Sunday, February 19, 2012

Solitude and Sinkholes on Tibbet Knob and Long Mountain Trail

This week's hike was in stark contrast to the frigid temperatures and snow of last week.  Yesterday, unless we were directly in the wind, it was warm enough to hike in short sleeves.  We did see patches of snow here and there and a little bit of ice on the way up to Tibbet Knob, but nothing large scale.  After leaving car on Trout Run Road at the north end of our hike, we started hiking from Wolf Gap.  Once across the road, the trail immediately begins the 1.5 mile climb to Tibbet Knob.  We had several hazy views of Mansanutten and Shenandoah National Park to the east.  The valleys were filled with smoke or haze and the mountains blue in the distance.  Near the top of Tibbet Knob, the trail is in the shadows and was covered by ice in several places, but nothing too difficult to work around. We paused at the top to enjoy the view up the Trout Run Valley and of Big Schloss.

On the way down the backside we met a family hiking the opposite direction, the only other hikers we would see all day.  We took a lunch break near the parking lot on road 681 and enjoyed the warm sunlight.  The 2.5 mile road walk on this hike didn't really excite me, but it passed pleasantly and quickly.  We joked about developing a back roads litter bingo game based on the unfortunate number of cans and bottles we saw along the road.  After 2.5 miles, we took a right on the Long Mountain Trail, which does not, actually, travel along Long Mountain.  It does, however, follow the valley below it. 

We descended for a couple of miles to the junction with the Trout Pond Trail.  This is where things got interesting.  After passing that, we noticed that we had crossed a couple of good-sized creeks that looked like they should empty into a good-sized stream just to our left (west) at the bottom of they valley.  Strangely, the lowest part of the valley looked perfectly dry.  We had noticed a few sinkholes along the way, several of them quite large.  When we got to the next stream, which also had a good-sized flow, Michael went to its mouth to investigate.  All of the water in the stream disappeared into the ground about 100 yards before it reached the bottom of the valley, which was filled with sinkholes.  It was pretty impressive to stand in the middle of the dry streambed and look upstream at small waterfalls flowing over the rocks.  I did try to take pictures of where the stream disappeared, but none of them captured it very well.

From there, we continued up the valley, crossing an impressive rock field.  I don't think anyone hikes that section of trail very often since the leaves weren't even broken up from foot traffic.  Eventually, we began the climb up over the ridge.  At some point the trail became a logging road and our pace picked up considerably.  After crossing the high point of the ridge, we descended to Trout Run.  There are beautiful cliffs on the left bank of Trout Run.  We reached the car at dusk.

This was a great hike, with lots of variety.  All said and done, we hiked 13.3 miles.  With the long road walk after Tibbet Knob and the logging roads near the end of the hike, it would be brutal in July and August.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Michael on top of Tibbet Knob.
 Bootshot looking north towards Big Schloss from Tibbet Knob.
 The trail south from Tibbet Knob
 Fungus and lichens on a tree.
 Mossy trail south of Tibbet Knob.
 A small waterfall.
 A decaying maple leaf in a creek.
 Bubbles in a stream.
 Knots in a downed tree.
 A small waterfall in the sun.
A puffball fungus.  I'm not sure which kind.
Colostoma cinnabarina (Stalked Puffballs).
Trout Run at the end of the hike.

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