Monday, September 19, 2016

Cedar Run/Whiteoak Canyon

We well and truly got our asses kicked by a trail yesterday. Because of other commitments, illness, and injury, it's been a few weeks since we did any real hiking (Blackwater Falls doesn't count as it was flat) and it showed. Still, even if we had been hiking every weekend recently, this hike we did yesterday have been a bitch, with 2200 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles.

While the weather was still warm enough to get in the water, we wanted to go back to Whiteoak Canyon and hike the loop in reverse, going up Cedar Run to Skyline Drive, then parallel to Skyline Drive for a couple of miles, and then back down Whiteoak Canyon. Earlier in the spring, we hiked Whiteoak Canyon to the bridge at the upper falls before turning around and descending back to the car. That hike was a bitch back then. Yesterday was more of the same.

Yesterday, it was all we could do to get to Skyline Drive from the bottom of the hill. The middle section along Skyline over to Whiteoak Canyon was a nice respite, but we were good and tired by the time we hit the upper falls and the hike back down the canyon on rubbery legs was not all that fun. And the scenery wasn't there for us either: the leaves are falling, the water level is way down because of the drought, are patches of wildflowers that were blooming in June are now all burnt up.

Despite a really late start (Ann didn't stir until 8am), we were among the very first cars in the parking lot when we arrived just shy of 10am. After saddling up and checking in with the rangers at the little shack in the parking lot, we headed up the trail, forking left to hike the circuit clockwise. The primary interest in going this way was to check out the famous waterslide. I was a little worried about the waterslide because of the lack of water in the creek; it has been weeks since we have had any rain.

After a strenuous uphill climb, we came to the lower waterfall on Cedar Run where some girls were jumping from the rocks some 12 feet above the water. The depth of the pool in the picture below looked to be about 7-8 feet. You can see Annie surveying the action at the top of falls.

Lower Waterfall on Cedar Run
After another steep climb that left both of us breathing really hard (that's the bitch about waterfalls: you have to have steep terrain to have them at all), we came to the famous waterslide just as another group was leaving. We had it all to ourselves and took a nice break here to catch our breath. There isn't much water coming down the face of the rock, but it was enough.

The Waterslide

Working up the Nerve
While I stood at the bottom, Ann climbed up and tried to get up the nerve to move over into the cold water and start sliding down into the pool at the bottom that was about six feet deep. Going down that first run, she overcorrected and started down sideways, creating a huge tidal wave of water at the bottom.

Ooh! Bad Form!

Points Off for Lack of Style!
The second run was a lot better and she maintained her victory salute all the way into the water, crazy girl!
Round Two: Styling!

Victory Salute All the Way in!

Sugar Maple Leaf on the Water
Above the waterslide, we struggled on, stopping briefly for Korean pulled pork wraps on the way up. The final mile to the top, though much less steep than below, was tough. It took all we had to slog on, but we did. I can't tell you what a tease it is being able to hear cars on the parkway above for several minutes of walking.

It's that time of year. The time when rain has been scarce for weeks, when the leaves on the trees (especially the tulip poplars, black locusts, and some of the maples) are starting to fall, and when wildflowers are starting to fade. We saw a very few random sunflower-type plants blooming here and there. But this is the time of year for asters and we saw several types blooming all up and down the mountain.

Random Sunflower
We really didn't start seeing a lot of color until we had reached about 3000 feet after climbing all morning. Once we cleared this magic threshold up the mountain, we started seeing large swatches of goldenrods that don't look anything like our lowland goldenrods. I am pretty sure that these are Roan Mountain Goldenrods. They were in the company of lots of asters and other more common-looking Solidagos.

Roan Mountain Goldenrod, Solidago roanensis

Asters Blooming Everywhere

Phenomenal (Poisonous) Doll's Eyes/Baneberry, Actaea pachypoda

Hepatica americana

Beat Up Pearl Crescent, Phycoides tharos

Cabbage White, Pieris rapea, a Common Garden Pest
I saw rafts and rafts of beautiful chicken of the woods mushrooms just ripe for the picking. We Left No Trace, but I couldn't help but think how delicious these are in parmigiana, in lasagna, and as mock schnitzel. Pretty much anything you can do with chicken breast, you can do with these mushrooms that have the texture and flavor of chicken breast marinated in lemon. I have been accused of serving chicken by more than one vegetarian visitor to the restaurant.

Super Delicious Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus sulphureus
After the long, tiring climb up to Skyline Drive we headed north in the direction of Skyland on the Skyland-Big Meadows bridle trail, which is clearly not used much by the equestrian set. There were no horse apples at all to be seen along this trail or the Whiteoak Fire Road onto which the bridle trail dumped. We followed this gentle road across and down the hill to the intersection with the Whiteoak Canyon Trail at the bridge just above the upper falls.

When we got to the ford just below the bridge, there was almost no water coming through, about 18 inches less than when I rockhopped the ford back in June. This lack of water would really make the falls less striking than earlier in the year. Contrast the photo below with the photo in the June blogpost in which Ann is doing her warrior pose in this same place with ample whitewater tumbling over the cliff behind her, the cliffs clad in lush green.

Upper Falls, Whiteoak Canyon
I've just got to say that while going up is tough on the heart and lungs, going back down, especially with rubber legs, is also very tough in a very different way. Though the camera flattens the perspective in the photo below, Ann is about 20 feet ahead of me and already about six or seven feet below my feet. Going down Whiteoak Canyon is steep and it hurts the knees, burns the quads, and works the calves pretty hard. Our trekking poles really helped. Ann had them on the prior trip but I had yet to get some. I was thankful for mine yesterday.

Brutal Downhill
Here is the view from the exposed clifftop that is my favorite part of the trail. Back in June this whole clifftop was covered in gorgeous wildflowers. Now it is a sea of burned up plants and with the falling leaves, giving a much clearer view of the mountains to the south.

My Favorite Part of the Whiteoak Trail
You may notice not as many photographs of the creek as in June. This is due in part to two things. First, although the lack of leaf cover makes the falls much more visible now, there just isn't any water in the creek and not much to photograph. And second, after a brutal hike, we were both thinking (though I don't think either of us expressed it verbally) "Fuck the waterfalls; let's get to a beer!

Lower Falls, Whiteoak Canyon
And get to a beer we did after a long 50-minute drive in to Front Royal for our post-hike celebration at PaveMint. Ann had an imported beer from Avery Brewing in Colorado, a wit called White Rascal. I had a native beer from Old Bust Head in nearby Warrenton, a left coast IPA called Graffitti House. We are both sad to say that the new menu at PaveMint isn't as good as it was in the spring and the food is not executed as well either. Nothing we had yesterday was salted at all.

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