Monday September 23, 2015 Most Recent Post:
Lewis Mountain Campground Another AT Bear Day Despite the Fools:Jones Run to Rip Rap
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
I know it has taken me a long time to get this posted. There were so many pictures of such a spectacular day. Wait until you see what I saw.
Technically, an equinox is an astronomical point and, due to the fact that the earth wobbles on its axis slightly, the date may vary by a few days depending on the year. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it as late as this year on the 23rd.
The autumnal equinox occurs when the sun crosses the equator on its apparent journey southward, and we experience a day and a night that are of equal length. Up until the Equinox the hours of daylight have been greater than the hours from dusk to dawn. But from now on, the reverse holds true. The days actually have been growing shorter since Summer Solstice but now they will start to become shorter than the nights. The dark time of year is beginning.
I’m not so thrilled to go into the dark but that’s the way of the Wheel of the Year. Into each life some dark must come. So to mark this day I take a hike into one of the deepest hollows in the park. The hike is described as “very strenuous” so David can’t go along. It’s nearly 9 miles and it takes me the entire day. Too many gorgeous places to stop and wonderful things to see.
I am on the trail at 9:10. Not an early start by any means but these fall mornings are cool and it’s hard for me to get in gear. I’d rather drink hot chocolate and read a book. Plus David doesn’t sleep well and I don’t want to wake him with an early exit.
This map shows my route, nearly 3000 feet steeply down on the Cedar Run Trail (yellow) and then a relatively flat connecter trail (Blue) to the 2794 foot elevation gain on the White Oak Canyon trail (red) and then the Fire road (green) and horse trail (purple) at the end. I start at the You are here dot. The loop is described as 2 waterfalls on Cedar Run and 9 on White Oak. Sounds fabulous but it turns out to be much more than that.
You can see what I’m up against from the contour lines on the map. I’ve read in my guidebook that “Because of the area’s precipitous nature, this is one of the few places in the park that was never inhabited.” But good things start to happen here right away.
I’ve only been on the trail 10 minutes or so when whooosh across the path goes a big bird. I stop, look around and get these pictures of this Barred Owl checking me out from deep in the leaves and then deciding I’m not too interesting and turning his back. Great way to begin my hike!
The Cedar Run trail is rocky rocky and more rocky. They aren’t kidding about steeply down. It seems as if each step must be planned. This forces a slow pace.
This trail proves to be the steepest and rockiest descent that I’ve done in the park. I’m thankful it is mostly dry and I don’t have to worry about slipping on the wet rocks.
Very shortly the trail joins the Cedar Run and it splashes along beside me. I’m walking carefully, it’s running down hill.
The little cascades have pools and the fall leaves look beautiful atop the water.
Along side the rocky difficult trail there are large beautiful outcroppings.
The oak leaf looks even bigger than it is with this little toad sitting on it.
Aren’t his fall colors perfect?
The solitude and beauty of Cedar Run give the area a delightful sense of peace.
A lovely Red Spotted Purple butterfly is perched on a rock by the cascade.
Cedar run has larger cascades and falls as well. I understand much better now the word “run” in this context with the series of falls and cascades as the river makes its way down the steep hollow.
Near the bottom of the Cedar Run I find the link trail which will take me over to the White Oak Canyon trail to begin my climb up, The connector is gloriously rock free and pretty flat. It’s a wonderful break for the feet and ankles before beginning what I have read is a difficult climb.
Very shortly on the White Oak trail I begin to see falls both at a distance and through the trees.
The trail heads up and again on one of the rocks I spy a tiny fellow traveler. This one is leaving a noticeable trail.
Soon I get my first look at a major White Oak Canyon Falls.
As I move further along the trail there is a rare viewpoint where I can see the Beautiful Blue Ridges.
And then I come much closer to the Lower Falls.
If it were warmer, I would definitely walk out into the pool.
What a wonderful place to rest a bit before hiking further up the steep trail.
Up ahead I see movement and follow it where I find what I think is a Garter Snake hurrying off the rocks on the trail and trying to hide. He’s a pretty thing and I’m able to get a few pictures of him.
On one side of the trail are rock outcroppings thrusting into the sky and on the other are more of the White Oak Falls visible through the leaves.
I’ve lost count of the waterfalls. Nine is the number advertised. The beautiful cascades are even more numerous. .
This one is very close to the trail so I am able to climb over and walk on the huge rock face the water spills on to. Being the water lover that I am, this is an especially lovely spot for me. I stay a while.
The trail then climbs very steeply up to pass directly in front of this large outcropping.
When I set up this picture with the camera on the timer I am amazed to find the stunning colors of the rocks over my head and behind me.
Not so stunning is this sign telling me that after all the climbing I’ve done, I’m only halfway up the trail. From the sounds of the sign, it seems like some people have gone further than they should have and found coming back up a formidable problem.
I take many more pictures of this steep and difficult trail as it seems to be never ending.
When I see this sign I know I’ve come at to the last of the waterfalls.
As you can see, the view is pretty distant and difficult to photograph.
A little zoom will help. This is the main White Oak Falls and plunges 86 feet down.
Shortly after the final falls I come to this intersection. Those hiking only the White Oak Trail will ascend back to that parking area straight ahead. I have more miles to go along the Fire road, marked with red arrows, and then along a horse trail marked in yellow in order to return to the parking area marked with the blue arrow.. Notice the star on the horse trail More on that shortly.
At this point I cross the much smaller White Oak Run and head up the much wider fire road.
The fire road is easier to walk with fewer rocks but it is no less steep. I’m clearly not near the top yet.
In what is beginning to seem like forever, I turn off onto the very rocky horse trail. How in the world do horses manage this? Frankly, as a former horse owner, I’m surprised that anyone would bring their horses onto some of these “designated horse paths”. I know I try to avoid them but in this case, since I wanted to do a loop, this is the only way back from White Oak to my car.
Paying so much attention to my steps on this trail I’m surprised I notice something pink in the leaves off to the side of the trail. I stop to get a better look. I had no idea Indian Pipe could be pink. These are clearly at the end of their season as many of them are turning black.
But they turn out not to be Indian Pipe. Upon further investigation when I return home, I learn that these are a related but different species of Monotropa and much more rare. They are known commonly as Pinesap. Apparently because they were thought to grow under pines but that has been proven not to be true. Early in the season they tend to be a pale yellow color and turn pink or red in the fall. What a find!
And then this horse trail turns into a great trail when I see not one but several black shapes ahead of me. Of course I stop immediately and get my camera up. But they are all scurrying along and most of my pictures are blurry. This all takes place at the yellow star on the previous map.
It turns out to be a mom and two cubs climbing up and down the oak trees eating acorns. Can you see the two black cubs going up the middle tree.
Not sure the mom sees me but the cubs are at least looking my way as they come down.
That’s mom. She’s looking away from me. I am making no noise at all. All the sounds on my camera are always turned off totally. She’s looking in the direction I need to go and I wonder if I’ll be here until night time waiting for them to move on.
I take as many pictures as I can get for quite a while and then I just stand and watch them.
They run right up the trees and I can hear them crunching acorns up there. I’m not sure whether I can move on along underneath them or if I’d better stay put. They have been up there a long time when I take a chance and hurry on down the path just before they descend the tree again. I would never take a chance like that if they were on the ground. But luckily, now I’m on the other side of them and stop for some more pictures. Watching them has just been a delight!
I’ve been here for at least 20 minutes now when down comes mom following the cubs who have gone off to my left.
She follows them and I watch until I cannot see them any more.
What a fabulous ending to a perfect Autumn Equinox day. As I leave the bears, I’m less than a quarter mile from my car. It has been a difficult and long loop but what fantastic things I’ve seen from the owl, to the red spotted purple, to the toad to the snail, the snake, the beautiful colored rock faces, the cascades, the waterfalls, pinesap and now the bears. Being in the natural world, such a glorious place, is the perfect way to spend this holiday.
The end of my hike doesn’t look like it held such amazing things, does it? I would have said to avoid these yellow blazes which signal horse trails in Shenandoah National Park but this one was sure worth hiking for a few miles of an 8.86 mile hike and at the end of a wonderful Autumnal Equinox day.