weekend.  I very rarely have to work on weekends, so I can't complain too much, especially since we were able to squeeze in a long dayhike with the Wandering Virginian

When we started from the Elizabeth Furnace area, the sun had not yet crested the east ridge of Mansanutten Mountain.  Passage Creek still had a lot of ice on its surface.  The trail up to Shawl Gap follows the creek north for about 1/4 mile before turning uphill.  The trail winds back and forth as it climbs the ridge in long, easy switchbacks.  Higher up on the ridge, ice covered most of the trail where it sees little sun this time of year.

We took a quick break at Shawl Gap before turning north for the two mile hike to Buzzard Rock.  After climbing up the first hill north of Shawl Gap, the trail sticks to the west side of the ridge.  Since it is in the shade most of the day, it was covered in several inches of snow in places.  As we progressed along the ridge, the wind picked up a lot.  By the time we reached Buzzard Rock, it howled and swirled through the trees.  We found a sheltered spot in the sun to have lunch.  I really like Buzzard Rock.  It is not dramatically high, at only about 1,400 feet, but it is an impressive knife-edged ridge.  The top of Buzzard Rock is only a few meters wide and the west side is a breath-taking drop of several hundred feet.  The rock is layers of sandstone which have been upturned and are nearly vertical, part of a much larger complex of folded rocks that make up Mansanutten Mountain (more information on the area's geology can be found here). 

From Buzzard Rock, we returned to Shawl Gap and continued south on the Mansanutten Trail towards Sherman Gap.  The trail stays on top of the ridge, so it was windy, but sunny and relatively warm.  Though there aren't really any clear views, this time of year Shenandoah National Park is visible through the trees from most of the ridge.  We took another break at Sherman Gap.  We decided to hike another 3/4 of a mile out to a rumored point overlooking the Shenandoah River.  Along the way, we flushed a couple of grouse and hiked through dense thickets of blueberry bushes.  The overlook had a nice view of the river through the trees.

We returned to Sherman Gap and began the long, rocky hike back to the car.  Once we dropped off of the ridge, the wind dropped off and it was quite a bit warmer.  We made it back to the parking lot about half an hour before sunset.  One of the great things about Mansanutten is solitude:  We saw three other people in 13.5 miles of hiking, all of whom were on the trail out to Buzzard Rock. 

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Shenandoah National Park in the distance to the east.
The ice-covered trail up to Shawl Gap.
Buzzard Rock
Boot shot from Buzzard Rock.  This is looking west over the valley.
Looking south from Buzzard Rock.
The Mansanutten Trail south of Shawl Gap.  If you enlarge the picture, you can see the ice-covered trail going up the hill.

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