Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Raven Rocks

View from Raven Rocks
5.5 miles round trip, 1550 feet elevation gain

The hike to Ravens Rock offers a rather limited view for the amount of effort required, but is a popular hike due to its proximity to the DC metro area. Still, it’s probably one of the more scenic spots along the Appalachian Trail between Shenandoah National Park and Harper’s Ferry. The rocks sit at the border of Virginia and West Virginia, perched on the crest of the Blue Ridge above Shenandoah Valley.

I did this hike on an early July day. It was a bit too hot of a day for hiking, in a summer that already had many days that were much too hot, but since it was a national holiday I felt an obligation to go out and enjoy the very beautiful Virginia landscape. I headed out of Rockville with three fellow interns; on the way, we picked up one of my friends from UVA.  We took I-495 south across the river into Virginia to Route 7 at Tysons Corner and followed Route 7 west. We stayed on Route 7 the entire way; past Leesburg, the route approached the low crest of the Blue Ridge and finally reached the top of the Blue Ridge at Snickers Gap. Just past the gap, we turned right onto Pine Grove Road and parked at a parking area for the Appalachian Trail, on the right side of Pine Grove Road immediately past the first junction.

From the trailhead, we followed the Appalachian Trail north. The trail began by climbing up from the gap to the main ridge of the Blue Ridge. Here, the Blue Ridge was a flat, narrow, single ridgeline punctuated by occasional wind gaps. The trail stayed to the west of the ridge, occasionally passing large boulders and partial views to the west of the trail. At one point, there were boulders along the trail large enough for us to stop and take a rest and for me to scramble around to look for a view in the opening in the trees. We passed and were passed by many thru-hikers as we made our way towards Raven Rocks.

View along the hike
The trail was fairly rocky. It got a little rockier during the first descent, which was around a mile past the trailhead. Here, the Appalachian Trail dropped off the ridge and descended to the bottom of a hollow, then ascended up the other side of the hollow. The descents and ascents, which were already fairly steep, were made worse by the heat of that day.

Along the Appalachian Trail
After another fairly flat section of trail higher up on the ridge, the trail descended a second time; this descent was similar to the first. At the bottom, there was a very rocky stream crossing; past this crossing, we began yet another climb on the trail. The hollows on the trails were verdant and filled with ferns, but the streams were running quite dry. This final climb (on the way in) brought us up to the border of Virginia and West Virginia, which was marked by a trail sign and a cryptic AT thru-hikers’ note about a spaghetti supper.

At the VA/WV border

A couple of tenths of mile past the trail sign, the trail, which had flattened out again, finally emerged from the forest and arrived at the outcrops of Raven Rocks. The main section of an outcrop, perched atop a high cliff, was occupied by a large group of Boy Scouts, so my friends and I settled for a lower outcrop; unfortunately, shade and views were mutually exclusive on the rocks, so we spent most of our lunch time away from the view and instead hiding from the oppressive heat of the mid-day sun. The view itself was nice but not spectacular: we could see a hollow on the side of the main Blue Ridge and to the west there was a view into Shenandoah Valley, with a water tower and a small town. The Blue Ridge here is a single fairly low ridge, so the views were of low mountains and a fairly developed valley. The day was quite hazy, so visibility was limited to a few miles; perhaps if we had come on a nicer day, I might have been more enamored with the view. 

Raven Rocks
After finishing our lunch on the rocks, we hiked back to Snickers Gap. The hike back was nearly as strenuous as the hike to the rocks: the two climbs out of the hollows were both fairly steep and rocky and the rising temperatures that day didn’t help. While this is certainly a worthwhile hike for DC residents, it might not be as worth the drive for hikers coming from further away who have easier access to George Washington National Forest or Shenandoah National Park.

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