Thursday, May 29, 2014

Shenandoah National Park: Blackrock Summit (Blog Hike #468)

Trails: Trayfoot Mountain and Appalachian Trails
Hike Location: Shenandoah National Park, Blackrock Summit
Geographic Location: northeast of Waynesboro, VA
Length: 1.1 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2014
Overview: A short climb to an impressive, rocky view.

Directions to the trailhead: The Blackrock Summit Parking Area is located on the west side of Skyline Drive at mile marker 84.8.  This mile marker is located 19 miles south of US 33 or 21 miles north of I-64.

The hike: My two visits to Shenandoah National Park have come 14 years apart.  On my first visit in April 2000, spring had arrived in the surrounding valleys but not on the mountain.  Most of the park’s facilities were still closed that time of year, and I drove Skyline Drive, the park’s famous view-filled scenic highway, in such a hurry that I finished the last few miles in complete darkness.
            My second visit came in May 2014 on a week-long hiking trip to Virginia.  At that time of year, the park featured more activity, but the summer crowds had not yet arrived in full force.  Ironically, although I lived in Virginia for almost 3 years in between these visits, I never came here while I was a Virginia resident.
            Whether you come on vacation or as a Virginia native, in the off-season or at the height of vacation season, a visit to Shenandoah National Park offers a special treat.  Established in 1935, the park is one of the oldest national parks in the east, and the many fine trails and buildings constructed by the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) still serve park visitors well today.  Because the park is much longer than it is wide, most of the good loop hikes have short length.  I focused on the northern half of the park on my first visit, so on my second visit I focused on the southern half, starting with the short loop to Blackrock Summit described here.
Trailhead at Blackrock Summit parking area
            This hike starts on the Trayfoot Mountain Trail, which leaves the southeast corner of the parking area at an information board and yellow chain that blocks vehicle access.  As the chain and this trail’s wide path give away, this section of trail doubles as a fire road.  A few dirt waterbars have been installed in the trail to help reduce erosion.
            After 0.15 miles of moderate climbing on the fire road, you reach an intersection with the Appalachian Trail (AT).  A concrete post inscribed with the familiar AT symbol marks this intersection, which is also the beginning of the loop portion of this hike.  The loop is a little easier to hike counterclockwise, so this description will angle softly left here to enter southbound on the white-blazed AT.  The powder blue-blazed Trayfoot Mountain Trail exiting on the fire road at a hard angle left will be our return route.
Intersecting the AT
            For the next 0.25 miles the AT climbs gradually through high-elevation forest, which includes a few yellow birch trees.  At 0.4 miles, the trail curves right to enter a boulder field on the west side of Blackrock Summit.  A lot of hard work went into building this section of trail, as the grade and treadway stay nearly level despite the jagged Hampton quartzite rocks all around.  The black color of the rock is due to lichen called rock tripe that live on these rocks.  Outstanding views open to the west with the forested hills of Shenandoah National Park in the foreground, the cultivated fields of Shenandoah Valley in the middle ground, and the rugged Allegheny Mountains in the background.  Some other boulder fields can be seen on neighboring mountains.
Trail through boulder field

View to the northwest
            At 0.5 miles, where a connecting trail to Trayfoot Mountain exits downhill to the right, continue straight on the AT, soon leaving the boulders.  Ironically, the Blackrock Summit loop does not go to Blackrock Summit; you will need to scramble up the boulders to the left here if you want to obtain the actual summit.  At 0.6 miles, you reach an intersection with the Trayfoot Mountain Trail, marked by another concrete post.  Turn left to begin the return portion of this loop.
Returning on the fire road
            Still following the grassy fire road through stunted high-elevation forest, the Trayfoot Mountain Trail climbs moderately before leveling out at the highest point on this hike and then descending.  At 0.9 miles, you close the loop.  Angling right to stay on the fire road will retrace your steps 0.15 additional miles to complete the hike.  Alternatively, you can follow the AT downhill a short distance and cut cross-country to the parking area if retracing your steps seems too boring.

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