After considerable research by Madelyn and I conducted on some very hot June evenings, we decided to pick a route that featured a swimming hole, and Saint Mary’s looked pretty neat. I love this area along the blue ridge parkway and this was a wilderness we wanted to explore!
The group met on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and after some gear and car shuffling, we started down Mine Bank Creek trail a bit before 1PM. The threat of rain loomed unconvincingly and the temperature was much more favorable than expected. As we descended from the parking lot, past laurel and rhododendron blooms, Bailey kicked off the conversation with a geological history of the area. I knew that the Appalachian mountain range was formed a super long time ago, but did you know that there was another range that came and went in its place even longer ago? (#deeptimecommunity #grenvilleorogeny)
We decided to set up our tents to lighten the load before our out-and-back to the falls. We passed several lovely stealth sites and a few good swimming holes before reaching our destination, where settled in quite readily. Madelyn pulled out her inflatable tube and offered the beers we’d packed, then we took turns exploring the upper falls and chatting on the rocks. The water might have been more enticing on a hotter day, but that didn’t stop Madelyn from floating around in style!
We parted ways with Sean, who had to get home to dog sit, and returned to our campsite. After much effort, the kindness of a couple of strangers who donated their firestarter, and a bit of a miracle, we got a decent fire going from the wet wood. We ate and chatted around the fire until well past hiker midnight.
Sleep was achieved in varying degrees. Madelyn’s hammock test didn’t go as well as hoped, and a whippoorwill that was either very territorial or very horny kept a few up. We set out around 8AM on Sunday, embarking on the most significant elevation gain of the weekend. The trail was significantly overgrown with laurel in places, here. After a bit of re-routing – the turnoff to the forest road on my caltopo is deprecated and overgrown so we followed the hiking upwards route around Green Pond – we emerged onto a foggy forest road. The road had some large puddles to circumnavigate, in one case past a copperhead (our second sighting during the trip), and offered a vista along the way.
We took a quick break at the largest fire ring I’ve ever seen, where Lisa and Ashraf caught us up on the power of the wild horse lobby. Then we hopped off the forest road and onto Slacks Trail. Despite the knee-pain-inducing, seemingly-never-ending miles of downhill, I think this was my favorite section. You could sneak views of the forest above the thinned out vegetation along the entire ridge walk, and did I mention that the laurel and rhododendron were in bloom?
Towards the end, Ashraf had pointed out that we had done at least more than one bonus mile. I guess between the re-route, blue-blazing, and the little turns not captured by my caltopo, we had done closer to 21 miles all in all.
On our way to Shenandoah pizza in Staunton, after much gratitude paid to the weather gods of luck and fortune, the trip took a turn. We ran from our cars through a torrential downpour to the pizzeria, where some fresh towels and a finger-pickin duo in the corner set a great ambiance. Hungry, cold, and wet, the waitress came over to inform us that their kitchen was flooding and they were closing down. Politely as we could manage, we asked to eat everything they had left. Ashraf bolted out the minute he signed the check while the DC carpool ended up at Dairy Queen. Moral of the story: never leave the woods.
Overall, we really enjoyed this hike! The trail was quite secluded outside of the falls itself, no one noticed any ticks, and everyone did great! Another DCUL success.