Sunday, July 13, 2014

Riprap Hollow Hike

So, you say it's too hot to go for a hike in the summer?  Well, what if I told you of a place that was so cold, it will literally take your breath away for a few seconds?  All you need to do is get there over nearly 10 miles of mountain trails (and, yes, you will be hot for a good bit of it).

Riprap Hollow in Shenandoah National Park is one of my all-time favorite hikes.  I have been many times, and never tire of it.  In July 2003, it was my first post-cancer hike.  I was finished with chemotherapy for about 8 months at that point.  I was still feeling some of the effects of my six months on chemo, and it was really hard at times to do that hike that year.  But no matter - I was healthy and out hiking again.  I will always remember the feeling of joy for being able to do this again after being so ill, and I will always remember the two bear cubs that I encountered deep into the hike.  One raced up a steep slope, and the other zipped up a tree.  I resolved to hike to Riprap Hollow every year as a celebration of being healthy once more, and as a reminder that we need to seize the day whenever we can.  And for seven more years, I did this hike every year.

Then 2011 arrived.  I was dealing with very painful plantar fasciitis while trying to prepare for the 60 mile long 3-day breast cancer walk.  I skipped the hike.  2012 arrived, and I was trying to reach a goal of hiking 10 new places.  I skipped the hike.  Ditto 2013, 10 more new places, hike to Riprap Hollow skipped.  This year, I resolved to hike to Riprap Hollow again, and the perfect opportunity arrived when the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club announced a hike to this magical place for yesterday.  How could I not go?

I had not been involved with the ODATC for a number of years, but joined once more this past March, and this was my first hike with them.  It was billed as the "Larry Murtaugh Memorial Hike and Swim."  I didn't know Larry, but while on the hike, I learned about him and his untimely and unexpected death four years ago.  Many of my fellow hikers knew Larry from outings, and his widow was along for the hike in her husband's memory.

Eleven of us made the hike, and two more joined us for part of it on their own schedule.  Here is a photo of the group, sans the hike leader, Randy, who was taking the photo, and the two latecomers about three miles in on the trail.

It has been a while since I hiked with a group.  Usually, my party size is one, two, or three.  So I had forgotten what fun it is to hike with a group of people who share this interest of being on foot in the great out of doors.  I'll be joining in again.

Here is a map of the hike's track.  We started out and ended at the lower right, at the Wildcat Ridge Parking Area on the Skyline Drive.  The elevation at that point is 2,980 feet.  And we hiked the circuit counter-clockwise, heading north on the Appalachian Trail for about three miles, then heading west and south on the Riprap Hollow Trail, before the long slog up the Wildcat Ridge Trail back to the car.

Here is an elevation profile of the 9.6 or so mile hike.  The total elevation loss and gain is about 2,800 feet, so you get a great cardio-vascular workout.  It is too much for some people.  One guy on our trip, "Mountain Goat," was a good Samaritan and shuttled two separate groups back to their cars at the Riptap Hollow Trail head.  They were too worn out to complete the hike, and he saved them 2.7 miles of hiking.

I have plenty of photos of this hike in past blog posts, including my most recent 2010 hike to Riprap Hollow.  So I won't go crazy with additional photos from yesterday, but am posting some of them.

Here are a few of the group hiking early in the day along the "Green Tunnel" of the Appalachian Trail.  Compared to my hike just a week before in the White Rock Falls area, the weather was about 10 degrees warmer and much more humid, so the shade for much of the Riprap hike felt pretty good.

When I come to this section of the Riprap Hollow Trail, I always expect to find a timber rattlesnake, but never do.  I did see a nice rattler on this hike about 10 years ago, which was really great!

There are a couple of viewpoints on this hike, but with the haze, the views were not great yesterday.  This one is at the Cavalry Rocks on the Riprap Hollow Trail.

Some of group relax and enjoy the view at Chimney Rocks.  This is right across a deep valley from where I camped a few years ago on the second night of my Trayfoot Mountain trip.

Once we reached Cold Spring Hollow, a nice stream was flowing along with some small cascades.  It is always cooler down in this area.  The terrain is very rugged, with steep slopes on each side of the trail.  I have seen black bear in this area of the hike twice, but not yesterday.

Remember when I said that there is a spot that will take your breath away?  Here it is!  No matter how hot the day is, when you plunge in this deep pool at Riprap Hollow, you will hyperventilate for a few seconds.  At least I always do!  I have hiked here at least 10 times.  Sometimes I have had the pool to myself, but usually there are at least a few others here.  Sometimes, like yesterday, there are lots of people.  But the water is cold enough that most don't stay in for long.  When I took this photo, there were at least 20 other people here, but no one was in at this moment.  It is such a beautiful spot!

If you were here, would you take the plunge?  As our trip leader said in his pre-trip email, "the highlight of the day will be taking a dip in its classic swim hole - just as Larry would have done. Bring your water shoes and towel, and to keep in the spirit of this event, total submersion will be required."  I complied fully with this directive!

I don't know enough about mushrooms to know what this is, but I saw several of them.  Perhaps they are tasty, perhaps they are deadly.  If I had to guess, and bet my life on the guess, I would go with the latter.

If you go back to the elevation profile, you can see that from Riprap Hollow and that refreshing swim, the rest of the hike is pretty much uphill back to the car.  On a hot day, that cold water dip is quickly forgotten as you hike uphill and sweat everything you are wearing to the soaking point.  It is always a reminder that my level of conditioning needs to improve.  But unless you could find someone to carry you back up - no one in my group volunteered - you need to put one foot after the other continually until you get to the top.

We ended this fun day in Larry's memory with cold beers and Mexican food at Guadalajara Restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia.  It sure was a great day with a great group of folks!


  1. Sounds like one great day!! Nice that you got to go with a group of people this time.
    I probably would have gone in the water just because it was a fun thing to do. : )
    Like your new photo!!

  2. I had a blast, and it was fun to go with a good sized group - fun bunch to hike with, and always good to make new friends. I bet you would have jumped right in! Art