Shenandoah and Monticello, October 2015
We gathered on Wednesday evening October 14, at the Skyland Resort'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 "excruciating."
On 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 autumn colors.
Merc” 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.
We 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.
A 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.
The 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.
Ed Strauss recounts the more leisurely day enjoyed by The Casuals:
Melanie Brockman, Ellie Dayton, Rick and Christine Hammitt, Nikos Monoyios and Valerie Brackett, Ed Strauss, John Van Horne, Randall Turk and Farah Farhoumand.
We 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.
At 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.
Friday the 16th we again separated into two groups.
Our 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.
We 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 climb ahead.
We 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.
This wasn’t hiking. This was "Chutes and Ladders” in granite.
Down 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.
"Are we there, yet?”-a choral query.
"Look up there,” came the answer as eyes strained to see faint figures a quarter mile distant and at least 300 feet higher.
Off 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…
But you gotta follow the blazes….
We 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 received).
A 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.
Our mood was jubilant. This hike was the first of its type for many of us and the universal response was "Wow, that was fun.”
Lunch 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.
The 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.
That evening we again gathered for dinner and exchanged tales of our adventures atop the stunningly beautiful Blue Ridge.
Saturday 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.
We 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.
After 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.
Sunday 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.
Melanie 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.
Cedar Run Hike participants:
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.
Old Rag Climbers
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.
Photos can be found here.