Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rocky Mount Hike

Friday was a really sad day, as I had to have our beloved cat, Nellie, euthanized.  It was the right thing to do, but it still felt terrible.  She was the sweetest and friendliest cat I think I've ever known, and also our third feline friend to die this year.  Only Goldie, my sister's cat who we adopted last year, remains.

When I am feeling sad, two things will help with the blues - beautiful music and good times in the lovely outdoors.  Saturday morning, I put my pack together, got in the car, slipped some Haydn (almost always cheerful) and Schumann (somewhat melancholy but heroic at the same time) symphonies into the CD player, and headed for Shenandoah National Park.  Destination: Rocky Mount.

One of my guidebooks said "Do not attempt the Rocky Mount hike unless you are in excellent shape."  Well, I don't think I am in excellent shape, but I am in decent shape.  Note that I am not qualifying that, for example, with "for a 61 year old man."  Because Mother Nature is indifferent.  She does not care about your age.  It is not like she will say, "Well, you are 61, and you are tired, and this trail is pretty steep.  You've done well for a man of your age, so I will cut you a break by giving you an escalator to ride up the slope."  Nope, it doesn't work that way.  You are either in shape or you are not.  The place I hiked Saturday was tough, and you can either do it or you cannot.  You can either keep going when you are tired or you can spend the night in the mountains, sans tent and sleeping bag.  I imagine there are 21 year olds that can't, and there are 81 year olds who can.  Someday, in 20 years, I hope to be one of the latter.  But let me tell you, the guide book was not far off, because this was a very strenuous hike.  Total elevation gain and loss was about 3,200 feet over nearly 10 miles.  Quad tiring, lung busting uphills, and knee straining long downhills.  I hiked with my trekking poles and was glad that I did.

The hike is a combination of an out and back and a loop.  You hike more than two miles to get to the loop, hike around the loop another five miles or so, and then it is back to the trail you started on, and you head back.  The total distance is just under 10 miles, but call it 10 by the time you walk to and from the parking area.  You can hike the loop clockwise as I did, and subject your knees to especially long downhill grades, or you can do it counter clockwise, and do a long, long climb.  Either way, you will lose and gain 3,200 feet so what difference does it really make?  Here is the topo map for the route, with arrows drawn in to show my direction (starting from the bottom of the map):

Note that I marked a potential campsite - only maybe 500-700 feet from a great stream - on the map.  On the way out, I ran into a young couple who were backpacking together.  I had seen no other possible good campsites and told them about this one.  I hope they enjoyed it and kept it neat and clean.

And here is the elevation profile - remind you of a roller coaster?  The car on the Skyline Drive is at about 2,700 feet, the same as the peak at Rocky Mount, so on the way back, you know you have a long way to climb to get there - as you can see:

Now for some photos.  Here is a view of Rocky Mount from the parking area.  It looks a bit intimidating, and the day was much cooler up there than I expected.  I forgot to bring a fleece for emergencies, although I did have my rain jacket.  So I hiked carefully.  I didn't want to turn an ankle and spend a night in the cool mountains without warm enough clothing - bad oversight on my part!
Here is the trail, near the start.  Note the blue blaze on the trail.  The well marked and easy to follow trails were a true pleasure after a couple of days in the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness a week ago.
Is there anything like the hardwood forests in autumn?

Shortly before arriving at the loop part of the hike, Rocky Mount looms above me.
At the trail junction, someone had stuck a blue jay feather.  I saw a jay later, along with a vulture, some chickadees, a chipmunk, three different kinds of salamander, and a woodpecker that would not stay close enough to identify, other than I know it wasn't one I commonly see in the suburbs.
The trail up Rocky Mount had numerous switchbacks, and one of them enabled a partial view to the north.  Note the farm in the distance.  It looks like a chicken farm, judging from the long buildings.
There is no view from the top of Rocky Mount, but shortly before you reach the top and maybe 30 vertical feet below it, a short path leads to a ledge with spectacular views.  This one is of the Shenandoah Valley, one of Virginia's "breadbaskets."
There are two parts to the ledge that you can (carefully) climb on.  Here is one part - it is a long way down!
From one of the ledges, I took this panorama.
Here are several of the views from my little ledge, where I sat like a king and ate my Swiss cheese sandwich, apple, and (a special treat) Mounds candy bar.  I burned every calorie in that thing, and then some!

Does it look like I am levitating?  No, I did not attend the Hogwarts  Academy of Wizards and Witches!  I am seated on the ledge with my back against a straight chunk of rock.  Believe me when I moved very, very carefully up there, slowly measuring each step and planting each foot.  One does not want to trip over one's hiking boots in this particular place.
On the steep trail down, there was a view of two huge talus slopes on a distant mountain.
This is close up of a much smaller talus field on my continued descent.
I found three salamander species: two aquatic and this terrestrial one.  I am not sure what species any of them are, but I think one of the aquatic ones could have been a spring salamander, as it was pink.
Once I got back to the car at 4:30, I changed shoes and my shirt and headed from home, pretty worn out.  At home, I fed Goldie, opened a bottle of wine, made a tomato sauce using the wine (among other things), poured myself a big glass of wine, ate spaghetti and big salad for dinner, updated my Mount Rogers posts, and hit the sack by 10:15.  I slept like a log.


  1. Oh my what beauty you saw that day!!

    So sorry about Nellie. It is so hard having to do that. I know, I've had to do that before too. So sad.
    Being outside always makes me feel better too.

    Dinner sounds delicious. : )

  2. It was a great day in the great outdoors.

    Thanks for the condolences. It is a big loss. Some people might say "it's just a cat" or "it's just a dog," but they are family.

    Dinner was very good if I do say so, I had it the next night as well! :)