Hatchet Hikes: Farther Afield | Stony Man at Shenandoah

Continuing from Clingmans Dome...

We intended to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains, but every parking lot we passed had lines of cars spilling out onto the road. With COVID peaking in the rural south, we figured we best just get to 81 and book it northeast towards Virginia. Beautiful and special as the Smokies were, we couldn't shake the feeling that there were too many of us running around. 

Interstate 81 runs north-south through the Great Appalachian Valley keeping farmland rolling up to the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains to the east following a route taken by Indigenous people, European settles, Civil War armies, and migrating animals. 

We had camped in Shenandoah before. Almost two years earlier to the day. We were starting to see a pattern. Heavy wet clouds settling in at dusk on mountaintops with intermittent precipitation lingering till the sun burned them off. 

There is nothing more wonderful than camping in the rain. The patter of drops on the thin sheet between you and the elements. That thin miracle revealing how little is needed for shelter. 

We hiked Stony Man in the morning. The trail opened with an stunning field of ferns. Soon we came across this unlikely tree proving life's fortitude.

I admit, I still have my preference for the dark forbidding pines Thoreau describes, but to be among the lushness of the trail was a rush.

It wasn't completely desolate by any means, but it was peaceful. I have come to really enjoy spotting shelf fungi. Like miniature forest cities. 

I love indications of the natural world reclaiming itself. There's beauty in lichen growing over a trail marker.

As the trail progressed, the clouds started to burn off, and we were rising into thinning vegetation, brighter green hues.

My parents describe the twist in a tree in terms of "torquing." Here you can see stripes on tree bark twist around its core.

The peak appeared from the blue. Suddenly, we were high on a rocky crest, eye-level with cumulus clouds, overlooking the valley we'd driven for many hours. 

If you have a full day in Shenandoah, you should totally hike Old Rag. A truly wonderful hike through all sorts of different terrain. But if you have an opportunity to check out Shenandoah National Park - if only briefly, it is absolutely worth it.

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