Monday, March 5, 2012


View from Blackrock down Dundo Hollow
1 mile round trip, 175 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy, if you stay on the trail; a little more difficult if you decide to scramble up the rocks

This is not really even a hike: it is more of a short excursion off of Skyline Drive to an incredibly good viewpoint. The proximity of Blackrock to Skyline Drive makes it a heavily visited spot during tourist times, which is a pity, since that means visitors often must share the Blackrock summit with 20 to 50 other tourists. I ran into that situation when I visited on an October Saturday in the middle of fall foliage season, but remedied that by coming back a month later during the middle of the week, when I was able to enjoy one of Shenandoah's great viewpoints all to myself.

Both of my visits were by myself. The first was in late October, when I couldn't find anyone I could drag away from work to go to Shenandoah and watch a sunset. I left for Shenandoah around 2:30 in the afternoon and made my way up to the drive, stopping at almost all of the overlooks between Rockfish Gap and Blackrock Summit. This was my first time getting truly acquainted with the stretch of mountains between Calf Mountain and Blackrock. I arrived at the Blackrock Summit parking area near Mile 83 around 4 PM and made the 10 minute stroll uphill and along a fairly flat section of the Appalachian Trail to the talus slope. The trail then wrapped around the talus slope. No trail led to the top of the talus, so there was some very easy scrambling to get to the top.

View down Paine Run to Rocks Mountain
The view was very wide, nearly 270 degrees. Calf, Turk, and Rocks Mountains were visible to the south, Trayfoot dominated the view across a gap, and Rockytop Ridge, Austin Mountain, Lewis Peak, Big Flat and Loft Mountains could be seen to the north. The Peak of Massanutten and Shenandoah Valley were also visible.

The crowds were frustrating. I shared the summit with a family that treated scrambling on the talus as some sort of terrifying adventure (it's not), a group of students from Delaware, a guy who sat on a rock and made calls on his cell phone, a couple of backpackers, and a handful of other families and visitors. I left the summit and returned to my car a little before sunset and drove to Riprap Hollow Overlook to watch the sunset and I stopped at Calf Mountain Overlook to see the city lights of Waynesboro before heading back to Charlottesville.

Fast forward a month: I left Charlottesville to head home for Thanksgiving. I had plans to do a shuttle hike in the Riprap area, but those ended up not working out, so I drove somewhat aimlessly into the park, figuring I would eventually arrive at a trail I would want to hike. While driving past Blackrock Summit, I noticed that the parking lot was empty. What a stroke of luck! I parked and made my way over to the rocks and had the entire place and the entire view to myself. The weather was especially dramatic that day: the morning had started out with partly cloudy skies, but by the time I was atop Blackrock, I could see rain moving in from Shenandoah Valley and a rainbow seemed to float above Austin Mountain.

Rainbow at Blackrock
The geology at Blackrock is fascinating. The summit is a very large talus slope of Hampton Sandstone. The talus slopes in the park are mostly formed by mechanical weathering by ice: water freezes in rocks, causing the rocks to crack and break apart. Talus slopes are especially plentiful in this part of the park: they're found in the all of the Chilhowee Metasedimentary formations on Turk Mountain, all over Trayfoot and Blackrock, and on parts of Rockytop. I am not sure why these formations are able to form talus slopes more easily than the other major geological formations in the park- if you find out, please let me know!

1 comment: