Maggie and Alicia and I drove down to Shenandoah on Monday night for a little backpacking trip. Due to some ridiculous traffic getting through Philadelphia, we didn’t get to the park entrance to self register for a backcountry camping permit until almost midnight, and then we still had an hour drive to the Berry Hollow trailhead since it’s technically outside the park. But we finally made it, and hiked up the Berry Hollow Fire Road a ways until we found a decent campsite: decent as in it was almost level and mostly clear. It was dark so we took what we could get. In the morning we found a perfect campsite a three minute walk farther. Of course.

After breaking camp, we set out up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road to the Ridge Trail to hike up Old Rag Mountain. After many switchbacks, we made it to the beginning of the fun part – the rock scramble.

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The trail goes in and over and around giant boulders, narrow chimneys, and some areas that required twisting just right to make it through. I only had to take my pack off for one squeeze though.

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And then we were rewarded with gorgeous views from the summit. After mistakenly stopping at the false summit for lunch. It gets me every time! We could see rain surrounding us in the distance and we knew there were potential storms forecasted so we ended up not hanging out at the real summit too long.

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The last time I hiked Old Rag, it was so crowded that we were standing in an actual line through the rock scramble. A lot of it can only fit one person at a time so it’s not like you can pass people. We were in line for almost two hours to get through it. This time was a welcome change with only a few other small groups hiking at the same time as us.

We descended on the Saddle Trail, stopping at the Old Rag Shelter for more food when it started sprinkling. When we were ready to head out again, I put on my rain jacket to ensure it wouldn’t actually rain. It worked!

The plan had been to hike back out the Berry Hollow Fire Road to the next trailhead down, passing the car as if it wasn’t there. The section of road between the two trailheads was paved however, and road walks are no fun, so we drove the short distance to the Whiteoak Canyon trailhead. Then we hiked slightly up the Whiteoak Canyon Trail, finding a perfect campsite not too far in.

The weather had brightened up again but as we were done dinner and cleanup and bear bag hanging and just settling in to hang out about 8:00, we heard a roar of rain coming and all booked it to our tents. My tent must have been in a pretty sheltered spot though because it never hit me too hard. The rain was over by morning.

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Hiking north on the Whiteoak Canyon Trail, we hit the first of many waterfalls within a half hour. It was a pretty steep and rocky trail but had so much to enjoy. Part of the trail was even a concrete sidewalk, which was very weird. It must be old, no one maintains trails like that now.

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After the uppermost falls, we crossed over the river and took the Whiteoak Fire Road / horse trail. I was ahead of Maggie and Alicia by ten minutes or so when I heard a twig snap. Usually it’s a chipmunk but I glanced over and saw a bear! At first it looked very small and I got nervous about mama bear so started yelling and backing away slowly. I realized it was probably at least a yearling, and it didn’t seem to be concerned with me at all. It paralleled me as I backed down the trail, about thirty feet in the woods to my left, and kept grubbing as it went. I didn’t hear or see any sign of another bear so I waited for my friends to catch up before continuing on. I did take a few pictures but, unfortunately, they were all blurry.

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We finally made it to the Cedar Run Trail and hiked back down to the trailhead. There were several very large trees down on this trail, one of them completely obliterating a switchback so that it took me a little bit of time to figure out where the trail even went.

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We did about nine or ten miles each day, nice and relaxing. The weather was super humid but we were lucky because when we got to the trailhead, another hiker told us severe thunderstorms were coming, including tornado warnings. The storm started soon after we were in the car, flooding parts of I-81 and forcing all traffic to drive with hazards on at half the speed limit or less. We pulled over for dinner and then still pulled over on the road too. Getting through one storm would put us right into the next one. I’ve never seen so much lightning before. So it was another long drive but worth it for the amazing hiking.

Written by Siren

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