|Statuesque Dwarfed Pine; Looking at Signal Knob Across Fort Valley|
We left Winchester about 7:55 and arrived at the trailhead about 8:30, turning east out of Strasburg on route 55, then south on Fort Valley Road, and then east again on Mountain Road and just past the Front Royal Fish Hatchery. The trailhead is not super well marked, but I expected this and we had no problem finding it. We were about the fourth car in the small parking area that had about 15 cars when we came back down off the mountain.
|Tiny Trailhead Sign Hidden Behind Tree|
|Fleabane All Around Parking Lot|
|Ditto Oxeye Daisy|
|We Climbed About Halfway to Shawl Gap|
|Small Blue Indigo|
After a mile and a half or so, the trail started to climb and the trees started to change over from the beech-oak forest through which we had been walking to a higher elevation mixed oak and pine scrub forest with azalea, rhododendron, blueberries, and mountain laurel. As we rounded the northern flank of the mountain, we came upon a spectacular view looking north over the fish hatchery towards Winchester.
|Front Royal Fish Hatchery 400 Feet Below|
|Yoga Warrior in Action|
|Strike a Pose|
Climbing south up the spine of the ridge was fun. There is something I like about hiking the spine of a mountain where everything drops away from me on both sides, a feeling of being on top of the world. Soon enough, we emerged through the trees onto the really rocky spine of the mountain. We found in some places the trail wasn't really a trail but a scramble through rocks with no clearly demarcated trail. As we headed south, our right feet were in Shenandoah County and our left feet were in Warren County.
|Trail? What Trail?|
|Trekking Poles No Good Here|
The views at the top were spectacular as we emerged into full sun to find several formations of nearly upright sandstone. I cannot even begin to imagine the force required to take this rock and shove it nearly vertical. We could see 180 degrees from the town of Fort Valley in the south to Winchester in the north, across Fort Valley to Signal Knob to our west, with Passage Creek and Fort Valley Road 650 feet below us. In places the cliffs dropped away for hundreds of feet below us. No doubt this is a popular spot with rock climbers.
|Looking South Down Fort Valley|
|North Towards Winchester|
|Again, North Towards Winchester|
|Passage Creek and Fort Valley Road 650 Feet Below|
We reached the top by 10am and were not ready to call it a day, so we continued along the ridgeline perhaps a mile further south towards Shawl Gap. We saw a lot more birds along the ridgeline than I might have imagined, including a Turkey Vulture gliding below us red head gleaming in the sun, Indigo Buntings calling from lookouts, a brilliant male Scarlet Tanager serenading us, and lots of Barn Swallows following the mountains looking for bugs.
|Wild Blueberries Nearing Ripeness|
|Photographing the Photographer|
Heading back down the mountain towards the car, we came upon patches of Rattlesnake Weed that we missed in the morning with their highly variegated green and purple basal leaves and golden yellow blooms suspended high above those leaves. This flower has evaded me in the past. It has always been too dark, too windy, or both to get a decent photograph. I also saw three or four clumps of Striped Wintergreen in full bloom, but again, it was too dark to get a reasonable photo.
We got off the trail around 2:30pm with a couple hours to spare before we had to be back in Winchester to deliver Carter to Shenandoah University for a week-long leadership program, and as Ann said, we had a "thirst that needed to be quenched" and the place to do that was Christina's Café in Strasburg, about 10 minutes from the trailhead.
|Bell's Two-Hearted Ale and Port City Optimal Wit|
|Southern Tier 2xIPA and Sonoma Cider "The Hatchet"|