We awakened on our third and final day in the Shenandoah National Park. The previous two days had taken us along lush ridgelines, atop Furnace Mountain and Trayfoot Mountain for some spectacular views, and stream side for some peaceful and relaxing camping. Everyone was refreshed and ready to tackle the last leg of this 20 mile hike which would involve a 3000 foot ascent…so we promptly broke down camp and geared up.
In all of the research I had done on this loop trail, I thought the views from atop Furnace and Trayfoot Mountains were what we could expect as the highlights. I mistakenly thought that we had seen “all of the good stuff” the previous two days and that the final leg would be unremarkable. I can’t tell you how wrong I was. As it turned out, we began day three hiking toward the one of the most beautiful panoramic views I have ever seen in my life.
But it was not going to be an easy hike. The trail continued up and up with one switchback after another. Sure we started with fresh legs and a little less food in our packs…but the trail never seemed to level out. On top of that the sun was now heating up overhead and the cicadas were in their full summer chorus. It would have been a scene to delight in if I had not been sweating so profusely. By this time I had zipped the legs off of my pants in order to cool down a bit. Even though the growth on each side of the trail seemed to get narrower and brushed up against my legs frequently, I decided that at the moment I was willing to risk poison ivy just to cool down.
As you can probably imagine- being that i did not have any idea that such an incredible location and view was waiting ahead of me- the hike became a lot of work without the benefit of any real payoff. I hate to admit something like that because I love hiking even if there isn’t any real “payoff.” But the heat and never ending incline was wearing on me. At one point I looked up and tried to see the end of this upward straight-as-an-arrow trail but I couldn’t see where it ended. That is when I decided to just put my head down and count steps in increments of 10. At least it would take my mind off how much farther I had to go.
It wasn’t long before the trees began to come together and offer us their shade. To me that seemed like a good spot for some high quality H20. While enjoying the refreshment I couldn’t help but notice that this was the turn-off toward Blackrock. As I walked through the darkness of the cool tree covering I started around a bend that opened up into a magnificent vastness. My mouth just dropped. If I had been tired and sweaty five minutes prior…you couldn’t see it in my face any longer.
Blackrock is a marvelous pile of broken Hampton quartzite boulders that make up the summit. There isn’t any particular route to the top. Everyone takes their own path to the top. Some of the other guys had already dropped their packs and made their way to the top. I soon followed.
On top of the broken boulders: we ate. we reclined. we took in and absorbed a panoramic view of the entire valley. Whether we turned our heads to the left or to the right…it was just beautiful. All of the work to get to this point was swallowed whole by Blackrock Summit.
As we left Blackrock and worked our way down trail it felt like we were being greeted after a long trip by the presence of wildflowers and wildlife. Blackrock left me walking on air all the way back to the parking lot. That was a fantastic exclamation point on our Shenandoah Valley excursion. We packed up and made our way back to Loft Mountain for one final night in Virginia.
helplessness blues by fleet foxes