A blog about my life, fitness and fun! (...and maybe a few cat pictures...)

A blog about my life, fitness and fun! (...and maybe a few cat pictures...)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Charlottesville Wrap Up! (Part 1)

Hey all! We spent a long weekend in Charlottesville.
Here's a wrap up of the first part of our trip.
It includes our journey down Skyline Drive as well as the three hikes we did that day.

After a long and affectionate goodbye to the kitties, we left around 8:30 on Friday morning and cruised down highway 81. Time flew thanks to a Survivor podcast! Before we knew it, we were in Virginia!

Then we hopped on the scenic Skyline Drive, which travels about 100 miles through Shenandoah National Park. The road is hilly, windy, and very scenic. It seemed like there was an overlook around every turn. There was no way to stop at every single one, but we definitely stopped at a few.

We stopped at a visitor center and had lunch at a picnic table. Wendy's for the win! I know, not exactly picnic food! 

We traveled nearly 50 miles on Skyline Drive before reaching our first hike- Hawksbill.

We hiked .75 miles up the Lower Hawksbill Trail to the overlook. The path was very well maintained and it wasn't long before we got to the top.

I always wonder about who stacks rocks like this.

Bird's Nest Shelter

Paul has mastered the "pensive" look while gazing at overlooks.

After enjoying the view, the plan was hike down a different way, via the Salamander Trail and the Appalachian Trail. However, when we found what we thought was the Salamander Trail, there was some confusing signage that said something like "caution, stay on the trail", so we thought it was an area we weren't allowed to be. We kept hiking down and soon realized we were on the Upper Hawksbill Trail, which was going to take us to a different parking lot. The confusing signage area was actually the trail we were supposed to take.

I looked at the map on my phone. We didn't have to backtrack and could continue down the trail we were on and then take the Big Meadows Horse Trail back to our car. It would bring our hike from the planned 2 miles to 3.5, but it was no big deal. The horse trail ended up being very pretty and quite different looking than Hawksbill, so it was worth the detour.

It wasn't until I was writing this blog post and studied the map more that I realized why we were confused by the signage.

If you notice, the Salamander Trail starts right next to the sensitive vegetation closure area, so the sign wasn't warning us not to turn onto the trail, but that if we did take that trail, to stay on it so as not to be in the sensitive vegetation area. I'm glad I solved that mystery!

We were sweaty and hot, but we had two more hikes to do that day! We drove a couple miles down the road to the Dark Hollow Falls Trail.

This trail was a lot busier than our first hike. There were lots of couples and families, but it wasn't so busy that it wasn't enjoyable. There were a lot of times when Paul and I were by ourselves. The sign at the trail head warned that coming back up would be very steep and rocky. But on the .75 mile walk down to the falls, it didn't seem like it was steep or rocky to me. I felt like the sign was a little dramatic.

Whenever I post pictures of waterfalls, I feel like the picture makes them look tiny while in real life they were quite big. That's the case here. The falls were very beautiful!

 The hike back up was not bad at all. Steep and rocky? There were freaking stairs! It was getting hot out, though.

Our last hike, Bearfence Mountain, was just a couple miles away. The sign indicated two options on how to get to the top of the mountain:

Option 1: Up Bearfence Trail and Back the Appalachian Trail. A shorter distance but includes a rock scramble.

Option 2: Out and back on the Appalachian Trail. Longer distance but easier hike with no rock scramble.

There were some warnings about the rock scramble, but we figured the sign was being over dramatic, much like the sign at Dark Hollow Falls. It definitely didn't say anything like "experienced hikers only" or "no children". 

I'm all about a loop rather than an out and back so we get to see different trails, so we went with Option 1.

The trail started just fine. It was a bit of a climb on a well maintained trail. We passed a dad and his daughter who had just done the rock scramble. The dad described the scramble as "cool" and that his daughter did it twice because she had so much fun. "Neat!" I thought.

Here come the rocks...

I have run/hiked sections of the AT in Pennsylvania that had big rocks like this. I'm usually not a fan because I am afraid of snakes! But I wasn't too afraid of snakes today because it seemed like a well used trail. Some sections you could step from one rock to another, other sections you definitely had to hoist your body up or carefully slide down. It was doable, but it was definitely the hardest rock scramble I had ever done...

... and then we got to what I describe as the "iffy" part.

I immediately stopped in my tracks. "I don't like this," I said to Paul, who was behind me.

"Then just stop and don't do anything," he said.

"Oh don't worry, I stopped," I told him and assessed the situation.

I was at a part where I would have to hoist myself from one rock to another. It would require control, momentum, and a split second where my feet would not be touching rock... and if I didn't make it and I fell... well, I would die.

I'm not being dramatic. It wasn't good. This is what Paul and I describe as a "goner spot", because if you fell, you'd be a goner.

I was holding Paul's big water bottle so I immediately threw it ahead of me, past the rock I was trying to get on. I was going to need two hands if I did this. I stopped and thought about it. Am I being stupid to even consider getting up onto this rock? Is my whole life worth this risk? Is it going to be harder to turn around and go the other way?

"Make sure there are no loose rocks," Paul told me.

I moved my hands around to feel the rocks and realized my wedding ring had gotten stuck between a crevice in the rocks! Thank goodness I had decided to move my hand before attempting anything! I got my finger and my ring out, but it took some wiggling.

I kept assessing the situation and decided I was going to do it. "I'm going to do it," I told Paul. I hoisted myself up and it was fine. "I'm fine, I did it," I told him. I was so relieved that part was over. I grabbed the water bottle and walked far away from that spot! I couldn't see Paul anymore. "Be careful," I called to him. "I'm walking away, I'm not watching." I just had to let it go and trust that Paul was going to get up on the rock and be okay as well. Of course he did it, and it was probably easier for him to do it because he is taller.

The reward for making it over the rock scramble? 360 degree views of the Shenandoah Valley. This is quite possibly the best view on the East Coast I have ever seen.

We sat at the top for several minutes, enjoying the beauty. Then guess who comes over the rocks? A mom and dad with what looks to be a 6 year old daughter. I could not imagine bringing a 6 year old up there! Weren't the parents scared? I know I have lots of friends who hike with children, so I'm interested in your take on this situation...

Our hike down the Appalachian Trail was much safer. But even as I type this post several days later, I am still mad at myself that I did something that to me seemed very dangerous. I even had a little anxiety while I was thinking about it on Sunday night while I tried to sleep. I asked Paul to tell me something to calm me down.

"Think about it, people go over that spot every day and they're fine. We did it, we're fine, and it's over," he told me.

Okay, I am just going to have to accept that.

At this point we were soooooooooo hungry that instead of continuing down Skyline Drive and eating when we got to Charlottesville, we got off Skyline and stopped at the first place we saw for grub. We were both reaching "shutdown mode".

Then we traveled a short distance to our hotel, The Cavalier Inn, which was right across from UVA. The hotel was safe and clean, which is basically all we need!

Obviously, we were pretty exhausted and went to bed very early! I had a race tomorrow!

Check back tomorrow for a recap of our last two days in Charlottesville! And if you read this whole thing, I am impressed!
Have you ever been to Shenandoah National Park?

Is there anything dangerous you have done while hiking?

Parents who hike with children: How do you keep them safe?


  1. Yes I read the entire post because I thought it was interesting. I know hiking isn't suppose to be a "cake" walk but I am surprise on a legitimate trail like this one that there would be such a dangerous spot where as one slip of a hand could mean life or death. I am surprised you didn't look up the number of fatalities ( if any) that happen on this trail. If you had to pick a place in PA that has similar gorgeous views like that, where would it be?

    1. I did look up deaths and there were none! There was a pretty grisly death in Shenandoah National Park though... Two women were found bound in their tent with their throats slit. They were camping only 1/2 mile from the visitor's center.

  2. I read the whole post! It had danger, suspense and a happy ending. That's what I call a good mid-week read!

    I'm glad your hotel was safe and clean. I just remembered about your scary hotel experience last year!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! Yes, ever since that terrible hotel experience at Stinson Beach I have been very, very careful about booking hotel rooms!

  3. Wow, beautiful hikes! Ugh..that would be scary and I am not sure I would have done it. OMG, I read your comment on the women hikers found dead. Yikes...freakin' scary!