Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cedar Run-Hawksbill

The view atop Hawksbill during a snowy February Sunday.
8.8 miles round trip, 3000 feet elevation gain.
Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous, due to elevation gain
Access: $8 per person Shenandoah National Park entrance fee, or purchase a $30 annual pass beforehand for small groups

My plans for a weekend hike in the Trayfoot Mountain area in early February were dashed when it started snowing. A few friends and I opted for a hike up Cedar Run canyon to Hawksbill Gap and continuing to the summit of Hawksbill.

The trailhead for Cedar Run/Hawksbill is north of Syria near the end of SR 600; it can be accessed by taking SR 670 from SR 231, which runs from Sperryville to Madison and is one of the most scenic drives in the area after Skyline Drive.

We followed the trail up from the Whiteoak Canyon parking area into the park and up the Cedar Run branch. It had begun snowing on us by the time we began ascending the trail up the canyon, which was very muddy due to the rain. Cedar Run canyon is very pretty- although it doesn't have waterfalls that are as prominent and eye-catching as its sister hike, Whiteoak Canyon, it does have numerous small waterfalls, including a tiny waterfall tucked into a tiny rock gorge halfway up the trail. Further up is a smooth water slide. Most of the waterfalls are not directly on the trail, so getting to them may take a little extra time.

An exceptionally beautiful waterfall in a small gorge on Cedar Run.
Three miles, 2200 vertical feet and a couple of stream crossings from the trailhead, we arrived at Hawksbill Gap on Skyline Drive, which was covered in about an inch of snow. From here, we followed the 2.8 mile Hawksbill Loop Trail. The ascent was steep and slippery in the snow, making its way quickly to the Hawksbill summit. During this stretch of trail, the clouds scattered and we had our only views of the hike through the trees, of the granite west face of Old Rag covered in snow. By the time we had reached the Byrd's Nest Shelter near the summit of Hawksbill, the fog had rolled back in.

The trail up to Hawksbill.
After lunch at the shelter, we made it to the summit, which was completely fogged in. On our descent, we completed the loop by doing a more gradual descent on the Salamander Trail and the AT. It seems that the Salamander trail would have had good views on a nicer day; for us, it remained cloudy until we began our descent. We crossed two talus slopes and saw a flock of wild turkeys flying while following the AT back to Hawksbill Gap.

It'd be possible to add an additional loop and go down Whiteoak Canyon to get back to the trailhead, but we opted for the shorter Cedar Run descent.

During the ascent up Cedar Run, the trail passes primarily through greenstone of the Catocin Formation, which is responsible for not only the waterfalls on this trail but for just about every other major waterfall in the park. The Catocin Formation is an old igneous formation that runs along the Blue Ridge crest. Greenstone is a basalt-based rock that has undergone heat and pressure; those metamorphic processes add chlorite and epidote to the rock, giving the rock its somewhat greenish color.

I've included a photo of the view from Hawksbill from a fall trip to the peak a few years ago on the Upper Hawksbill Trail.

Robertson and Old Rag Mountains from Hawksbill.

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