In many ways, the hike that we did last Saturday was a different experience from the ones we had done the previous two weekends. For one thing, there would only be two of us hiking this time. Christina had committed to a volleyball session that morning.
We had started this series of hikes with the mindset of tackling the more interesting, challenging, and spectacular, hikes available in the Shenandoah National Park. The question was if we would be able to find a hike for this weekend that could live up to expectations that were set based on our experiences the previous two weekends. We ended up on a hike that was a little different, and perhaps more conventional.
Jesse went to work trying to put together a loop trail in the Hazel Mountain and River area that would be interesting and challenging. We ended up traversing the loop that you see in the trail map that I am providing through this link, except that we started the hike on the road at the bottom of the mountain (on the right side of the map) instead of on the Skyline Drive (on the left side of the map). We would not be hiking the section of the Hazel River Trail shown in the map from the Skyline Drive to the loop itself. Instead, we would be following the Hazel River Trail beyond the loop at the bottom of the mountain for a very short distance to its termination point at Route 600. We would be tackling the loop in a anticlockwise direction (“counterclockwise” for most Americans! ), similar to what is shown in the map. Our total hike would be shorter than the total hike tracked at the website reached from the link.
Route 600 turned out to be a small country road. It was small enough that it was covered by gravel instead of asphalt. Driving on the road was a bit challenging. In a certain area we even drove on a steep slope that was covered with an additional layer of somewhat large sized chunks of loose crushed stone, spread there to provide better traction. It was rough on the suspension and the bottom of the car. It was notable that this was a populated area. There were a few homes behind the trees and along the side of the road. There even seemed to be local mail delivery. We could see mailboxes extending from the the sides of the road towards the roadway on supports in an attempt to reduce the risk of the mail van running off the road during delivery.
We arrived at the parking area on Route 600 to find that there was no parking lot there. One would have to park beside the road. This appeared to be a trailhead that was not used that much. There was only one vehicle parked there when we arrived.The Hazel river flowed just beside the road.We followed the road and river to a point where we had to turn left onto a private road to get on to the trail.This section of the road is considered a part of the Hazel River Trail on the map. There was a house on a hill, surrounded by woods, at the end of this road. We left the road and continued on a real trail after entering the park itself.We were already beginning to gain some altitude at this point but the slope was quite gentle.
It was a really nice day, and the temperatures were higher than during the hikes of the previous two weeks. It was not too long before layers of outerwear began to be shed. We did encounter a few people in half-sleeved T-shirts and shorts during the day.
There were a number of stream crossings in this section as the trail crisscrossed the river several times. Some crossings were more challenging than others.
At one particular spot, my water bottle came loose from the backpack, fell into the water, and began to flow downstream. Jesse managed to see where it had gotten caught in an eddy, and he managed to make his way downstream through the brush to save the water bottle as it exited the eddy.
This might also have been the same crossing where we did not cross at the marked crossing itself because of my lack of confidence. We walked upstream along the side of the river looking for a better spot. While crossing, I was reaching for rocks close to the level of the water itself at one point to make sure I did not fall in.
We arrived at a point where we left the Hazel River Trail and got onto the White Rocks Trail. This trail departed from the side of the river and took us onto a ridge that ran beside the river. It was a steep and challenging climb to get up to the ridge. During the initial section of this climb we took a direct route up a steep incline at a location where we could have taken a longer but more easily doable route. That was an intense climb, and the leaves on the trail did not make it any easier.We did get to a section of the trail that was not as steep, where we were able to catch our breath, but soon after that we were headed once again further up the side of the mountain on another steep trail to the top of the ridge. This climb kicked our butt!
Once on top of the ridge, we could get some open views on both sides of the ridge, including the hills surrounding us on both sides. This was one of the views towards the west.We could see Hazel Mountain close by, and in the distance we could even make out sections of the Skyline drive. (There is a lookout point for Hazel Mountain on the Skyline Drive.)
The hiking here was very different from what we had experienced in previous weeks. It was more of a conventional walk through the woods.There were a series of crests and drops all along the way on the ridge. The trail was designed to take us straight up and down the hilltops rather than skirt them. We were getting a great workout!
In a short while we reached the turnoff for the short trail to Hazel Waterfall.
Although it was short in distance, the trail to the waterfall proved to be challenging in scope. For the most part it consisted of a series of stone steps that went more or less directly down the side of the ridge to the level of the Hazel River.
The waterfall itself was not that impressive after all that we had experienced in the previous weeks.We had our lunch at this point.
We wanted to find out what lay upstream, beyond that waterfall. We climbed over the rock beside the falls (that you can see to the right of the picture above) to get a better view, hoping to see a series of waterfalls.Once above the waterfall, we were not impressed enough to try to clamber further upstream over the rocks beside the river.I should also mention that there is the cave next to the waterfall that is also sometimes talked about in the description of the area. It is considered an additional attraction to the place.
We climbed back up to the ridge to continue on the White Rocks Trail after our explorations.
The White Rocks Trail ended at an intersection with the Hazel Mountain Trail. We turned left, crossed over the Hazel River, and continued on the Hazel Mountain Trail for a short distance. We then got on to the Sam’s Ridge Trail for the rest of the walk back to the Hazel River Trail, at an intersection close that trail’s trailhead. This whole part of the hike was through the woods. The notable aspect of this part of the walk was the sharp drop in elevation towards the end of the trail. (You can see it in the elevation profile on the map you can reach from the link I provided at the beginning of this blog.) Leaves covered the trail in many places, creating a bit of a challenge in some of the steeper sections.On the positive side, the surface of the trail was, in general, better than that of the trails that ran next to the rivers and streams. For the most part, one did not need to step over uneven rocks, or risk tripping over them.
The hike ended with a short walk back on the Hazel River Trail and then on the road on which we had parked the car. More people had arrived while we had been hiking.
The drive back home was notable for the fact that we nearly got rear-ended by the same driver at two different intersections on the same road. The guy was coming at high speed, and did not notice until the last minute that vehicles had slowed down on the road in front of him to allow for one of them to turn onto a side road. And he did the same thing twice! Talk about not learning a lesson! We were happy to see the vehicle go off in a different direction when we turned off one of the roads we were being followed on.
The hankering for a burger for dinner had begun during the hike. A plan was set in motion to satisfy this craving once we got home. We probably enjoyed the food more than we normally would have because of our hunger. We had expended a lot of energy that day! The movie that we watched that night turned out to be a total disaster, but I had had enough beer that I dozed off through certain parts and did not complain to the extent one normally would have. I was quite happy when the movie finally ended and I could crash out on the bed in exhaustion. We had done about 9 miles of hiking and over 2300 feet of ascents and descents that day.
PS. As should be obvious, some of the pictures in this blog were taken by Jesse. He used his iPhone.