Itching to return to some of the well known peaks in Shenandoah, I set up a trip that had us going over Old Rag, Robertson, and Hawksbill. I expected it to be challenging and it was – yet we all did it in fine form and ended up wishing for more.
Setting up the trip was easy. I am a big fan of the current SNP online permit system – filling the form is straightforward and you get the permit in your email within minutes. I am not sure if it will last a while though – we will see. We parked our cars at the lower White Oak Canyon trailhead and hiked the easy ~2 miles to camp as the setting sun colored the sky. Dan and I cowboy camped, whereas David, Bryan, and Alex set up their shelters. Reza ended up sleeping in his car at the trailhead as he arrived late and ended up connecting with us in the morning. Temps were on the cold side for April and dropped to 25 degrees overnight!
We woke early and hit the trail in the dark. We had heard a few people also make their way up over the Saddle trail that’s on the back side of Old Rag. We raced to the top and made it in time for a nice sunrise! There were a few other people also on the summit including a running group. The breeze swayed our minds on lingering at the top too long and soon we started descending down the front side. Scrambling down is certainly trickier than going up. We managed to get off the exposed rocks though before the mass traffic made it there. As expected, we saw a ton of people on their way up as we reached the bottom.
Our next climb was steeper and longer – Mt. Robertson. Memories of the infamous Robertson Suicides trip in 2015 flashed as I started ascending. I liked the challenge of it and the view at the top is a nice reward. The next few miles leading up to White Oak Canyon were a blur. We took a leisurely lunch break here while enjoying a view of the falls.
The last section had us heading towards Skyline drive and then taking the short and steep Hawksbill trail to the highest point in SNP. I was shocked at the number of cars in the Hawksbill parking lot. When we reached the top after feeling that elevation gain, our fears were confirmed as we ran into tons of people here. We kept moving, descending on the Salamander trail and hiking the AT SOBO briefly. We reached our destination – Rock Springs Shelter – unusually early for DCUL – it wasn’t even 2:30 yet. Setting up our shelters on the slopey and muddy designated camping spots was a bit tricky. The fire helped in keeping the chatter alive and we were joined by a thru-hiker – Mr. Freeze who entertained us with his tales on the trail. Reza earned the trail name Smoke Magnet.
The next day, we hit the trail shortly after sunrise. The AT SOBO stretch was relatively flat and easy to hike on. The more challenging stretch started once we hopped on Skyland Big Meadows Horse trail and dealt with the PUDs. The final section – the ~3 mile descent over Cedar Run – wasn’t ideal for our knees. Alex, Reza, and Bryan took advantage of the warming temps to hit the Cedar Run slides, while David and I watched them enviously. Pretty soon, it was over! We said our goodbyes and headed home wanting to celebrate Easter (just an excuse to eat sugar :P).
I had a great time returning to the highlights of Central SNP in everyone’s company. Thanks all for joining!
Caltopo link that roughly captures our route: https://caltopo.com/m/AHAK
DCUL Photos Album: https://photos.app.goo.gl/yR68qR4bEqY1gSH19
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