Saturday we drove to Shenandoah National Park to hike White Oak Canyon. This is one of our favorite hikes although after seeing several rattlers in mid-May several years ago, I will only hike it from Oct to April. I really do not want to get bitten by a rattler. Well as it is bitterly cold here in the Mid-Atlantic I am sure we will not run into a rattler so it's time for a hike. Alas I am not joking about the bitterly cold. The temperature is not predicted to make it higher than 30 for the next 5-6 days and the wind chill this weekend was in the single digits with gusts well over 40 mph. But it is sunny and with enough layers it is not too bad.
After bundling up with multiple socks, long johns, thermal pants, thermal shirts and a thick winter jacket we are ready for our hike. In a moment of stupidity I decide to bring my Nathan hydration pack which freezes within about 30 minutes. But it does have accessible pockets. And after realizing it was freezing, I was able to put it one layer down and unfreeze it. Of course because it has snowed and rained in MD/VA, Tristan and I also put on our yaktraks. Neck gaiters, hats, multiple gloves fill out our outfits. We are ready for the bitterly cold conditions.
Hiking is very nice. It is chilly, but manageable. Occasionally the gusts are pretty bad and nearly knock me down. But Gilligan and Tristan appear unfazed.
On our way to the waterfall, we have one stream crossing. The water is a bit high and I am not confident I can cross. Even worse Gilligan crossed half heartedly using the rocks. He steps in the water then on the rocks making them look slick. I am worried because I really do not want to fall in to water. I am pretty sure the water is about 32 degrees and the outside temperature really is no warmer. We can see the lower falls and it looks very pretty. It has ice all along the side but is still flowing.
Tristan asks if he can go to the next waterfall and I say okay. But I am a little disappointed. I know all of the other falls along white oak canyon would be very pretty. I need to toughen up in 2010. So I wander around and see a pile of fallen logs. Tristan crosses here and I decide after a few minutes I can do this if I am careful. I take off my yaktrak (putting them in my mouth...ewww!) and slowly make my way across.
After I get across I feel really proud. I did not let this obstacle stop me. But I know I will have to get across on the way back. On a positive note, I know the stream level will not rise over the day as it is very cold.
As we hike up by the first falls I take a few pictures, then continue on. We pass by some beautiful icicles formation on rocks. There are hundreds of meters of icicles some of which are easily 5 or 10 feet tall. Again I take more pictures but move swiftly as there is remnant of icicle on the trail.
The next fall is very impressive. I am not sure how much elevation gain we made but there is definitely a bit more ice along the side of the waterfall. Tristan goes down a bit closer to the fall, but I stay on the trail. Gilligan decides he needs a breather and lies down and enjoys the view. After a few minutes I realize I need to get going to stay warm. I continue climbing up. The trail is covered with snow and ice at some points and pretty clear at other times. I think the variation is somewhat due to some sections being in shadow and somewhat a function of how deep the snow might have been.
I am glad I have yaktraks although on occasion I take them off because some segments are several hundred meters long with no snow. I find it hard to walk in yaktraks and do not feel as stable while wearing yaktraks.
Pretty soon we arrive at the sign that warns of the half way point from Skyland. It warns that there is no shuttle from the location that we have parked our car to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. This means we are getting close to the upper falls. Here the trail turns into a concrete path complete with rocks. It is kind of a weird surface. Luckily it is not ice or snow covered so I keep my yaktrax off.
Just one more zig zag and we arrive at the view of the upper falls. Tristan and I discuss the rattlesnake we saw here. We will not be seeing one today!
We take a few pictures of the falls. Gilligan takes this opportunity to lie down in a snow pile. The falls are flowing and have lots of ice along the sides. While we are hiking up the canyon it is mostly sunny which makes the waterfalls very pretty.
We decide we will go to the bridge just above the falls then turn around. We get to the bridge, take a few pictures then start our walk back down to the car. We have just about 2 hours until sunset. We will need to put some pep in our step but should have plenty of time. I eat my lunch, a bagel. While I usually like tasty sandwiches and other treats during the winter I just want something that is quick, portable and easy to eat.
We start walking back down to the car. We walk quickly, mostly to stay warm. We move quickly along the sections that have the fallen icicles and just briefly stop at the waterfalls on way down. Pretty soon we arrive at the lower falls. I now have to get my courage up to cross the stream. Unfortunately crossing back is not as easy as crossing over. Aargh!! But I know I have to get back and rock hopping is not an option. I get halfway sort of turn around but realize that is a mistake. I unturn around and start working my way slowly across forward again. Finally I grab the rock on the other side.
From here to the car it is an easy walk. The majority of the trail is very wide and fairly flat. We make very good time and are back at the car well before the sun sets. We had a great day with lots of fun. This year is starting out really great.