Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rip Rap Hollow Trail - Shenandoah National Park

Ash and I have been kicking around the idea of taking our local trail runs/hikes to higher elevations and distances for some time now, but a myriad of injuries, scheduling issues, and far sightedness have been speed bumps on our road to trail running/fast packing progress.

So how does far sightedness factor into trail running and hiking?

We have been all over the Blue Ridge Mountains but have concentrated our energy on the “far flung” areas of The Blue Ridge Highlands, like Pulaski and Grayson Counties.

That “farsightedness” has caused us to overlook some prime trails in our own back yard.

It turns out that the entrance to Shenandoah National Park is almost exactly an hour from our home, who knew?

Adding to this close proximity is the fact that Ash, being the master strategist that she is, has been plotting day hikes close enough to the homestead so that we could spend the day exploring and still be back in time to grill out, drink a few beers, and relax.

Truth be told, we have been to Shenandoah National Park in the past but my aversion to paying money for access to the wilderness had kept me away from the idea of going back.

A robust $15.00 entrance fee didn’t help the cause.

Well, the entrance fees aren’t going to change, and I love the idea of finding new places to go, so I decided to change my perspective.

For $30.00 bucks you can buy a year’s pass to the park, go twice and it’s paid for, to get your money’s worth you should go as often as possible, so the park fee actually encourages you to get out and see more of the outdoors!

You have to love that reasoning.

Ash set it up, a hiking/fast packing loop under 14 miles that had great views, a flowing creek, and incorporated a section of the venerable Appalachian Trail.

Sunday morning found us at mile 90 of The Skyline Drive and the parking lot for Rip Rap Hollow trail. (Several vehicles were already on site, but with ample parking still available).

The trail, (which we hiked in a counterclockwise direction) is a 9.5 mile circuit rated as “moderately strenuous” that ties together Rip Rap Hollow, the AT, and a 2.62 mile climb up Wild Cat Ridge, then back to the AT and the parking lot to complete the loop.

Our Route
The trail has an elevation gain of 2200 feet and can be done as a day hike or an overnight backpacking trip.

Depending on where you look, the hike can take anywhere from 5 to 8 hours to complete.

That being said, Ash, our two pups and me moved at a good clip and completed the circuit is just under 4 hours with stops for lunch, and exploring.

I counted around 5 well placed campsites along the trail that would comfortably fit the average 2 person tent.

The best overlooks/views included Calvary Rocks, and Chimney rock which did not disappoint as we were treated to some incredible cloud formations moving across the bright green landscapes of distant mountains.

The view from Calvary Rock
Chimney Rock overlook
Another perk to hitting the trail in July were the abundance of wild blue berries, and the occasional blackberry bush, with fruit that was incredibly sweet.

trailside Blueberries

One of the key attractions of the trail is a brilliant swimming hole just down stream from a 20 foot waterfall.

The swimming hole had the highest concentration of trail users so in my normal fashion we “kept on keeping on” to put some distance between us and them.

Based on Ash’s trail notes and topo map we sat down at a campsite just off of the stream to fuel up before the charge up Wildcat Ridge.

After the 2 mile scramble we took a breather at the intersection with the AT and then cruised for 2 more miles back to the car.

Rip Rap Hollow has just about everything you could want in a hike, Panoramic views, an awesome stream that dumps into an incredible swimming hole, and various forms of flora and fauna.

Our mindset for this trip was more about pushing ourselves and our individual physical capabilities than our backpacking trips which center on being surrounded with nature.

Each adventure takes on its own personality, and without saying a word we both knew that we wanted to test or mettle on longer distances and "wilder" terrain.

The problem with Bears...

So between sips of brown ale and crab cake quesadillas, I couldn’t help but grin at the thought that we had found yet another playground so close to home.