Monday, February 20, 2012

Buzzard Rock

Rocks Mountain from Buzzard Rock
2 miles round trip, 700 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous, a fully off-trail hike that requires navigational skills
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no entrance fee required

There are supposedly 500 miles of trails in all of Shenandoah National Park. I'm not sure how true that number is now- based on USGS maps, there were certainly many more trails in this park when those maps were made. Trails used to run down almost every ridgeline in the park- old maps show routes to the top of Oventop, to the end of Two-Mile Ridge, to the subpeaks of Hall Mountain and Abbott Ridge on Trayfoot Mountain.

One ridge that is trail-less on even the USGS maps is Buzzard Rock, a low rocky ridge connected to Rocks Mountain in the South District. In Shenandoah, "rock" often means "view," so the call of this ridge was irresistible.

On an early February weekend, Skyline was closed due to snow. I didn't want to drive far to a trailhead but I still wanted to see some snow, so I decided that I should finally try to hike to this ridge with a group of four. Heading out of Charlottesville, I wasn't sure that there were going to be any views at all: Bucks Elbow and Calf Mountain were entirely obscured by clouds and fog. Luckily, the fog was low, so views of Afton Valley popped out on the drive up to Rockfish Gap.

The trailhead is at the end of SR 661, which branches off of US 340 at Grottoes. It's a rather awkward entrance to the park: the maintained road ends between two houses and parking is just a little bit beyond that. It seems that this entrance to the park is rarely used; despite the awkwardness of the parking situation, I didn't get any trouble from the homeowners.

We followed the Paine Run Fire Road into the park. Buzzard Rock lies directly south of fire road at the entrance to the park. We crossed Paine Run a little upstream of a water level monitoring station and made our way to the top. This was a relatively easy route- there were no major obstacles and the forest floor was pretty clear.

Visibility was low when we started our hike, but we broke through the fog by the time we were halfway up the ridge. As we got to the top, clouds rolled in and obscured our views again.

The top of the ridge was flat. There was a fire ring, a small cave-like indentation, and a few protruding rocks that give views. We stuck around for a while at the top and eventually the clouds rolled out and there were some very pretty views of Trayfoot, Blackrock, and Rocks Mountain. There were also good views of Shenandoah Valley to the west, where we could even see our car parked at the end of SR 661. The view was particularly spectacular that day due to fresh snow atop the peaks on the Blue Ridge crest.

View from Buzzard Rock
Buzzard Rock is another Shenandoah peak with prominent protrusions of Erwin Sandstone. A few examples of Skolithos worm-hole fossils can be found on the ridgetop. I am also certain that Buzzard Rock was once connected to the main ridgeline of Trayfoot Mountain: both the Trayfoot ridge and Buzzard Rock line up and have extremely steep, v-shaped sides where they are separated by Paine Run.

As with many of my adventures, Summitpost was a convenient resource.

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