Monday, April 16, 2012

Epic Day on Robertson Mountain and Stony Man

Epic.  That is the only word that can describe what transpired yesterday.  We planned to hike Old Rag and Robertson Mountain in a figure eight, which would have been a long hike (~14 miles) with quite a bit of climbing and, of course, the Old Rag rock scramble.  We ended up hiking almost 21 miles with more than 4500 feet of climbing.  Michael and I broke our personal distance records by 4 and 3 miles, respectively.  And we never did hike Old Rag.  

We were late meeting Horizontal Tread and another friend due to a traffic hangup on the beltway, so we didn’t get to the parking lot until 8:30.  By that time, it was already half full. We all agreed that, rather than starting with Old Rag, we should end the day there so we would still avoid the inevitable lines.  Then there was a suggestion to add Stony Man Mountain to the mix, making what promised to be a challenging day into a truly epic day.  

We spread the map out and picked a long route that would take us over Robertson Mountain, down into Nicholson Hollow, up to Stony Man, and back down with a side trip over Old Rag (the full route is below the pictures for anyone who is interested).  Phew!  I’m worn out just typing that.  What I failed to do in the parking lot, was a quick tally of the mileage.  In the long run, that was probably good, because, had I realized what we had just planned, I likely would have pushed for something shorter.

Anyway, the flowers were blooming along the Weakley Hollow Road and we were grateful for overcast skies on the climb up to Robertson.  We took a break for lunch at the summit of Robertson. The hike up the Old Rag Fire Road and to the saddle on Indian Run Trail went by quickly.  Indian Run Trail is just as steep as I remembered it, but going down wasn’t as bad as climbing it and the Nicholson Hollow Trail up to Skyline Drive was a pretty easy climb. In contrast to the crowds on Old Rag, by the time we reached Skyline Drive, at the top of the Nicholson Hollow Trail, we had seen a grand total of 8 people.  

By this time it was sunny and probably around 80 degrees.  Since it has been cool for the last couple of weeks, the heat was bothering me a little.  The trees high on the ridge haven’t really begun to leaf out, so there is little shade.  I stopped at one point to pour some water over my head, which did help. In July, I would be grateful for 80 degrees, but it is April. We took a break in the Stony Man Overlook parking area before heading south to Little Stony Man and then on to Stony Man Mountain.  

By the time we reached Skyland resort, it was after 4 pm and we still had a lot of hiking left to do.  We took stock of where we were and how far we had to go and realized we just didn’t have enough time, on a Sunday evening to do Old Rag.  Even without it, we still had 8 miles to hike.  We also decided to get dinner at Skyland, which would give us a longer break and the chance to rehydrate.  Sitting there, waiting for a menu, I finally did that quick tally of how far we had come:  12.5 miles.  That was kind of a startling moment.  Dinner was good and we drained more than a pitcher of iced tea.  

Refreshed, we made good time down the long, quiet fire roads back to the car, catching glimpses of Old Rag in the sunset along the way.  We made it back to the car just after dark.  It took us 11 1/2 hours, but that also included almost 1 1/2 hours at Skyland, so we made reasonably good time.  The amazing thing is that I feel pretty good today: just a little stiff and a little footsore.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Uvularia perfoliata (Perfoliate Bellwort) on the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.
 Orobranche uniflora (One-Flower Cancerroot)
 Galearis spectabilis (Showy Orchis)
 Mitella diphylla (Miterwort) on the Indian Run Trail.
 Michael and the Stony Man Overlook parking area with Stony Man in the background.
 Viola pedata (Birds Foot Violet)
 Green creeping up the valleys from the top of Stony Man.
 Phlox subulata (Moss Phlox)
 The sign on Skyline Drive at Skyland Resort. 
 Shadows growing long on the Old Rag Fire Road.
Old Rag at sunset from the Old Rag Fire Road.

The full route that we actually hiked:  1) Weakley Hollow Fire Road to Robertson Mountain; 2) Up and over Robertson Mountain and then up the Old Rag Fire Road to the Corbin Mountain Trail; 3) Corbin Mountain Trail to Indian Run Trail; 4) Indian Run Trail to Nicholson Hollow Trail, following that up to Skyline Drive; 5) a short walk south on Skyline Drive to pick up the Appalachian Trail south 6) Appalachian Trail across Little Stony Man to Stony Man Mountain, where we took the Stony Man Summit Trail to the top; 7) Skyland Horse Trail to Skyland Resort; 8) the Skyland Big Meadows Horse Trail to Old Rag Fire Road to Post Office Junction; and (finally) 9) back to the car via the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.

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