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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Hiking: Part 42

If you can read a topographical map, this will give you a better appreciation for this trail.

Copyright © 2016
by Ralph F. Couey

In the 1930's, the Sierra Club came up with a way to rate the difficulty of hiking trails, which they named the Yosemite Decimal System, or YDS. It breaks down trails into 5 main categories. Class 1 is walking with a low chance of injury, hiking boots a good idea. Class 2 is described as simple scrambling, with occasional use of the hands. Potential danger is low and hiking boots highly recommended. Class 3 means scrambling with increased exposure. Handholds are necessary and Falls could easily be fatal. Class 4 rates out as a trail with simple climbing with exposure. A rope is often used. Natural protection can be easily found. Falls may well be fatal. Classes 5 and 6 are termed "technical", meaning the use of ropes and pitons. I mention this because all of the hikes that I've described in this blog have been Class 3 and below, mostly Class 2's to be honest. Most of the AT hikes I've done involve some steep hills, rocky sometimes unstable surfaces, which is challenge enough for me.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my wife's friends raved about a hike she and some friends had been on in White Oak Canyon in the Shenandoah National Park. She wanted us to take this hike, mainly because the trail follows a series of waterfalls cascading down the side of the ridge. Looking it up, I saw that White Oak Canyon was one of the most popular hikes, because of the waterfalls and the pools which are popular swimming holes. I also saw that this trail was combined with the Cedar Run Trail, making a roughly 8-mile loop. I also noticed some other things. It was a roughly 2,400 foot ascent in a little less than 3 miles, with Cedar Run on the backside owning a similar slope. Because of the steepness of the both trails, they are rated as a Class 4, a level which I had never attempted. 

But she really wanted to see the waterfalls, so with a great deal of what turned out to be misplaced confidence, we made the 90-minute drive out to the Cedar Run trail head, off Weakley Hollow Road.

We arrived fairly early, around 8:30 a.m. We geared up, checked in at the Ranger hut, and hit the trail. The forecast was for a warm and humid day so we prepared ourselves, packing 5 liters of water with three extra 16-ounce bottles. After crossing the stream on a steel bridge, we wandered through the forest until the feeder trail intersected with the White Oak Canyon trail. Once the serious ascent started, the hiking became strenuous.


It was beautiful despite the effort.  The trail followed the stream, which was running at springtime volume, the sound filling the forest.  The trail was well-populated, being a holiday weekend, and it was plain that everyone was having a great time.  The WOC trail passes three sets of waterfalls, a lovely sight in the forest.
That lady in blue must have been a professional photo bomber.
She tried to get into every photo I took that day.

Yeah.  We were tired.

It was 2.5 miles and a 1,400 foot climb to the third waterfall, and we had to stop and rest.  Having five stents in my heart, I tend to pay close attention to the ticker.  After this difficult climb, I found I was feeling strange.  No chest pain, thankfully, but there was a sense that my heart was tired, in the same way our legs were tired after that steep climb.  We sat down at the main overlook, ostensibly to eat lunch. I, however had no appetite, an astonishing event for yours truly.  We sat there for a good 30 minutes until we had recovered.  I suggested that given our state at that moment that we perhaps should turn around and head back down.  Cheryl wanted to complete the loop, so we pressed on.

The good news was that just ahead was a fire road that connected the WOC with the Cedar Run trail.  The topo map showed that the contour lines were spread much further apart, and I was ready for some easier walking.  While the walking was much easier, the climb continued, ascending about 800 feet over 2.5 miles.  We were now between the streams and the heat and humidity under the tree canopy made itself felt.  We stopped several times to drink water and to rest.  As the fire road approached Skyline Drive, the ridgetop road through the National Park, we picked up the start of the Cedar Run trail.  Just before turning downhill again, I could see the Hawksbill Gap parking area through the trees.

 After a few hundred yards, the trail became steep,  rocky, and in some places wet by the flow of water coming from the hillsides.  This made the footing tricky, and we both had a couple of near-butt plants as our wet boots couldn't hold the traction on the rocks.

There were, according to the trail notes, two stream crossings that had to be negotiated.  We found the first one, which at a distance, seemed pretty peaceful.  Getting closer, however, I could see that the current was swift and the stones which were intended to assist the crossing, were a bit unstable.  I have suffered from some balance issues, related to an inner ear problem, so I was not looking forward to making this crossing.  After teetering on the first two stones, I decided to stress-test the waterproof feature of my Hi Tec boots, and stepped into the water itself.  I figured that the flatter rocky bottom, along with my trekking poles that it would make things easier for me.  But stupidly, I did not take into account the slimy nature of the stream bed.  One bad slip and down I went, face-first into the refreshingly cool water.  I was immediately helped up by a fellow hiker and made my way to the opposite bank, sitting down on a convenient rock.  The water had definitely woken me up, but I realized that my right leg was hurting.  Pulling up my pants leg, I could see that my shin had apparently impacted a rock, and was scraped and swollen.  With Cheryl's help, I cleaned the scrapes, sprayed some anti-bacterial stuff on them and put a large bandage over the top.

I felt foolish.  I has simply gotten too impatient, and forgotten to remove my backpack which would have improved the balance problem.  Suddenly, I looked down.  My $300 Sony digital camera was dripping water.  I took it apart and shook as much water out of it as I could, but I feared (and later proved) that my camera was damaged.  Fortunately, my Note 4 had survived the dunking.

It was becoming a very long day.  This loop trail has an average completion time of 5.5 hours.  But it was already past 6 hours and we were not close to being done.  We try to average 30-minute miles on our hikes but with the steep descent and the muddy and rocky trail surfaces, our pace was only about one mile per hour.  And we were tired.  This was hard work for us, and our muscles and joints were complaining mightily.  It became a simple matter of one step at a time, checking for grip before proceeding.  The second stream crossing was more difficult, and with me now snakebit by the last experience, the crossing took extra time.  The rocks were round and pretty tall, so I found them unnerving.  But I did make it across, dry this time, and on we went.

Physical discomforts aside, it was indeed a beautiful place.  The stream noisily accompanied us through the forest, the trees filtering that wonderful afternoon light.  Finally, we reached the feeder trail leading back to the parking lot.  The surface was now back to that soft, loamy surface, although it seemed an interminable time before we once again crossed the steel bridge and found the parking lot.

So it turned out to be an 8-mile loop for us, and although breathtaking in its beauty, this hike was in fact a bit beyond my capabilities.  Still, we completed the darn thing, and I guess that's saying something.

Like, stick to Class 3 hikes, dude.
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