Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bear Church Rock

This being a Sunday, I got up early to go to church - Bear Church Rock in Shenandoah National Park!  It was a five mile walk each way.  God Himself (or Herself?) conducted the service.  The sermon had to do with what an incredible world we have been given to live in, and how we might just want to take care of it.

Why do you hike?  I am guessing that whatever the reason, this hike has it:
  • Lovely forests?  Check!  The hardwood forests that I hiked through today were so pretty!
  • Solitude?  Check!  In 10+ miles of hiking, I saw seven people.  Five of them were at Bear Church Rock.  The other two were Appalachian Trail through-hikers that passed me heading north as I was 0.3 miles from reaching my car.  Other than that, I saw not a soul.
  • Vistas?  Check!  The rock has a gorgeous view.  You won't want to leave!
  • A cardio workout?  Check! You bet your quads, glutes, calves, hammies, lungs, and heart that you will get a workout!  2,800 feet of ascending round trip, and the same amount for descending.
  • Flowers? Check, at least this time of year!  In addition to lots of mountain laurel, the state flower of my native state of Pencil-Vane-Eye-Ay, I saw lots of other flowers on my trek.
  • Wildlife? Check!  How about two bears?  That was the highlight.  I also saw a ruffed grouse (the state bird of my native state), and three different amphibian species.  And for the entire hike, I was serenaded by oven birds ("teacher-teacher-teacher-teacher"), wood thrushes, veeries, Rufus-sided towhees ("Drink your tea-he-he-he-he-he"), and eastern wood peewees ("pee-a-wee").
Get the picture?  Great hike for my first trip back to the mountains since my Austin - Trayfoot backpacking trip last November.  Unlike that trip, staying warm was not a problem with today's hike.

I ran a half marathon less than three months ago, and I finished in the top third of my age group in a 10K two weeks later.  After resting my knee injury for a while, I have been walking a lot and running some, and doing a lot of exercises.  I thought I was in pretty good shape.  I thought wrong, because this hike today kicked my butt!  It was a real test, hiking in the mountains again.  It was a test that I passed, but barely, maybe with a C- at best.  It was a vivid reminder that no amount of running and walking in fairly flat areas can truly prepare you for a hike in the mountains along a rough trail that resembles a roller coaster route.

I'll admit it, I'm tired.  That is why this post will have minimal photos.  I will be posting more later this week about Bear Church Rock, including at least one or two of my "what am I series."  It won't be the bears - you already know that I saw those, plus they moved way too fast for me to even get my camera out.  They make an Olympic sprinter look slow - and that is in a forest!

To get started, here is a map of my route - it was an out and back - and the elevation profile (one way only, returning from the rock).  The hike instructions said 4.5 miles to the rock, but my GPS - which is very accurate - pegged it at nearly 5 miles.  So I wasted an hour and a lot of energy hiking back and forth between miles 4.2 and 4.8 trying to find the rock.  I literally got one tenth of a mile from it the first time and turned around, hiking all the way back to 4.2 before deciding to turn around again and hike back.  That ended up having a negative impact on my day.  More about that later.  On the plus side, I probably would not have seen the bears without that happening!

The route starts on the left hand side.  I hiked on these trails today to get to Bear Church Rock on the right: Appalachian, Laurel Prong, Cat Knob, and Jones Mountain.  The bear icon at about the half way point was where I saw the bears on my hike back.  They looked like two yearlings, almost certainly still with their mother.  I didn't see the sow.
You will have to click on the elevation profile (Bear Church Rock is on the left, the trail head on the right) to see the profile.
 Macro and Micro - the view from Beach Church Rock, and some mountain laurel in bloom along the trail.


  1. Sounds like all great reasons for hiking.

    I must admit I am a bit afraid of walking around our land alone in western MD because there are bears around. I know they will probably run away but still I don't know what I would do if I saw one. I don't like feeling afraid because it is keeping me from some really good walks.

  2. Yep - worked for me. I need to improve my conditioning, though!

    You should be OK on your land. the only time I hear of black bears being a problem is if they have become habituated to humans and especially view them as a source of food - like food in a pack that a bear bullies a hiker into dropping. In open land where hunting occurs, bears are pretty afraid of humans. In fact, the two yearlings that I saw on my hike sprinted away most impressively. Just be alert, and maybe talk or sing as you walk. they will hear you long before you see them and move away. have fun out there! Art

  3. Thanks Art, for the little pep talk there. Next week when we go up to our land I'm going to go on a walk alone and just try to get over the fear.

  4. Good for you! Enjoy that walk on your land - it was your dream to have a place there. You will be fine!