Chasing More Waterfalls

The target for last Saturday’s hike was a loop including both the White Oak Canyon Trail and the Ceder Run Trail. The trail was said to be difficult, but very beautiful because of its numerous waterfalls. We would be climbing from the base of the mountain ridge all the way up to the Skyline Drive – the road which runs along the ridge of the Appalachian mountains in the Shenandoah National Park.

I would be the first to admit that I was a little nervous at first about this hike. This was the first time in a long while that I was tackling a challenge like this. But I also had reason to feel some level of confidence. I believe I have successfully built up the relevant muscles, and my stamina, with my exercise routines and other activity over the years. This mountain was not about to stop me!

It was a long drive to get to the trail head. At some point during the drive we had to leave the bigger roads and drive on smaller country roads. We passed through farm lands and small villages. We even passed through the village of Syria close to trail head. The trail head was on private property just outside of the park boundary. The parking area was bigger than the one for the trail head we had visited the previous week. And they also had porta-potties in the parking area this time. I had to visit one immediately on arrival. The coffee that I had along with my breakfast during the drive had done its deed!

There were already many cars in the parking lot by the time we arrived. There was a somewhat large group of people who were getting prepared to hike. The backs of a few of the vehicles in the parking lot were open and people were putting on their hiking gear. This was serious stuff! It looked like people knew what they were doing. And so did the two youngsters with me.

We brought out an additional pair of hiking poles from the car to carry with us this time. I had also sprayed Scotchgard to my hiking boots prior to the trip to prevent them from getting wet if they should go into the water. It actually worked! We also carried a pair of flip-flops just in case one had to walk in the water itself. We ended up not having to use them.

It was 34°F when we departed the car. We were appropriately dressed, perhaps better prepared than the previous week. Soon after we entered the park,we came to a point in the trail where we had to decide whether we would tackle the loop that we were hiking in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. We followed the direction shown on the map that we were using and headed in an anticlockwise direction. We would be going up Whiteoak Canyon Trail first.

The trail took us straight up the canyon. The Robinson River was our companion for this section of the hike. This experience of walking uphill beside water that was flowing downhill was very different from the experience of the previous week. The water flow was more significant, and so were the waterfalls. The trail was also tougher. There were switchbacks, some of which were clustered together in short lengths to allow us to gain height within short distances. We found ourselves climbing from the bottom to the top of big waterfalls all along the way. The trail was wet in parts because of recent rains, and we could also see some water flowing from rocks beside the trail in some sections. Perhaps the pictures below can help tell a story, starting at the bottom of the trail and ending just where we left the river side.

We came to a point in the trail where we had to cross the river over a bridge.We left the Whiteoak Canyon Trail just beyond the bridge and got onto the Whiteoak Canyon Fire Road, the first step in connecting to the Ceder Run Trail in order to complete the loop. It was quite a steep uphill climb on this road,but we were able to pick up speed because of the nature of the surface we were walking on.

At a certain point, we got off the road and onto the Skyland Big Meadows Horse Trail. At this point we were walking parallel to the Skyline Drive which we could see just above us.This trail took us to the start of the Ceder Run Trail. We stopped at the intersection of the trails for lunch.It was a very short walk from there up to the parking lot on the Skyline Drive that was nearby.I wanted to check out the wayside display there.This parking lot also provided access to one of the trails to the Hawksbill Mountain viewing point, a place we had hiked to during our visit to the park last year. Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in the park.

Lunch did not take long, but we cooled down significantly during that short period of time. My fingers started to freeze, and I was not able to get over the numbness until a few miles further into the walk. I was also consuming more food during this walk when compared to our previous outing. We had expended more effort with the climb during this first half of the hike compared to last week. The elevation profile shown on the map page of the website linked to at the beginning of this blog tells it all.

It was going to be all downhill from this point onward. I started using the hiking poles. I had used them the previous week to cross a stream after my first experience of getting my shoes wet, but this was the first time in my life I was using them for regular walking (if you can call it that!). What a difference in experience! It almost felt like I was cheating. The poles provided so much additional stability. I could confidently step down over the uneven rocks on the trail without fear of losing my balance. I am now a convert, and I now understand why all the experienced hikers use the poles.

Ceder Run Trail was a very different experience for me from Whiteoak Canyon trail. The trail was generally steeper and rougher, and I had to exercise extreme caution. Going downhill is generally more challenging for me. It took me almost an hour to cover a mile of distance in one of the particularly challenging sections of the trail. The wetness of the trail, the fallen leaves, and the irregularity of the rocks on the trail in certain sections did not help, especially when all of these conditions were encountered all together, at the same time. There were also a couple of crossings of Ceder Run where the stream was flowing swiftly, and where the route across the water over the rocks that we could see appeared to be dicey. The hiking poles made the crossings easy to tackle. And, as a backup, I had the Scotchgard on my shoes! Go Scotchgard!

I must have missed many of the waterfalls on the trail because I had my head down – focusing on the hiking, making sure I would not lose my footing. I had only one stumble! A future hike that will tackle the trails in a clockwise loop is under consideration. But I did not miss all the views. I was being reminded every once in a while to turn back to enjoy what there was to see. Here are the pictures from the hike down Cedar Run Trail.

The water slide on this trail should be very obvious in one of the pictures above. I would be quite scared to do something like this! Apparently this place is a popular spot in summer.

We covered about 9 miles during this hike. It look us slightly less than 6 hours to complete the entire walk. We arrived back at the parking lot at roughly the same time as the group of hikers that we had seen getting ready for their hike in the lot in the morning. They had tackled the trail is the opposite direction as us.

And then it was time to drive back home. We picked up dinner on our way. Once home we settled down to some beer, dinner, and a movie. And then we crashed out. We were quite tired!

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Kuriacose Joseph

I am an engineer by training. I am exploring new horizons after having spent many years in the Industry. My interests are varied and I tend to write about what is on my mind at any particular moment in time.

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