Shenandoah and Monticello, October 2015
gathered on Wednesday evening October 14, at the Skyland Resort
perched high (3680 ft.) atop Virginia’s
Blue Ridge, at the center of Shenandoah National Park. Participants
came from California, Idaho, Texas, Minnesota, Florida, New York, New
Jersey, and Philadelphia, as well as the immediate VA-DC area. All
enjoyed a congenial welcoming dinner presided over by our organizers,
Andy and Ellie Dayton. Andy gave us a preview of the next day’s
adventures and itineraries, commented on by local millennial
dining-room staff who thought we oldsters might find the trail
a chilly Thursday morning, after a fortifying breakfast, in two
contingents based on capability and ambition– the Hard Core
(leaving at 7 a.m.) and the Casuals (at 9:30 a.m.)– we set out on
our respective day hikes, under a bright blue sky amidst stunning
Morris reports on The Hard Core’s
accomplishments that day:
After final gear adjustments the seventeen Hard Core hikers stepped
upstream from the Whiteoak Canyon parking lot along the north bank of
Cedar Run. The group included Bill "Rock” Brockman, Andy Dayton,
Diana Foster, Tom Hoster, Tom Jones, Steve Massad, "Merc” Morris,
Eric and Mara Mellum, Helena Novakova, Cameron Smith, Anne Strauss,
Chris Van Horne, Bob Wright, Joan Zwiep and guests Mike Camp ‘70
and Barclay Foord.
warmed in the chilly morning with the uphill grade, chattering like
jays as we huffed higher, pausing at lower Cedar Run Falls for a
group photograph. We crossed the stream and the trail steepened
ascending to upper Cedar Run Falls, a natural slide where the waters
rushed 40 feet down a sloping granite face to a pool wallowed in the
bedrock. Another pause to watch as Andy Dayton proved that real men
don’t need wet suits in 40 degree water—he took the plunge on
principle—ShhhhhSplooosh! "Re-re-re-freshing” he stuttered.
Andy leads by example, but our hearts followed our minds….
An awkward creek crossing (one wet boot!) led us past looming
formations of ancient folded rock before we eased up gentle
switchbacks to arrive within earshot of the Skyline Drive. It was
nearly noon but all downhill from there.
trail and fire road descended gradually to a small waterfall with a
bridge spanning Whiteoak Creek. We took seats in the sun and enjoyed
our box lunches amid the sounds of the forest and stream. Five miles
or so in; maybe three to go.
downside of sitting for lunch after a steep hike is standing when it
is over. We rallied and moved out following a steep, root-marred
track—heavily traveled but very rough. We descended
slinky-like-—hikers pausing at breathtaking waterfall overlooks to
be overlapped by following hikers. Down we went, pausing and passing
at Upper Whiteoak and Lower Whiteoak Falls until at last the trail
flattened to a meandering creekside return to our starting point.
Strauss recounts the more leisurely day enjoyed by The Casuals:
Brockman, Ellie Dayton, Rick and Christine Hammitt, Nikos Monoyios
and Valerie Brackett, Ed Strauss, John Van Horne, Randall Turk and
caravaned our cars for about an hour to the trailhead at the foot of
Whiteoak Canyon, and hiked north through the woods for about 1.5
miles of steady climb until we reached Lower Whiteoak Falls, just as
the trail turned sharply upward, signaling that this would be a
worthwhile turnaround point for The Casuals. There we enjoyed
picturesque photo ops and our well-earned box lunches. We were back
to our cars by 3 p.m. and at Skyland by 4:30.
6 p.m. our reunited full-strength contingent drove down off the Blue
Ridge to the nearby valley floor for a tour of the truly spectacular
Luray Caverns: chamber after magnificent chamber of subterranean
splendors, countless columns, stalactites, and stalagmites. Then we
savored an excellent, elegant dinner at the Mimslyn Inn in Luray.
the 16th we again separated into two groups.
group included Bill "Rock” Brockman, Andy Dayton, Daryl English,
Diana Foster, Tom Hoster, Tom Jones, Steve Massad, "Merc” Morris,
Eric and Mara Mellum, Helena Novakova, Cameron Smith, Bob Wright,
Joan Zwiep and guest Mike Camp’70.
previously heard that Old Rag was the most popular hike in Shenandoah
National Park—the nearly full parking lot, a staffed ranger station
and multiple comfort stations confirmed the assessment. A lot of
people had the same idea. We signed in and moved along a residential
road until ascending to the trailhead with its obvious entry into the
hardwood forest. Modest switchbacks carried us up through a towering
canopy with little understory all brightened by leaves just turning
fall color. We gained elevation inside the woods oblivious to the
height attained but feeling the demand of grade and elevation. We
regrouped beside some immense boulders with a peek at forest floor
beyond far below. It was a hint of the height, but no clue to the
then rounded a bend and the trail ended at big rocks—BIG ROCKS!
with no noticeable path and only fading six inch long blazes of blue
paint indicating the route. One good blaze led to another
until—-Whoa! We had to slide right around a bulging rock on our
left that pushed us outward with little more than air on our right.
Okay! We got that one and then—Whoa! Up onto a ledge to squeeze
under a pack-slapping overhang to scramble up a boot-polished rock.
Immediately we were chasing the blazes and our trepidation upwards.
wasn’t hiking. This was "Chutes and Ladders” in granite.
we went into a 10-foot deep slot, out and up through a tunnel formed
by a cap rock wedged between two semi-trailer sized boulders; around
a rock bend and down again. We squeezed, dropped, slipped and slid,
perched and pushed, gulped, gasped and scrambled onwards until we
popped out onto a massive downward sloping slab of rock. There below
us and as far as we could see was Piedmont Virginia.
we there, yet?”-a choral query.
up there,” came the answer as eyes strained to see faint figures a
quarter mile distant and at least 300 feet higher.
we charged, emboldened by our earlier victories only to be repeatedly
challenged by Old Rag’s rock labyrinth. It was playschool and we
were learning the scraped knee truths of rock scrambling: you can
do things you don’t think you can; yes, you can squeeze through
that crack; yes, you can step up on a hope and stride forward on a
shadow. Besides, if these twelve year olds darting past you can do
it, you can too…
you gotta follow the blazes….
scrambled our way to the top without incident save for one scraped
knee and a brief "rockabout”, when enthusiasm for "up”
missed a left turn blaze. (For the record, directions were sought and
brisk wind whipped the summit and four climbers posed atop the apex
with a picture of our late classmate, Rick Lang, memorialized the
same day at a service in New Jersey.
mood was jubilant. This hike was the first of its type for many of us
and the universal response was "Wow, that was fun.”
on the mountain and then the hike down a rocky trail that delivered
us on a wonderful, wooded fire road. We strolled back to our cars,
tired but on a rocky mountain high, Shenandoah style.
Casuals, Melanie Brockman, Ellie Dayton, Barclay Foord, Rick and
Christine Hammitt, Nikos Monoyios and Valerie Brackett, Anne Strauss,
Ed Strauss, John Van Horne, Randall Turk and Farah Farhoumand, stayed
on the mountaintop for the day’s
explorations. One morning hike, led by Matt, a National Parks
Service Ranger, was on a fairly level path about 1.5 miles to and
from a celebrated overlook point, Stony Man, with panoramas east over
the Luray Valley, Massanutten Mountain, and the distant Alleghenies
in West Virginia. In the afternoon, starting and ending at Milam
Gap, a few miles south of Skyland, a Casuals group hiked for several
miles along the fabled Appalachian Trail, entertained with prolific
AT lore by a ranger appropriately named Woody.
evening we again gathered for dinner and exchanged tales of our
adventures atop the stunningly beautiful Blue Ridge.
the 17th we drove south to Monticello, just outside
Charlottesville. There we enjoyed a full day of immersion in the
life, genius, and varied fortunes of Thomas Jefferson, in a program
thoughtfully constructed by our classmates John and Christine Van
Horne. After viewing a film and exhibits at the Visitor Center, we
first visited the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson
Studies, where we enjoyed a sandwich lunch and a talk by J. Jefferson
Looney (Princeton PhD *83), editor of the The Papers of Thomas
Jefferson, Retirement Series (including every letter written and
received by Jefferson, from the time he left the White House in 1809
to his death in 1826; the pre-1809 papers are being edited at
Princeton’s Firestone Library). Jeff
engagingly described the challenges and delights of this monumental,
decades-long undertaking. We also toured Kenwood, the adjacent 1941
home that served as a wartime retreat for FDR.
then spent the afternoon in and around Monticello itself, beginning
with a tour of the trees, flowers, and vegetable gardens led by the
charming Gabrielle Rausse, Monticello’s
Director of Gardens and Grounds, including an alfresco tasting of
wines that he has been able to cultivate more successfully than
Jefferson was ever able to. We then toured virtually every room of
the fascinating, legendary house, including the recently opened and
furnished second floor, the unfurnished third floor (inside the
dome), and the cellar.
Monticello ("little mountain”) we proceeded to the top of
adjacent Montalto ("high mountain”), recently acquired by the
Thomas Jefferson Foundation, where a stately early-1900’s
house now serves as an elegant conference center, and there we
enjoyed delicious dinner of local barbecue dishes. We were welcomed
by Leslie Greene Bowman, President of the Foundation, and enjoyed a
stimulating and engaging talk by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy
(Oxon.), professor of history at UVA and director of the Smith
Center, about why Jefferson deserves ongoing study and top rank among
the Founding Fathers.
morning we departed in every direction, already savoring the memories
of fall colors, rocky scrambles, historical insights, and the good
fellowship which has become the hallmark of our Class Trips going
back fifteen years.
Brockman, Ellie Dayton, Barclay Foord (Friday), Rick and Christine
Hammitt, Nikos Monoyios and Valerie Brackett, Anne Strauss (Friday),
Ed Strauss, John Van Horne, Randall Turk and Farah Farhoumand, Sallie
Wright, and of course, Ginny.
Run Hike participants:
"Rock” Brockman, Andy Dayton, Diana Foster, Tom Hoster, Tom
Jones, Steve Massad, "Merc” Morris, Eric and Mara Mellum, Helena
Novakova, Cameron Smith, Anne Strauss, Chris Van Horne, Bob Wright,
Joan Zwiep and guests Mike Camp ‘70 and Barclay Foord.
"Rock” Brockman, Andy Dayton, Daryl English, Diana Foster, Tom
Hoster, Tom Jones, Steve Massad, "Merc” Morris, Eric and Mara
Mellum, Helena Novakova, Cameron Smith, Bob Wright, Joan Zwiep and
guest Mike Camp’70.
Photos can be found here.