Monday, March 5, 2012

Turk Mountain

Turk Mountain talus slope, Rocks Mountain and Trayfoot and Massanutten
2.2 miles round trip, 690 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

Turk Mountain is an enjoyable short hike at the southern end of the South District of Shenandoah. It lies 10 miles north of the Rockfish Gap Entrance and is, in my opinion, the first hike worthy of note in the park when coming in from the south. Turk Mountain itself is one of the most recognizable peaks in this part of the park: it is at the very end of the chain of sandstone peaks that lie west of the main Blue Ridge crest in this part of Shenandoah. Its large talus slope, visible as a gash on its northwest face, is visible from Shenandoah Valley and from points along Skyline Drive to the north of the mountain. From Turk Mountain Overlook, the mountain looks pyramidal and sharp; from most other points, the mountain's long, flat summit ridge is apparent.

I headed to Turk Mountain on a very busy November morning, when I was juggling hiking with school commitments that allowed me only three and a half hours away from Charlottesville for a hike. I set out for the park with a friend early that morning, heading down I-64 and into the park through Rockfish Gap. There were very clear views to Castle Rock and Afton Valley, but I was unfortunately unable to stop for them due to my time constraint.

We parked at the trailhead at Turk Gap at around mile 95 of Skyline Drive and hit the trail, which started across the drive. The first portion of the hike followed the Appalachian Trail along the ridgeline. The Turk Mountain hike soon broke off to the right and began a descent to a gap between the main ridge and Turk Mountain. Past the gap, the trail began a steady ascent to the summit ridge. Upon reaching the ridgeline, the trail switchbacked and followed the somewhat rocky ridge past a viewpoint of Bucks Elbow Mountain to reach the true top of the peak.

Bucks Elbow Mountain from Turk Mountain
At the summit, the trail ended at the massive talus slope. Turk Mountain's talus slope gives an incredible view into the pastureland (and McMansion subdivisions) of Shenandoah Valley, Elliot Knob in the distance, and Rocks and Trayfoot Mountains to the north. There was some fun scrambling on the talus slope that I would love to go back and revisit when I have time.

Turk Mountain talus slope, Elliot Knob in the distance
The Turk Mountain talus slope is made of Erwin formation sandstone and quartzite. Unfortunately, I had just learned of the existence of Skolithos at that point, and didn't bother to look and see whether I could find any on Turk.

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