Access: Trailhead off Skyline Drive (paved road), Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required
This is one of the best hikes in the South District of Shenandoah National Park. This hike combines two major viewpoints in the South District of Shenandoah and follows the high northern ridgeline of Trayfoot Mountain, one of the most distinctive peaks of the South District. The open talus slope at Blackrock provides the most sweeping view of the entire South District, while the sandstone summit of Furnace provides a more intimate view of Dundo Hollow and Shenandoah Valley as well as a chance to spot some trace fossils. The high, ridgeline trail that connects the two is especially beautiful in the spring when white and pink mountain laurel bloom.
I did this hike on the very last day of my spring semester, scheduling to leave Charlottesville an hour before the end of my last final exam. After turning in my half-hearted attempt at a rather ridiculous final, I headed off to Shenandoah with two friends. The weather that day was beautiful: blue skies and temperatures in the 70s.
We drove up I-64 to Rockfish Gap and were a good ways up on Skyline Drive before we finally decided on what hike to do. The day was so beautiful that I couldn't bear not going back to Blackrock, one of my favorite spots in the South District, so we decided on a hike to Furnace Mountain via Blackrock.
The parking lot at Blackrock Summit was completely empty when we arrived- astounding considering how beautiful the day was. We made our way up the fire road to the Appalachian Trail and followed it a half mile to the huge boulders at the Blackrock talus slope, which one of my friends realized he had actually visited as a kid. We climbed to the summit to the incredible 270-degree view of Rocks, Turk, Bucks Elbow, Calf, Scott, Humpback, Devil's Knob, and Big Levels to the south; Trayfoot to the west; Furnace, Austin, Massanutten, Rockytop, Hightop, Loft, and Big Flat to the north. Dundo and Paine Hollows were both ridiculously rich and green.
|Geraniums on the Trayfoot Mountain Trail|
|View from Trayfoot's northern talus slope|
Past the talus slope, we descended on the ridgeline, with occasional views to Abbott Ridge and Hall Mountain, two subridges of Trayfoot Mountain, and a growing amount of mountain laurel. At one point, I even saw a young hemlock tree- one of the few live hemlocks I've seen in the park. Unfortunately, white egg sacs dotted the branches of the eastern hemlock- the woolly adelgid had already begun its deadly work on this young specimen of what was once a dominant tree in the eastern forests. We also found an interesting fruit of some sort that none of us recognized; we attributed it to being an alien egg, which is obviously the most logical conclusion that we could draw.
Finally, 2.3 miles away from Blackrock, we came to the intersection with the Furnace Mountain Trail. We headed right toward the mountain, passing through huge patches of mountain laurel and views of the Big Levels and the Valley of Virginia. The rock here was very clearly Erwin sandstone: I even found some examples of Skolithos, a fossilized Cambrian worm trace that is characteristic of the Erwin formation in Shenandoah. We passed the fire pit at the summit of Furnace and descended to the large rock viewpoint, where we had dinner while watching patches of sunlight dance among the clouds and among the various peaks of Rockytop Ridge. I remembered the hidden rock viewpoint to the east of the proper viewpoint and made my way back over to it for the view of Big Flat, Dundo Hollow, and Trayfoot Mountain. The green of spring, which had started two months ago in the most sheltered spots in the Piedmont, had finally completed its journey: two of the highest peaks of the South District were now crowned with a new, lush canopy.
|Austin and Massanutten Mountain from Furnace Mountain|
|Furnace Mountain sunset|
I was always convinced that I didn't like Virginia when I was in high school. I thought that the state was backwards and boring; a place that I couldn't wait to leave. It's interesting that in just three years, I've had a rather major change of heart; I'm now not sure how I'll ever be willing to give up living here. This hike epitomized everything that I love about the Blue Ridge and served as a fitting ending of a rather eventful two semesters in which I learned much about Virginia and even more about how I love it.