Friday, March 2, 2012

Rocky Mount

Rockytop, Lewis Peak, Two Mile Ridge, and Shenandoah Valley from Rocky Mount
6.8 miles round trip, 1800 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate, due to elevation gain

Rocky Mount is the northernmost of a series of major rocky peaks on the edge of Shenandoah Valley that are accessible by trail. Hanse Mountain is of the similar formation, but has no rocky summit and is not trail accessible. The hike to Rocky Mount's summit is a good workout with good views and made for a very enjoyable November outing.

Rocky Mount was my first hike of November 2011 and my last hike of the fall foliage period. My hiking plans the previous weekend had been foiled by the Halloween snowstorm, which had dumped up to 5 inches on part of the park. However, the next weekend, the snow had melted, so I decided to do the hike to Rocky Mount, due to the proximity of its trailhead to the park entrance.

I couldn't find anyone else who was willing to leave Charlottesville for a day to go hiking with me, so I decided to go alone. That day was conveniently the last day of Daylights Saving Time, so I decided to leave early to catch the sunrise. I arrived at the Bacon Hollow Overlook a little before 8:00 and caught the sky lighting up, but I was unable to see the sunrise, which was blocked by a ridge of Hightop Mountain. I did get to see some beautiful colors as Carters Mountain and Charlottesville in the far distance were lit up.

Sunrise at Bacon Hollow Overlook
The lighting that morning was spectacular, with early morning light shimmering on the treetops at Eaton Hollow Overlook. I eventually made my way down to the trailhead, which is the narrow roadside strip of parking at Two Mile Run Overlook. Many other hikers who have done Rocky Mount claim that the view at the overlook trailhead is the best of the entire hike; while I do enjoy the Two Mile Run Overlook view of Massanutten, Two-Mile Ridge, and Rocky Mount, I dispute their claim. Rocky Mount's view is worthy of its hike.

View of Rocky Mount from Two Mile Run Overlook
From Two Mile Run Overlook, I followed Skyline Drive north for 0.1 miles north to a concrete post that marks the start of the Rocky Mount Trail. The trail immediately began following the ridgetop, which made for very pleasant hiking; it also immediately began descending, which was a bit slippery at that time of year due to the newly fallen leaves. I was able to see the rounded summit of Hightop to the trees to the right as the trail weaved its way through the woods while following the ridge. 2.2 miles past the trailhead, the descent finally ended at a saddle between Rocky Mount and the ridgeline that came down from the main Blue Ridge. The Gap Run Trail descended to the right.

View along Rocky Mount Trail
I took the left fork, which immediately began climbing up the west slope of Rocky Mount. A few switchbacks and a little over a mile of climbing later, the trail flattened out to the summit ridge, where there were views through the trees south to Hightop, Flattop, and other Blue Ridge crest peaks. The summit itself was wooded and surrounded by a jumble of Erwin formation quartzite. I walked around the summit before heading to the viewpoint, which consisted of a number of Erwin quartzite outcrops that jutted into space.

The view here was very wide, and I had it all to myself because I had began my hike so early. Flattop, Weaver, Loft, Big Flat, Cedar, Rocky/Brown Mountain, Trayfoot, Rockytop, Lewis Peak, and Two-Mile Ridge were all visible on the Blue Ridge and there was a fairly large slice of the valley visible as well. Massanutten was not visible from this angle.

View south toward the Blue Ridge crest from Rocky Mount
While I had the entire trail to myself on the way in, I ran into at least seven other people on my way out. This surprised me, as I expected more solitude, and it apparently surprised some of the other hikers, too: one couple stopped me and asked why I had chosen to do the Rocky Mount hike; when I responded that I had chosen it due to the chance that I'd have some solitude, they responded that stating that they had thought the same.

You may have noticed in my posts on my more recent hikes an obsession with the rock in this part of the park (and in the park in general)! I was just beginning to get into the park's rocks during this hike, and so even though I noted the interesting color of the rock here (Erwin formation rock is largely white), I didn't care to look closely at the rock to see whether or not there were any Skolithos here. If you ever do this hike, look for me- I am interested in knowing!

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