Shenandoah National Park, Jan 1, 1999

Renewal… That’s what this outing was all about. I was getting stale and so was Opal, my dog…. We had been sitting around too much and not getting out in places and conditions that stretched us a bit. I decided a New Year’s Day hike in Shenandoah National Park would be the remedy. I asked Ben if he wanted to go but an early morning departure after New Year’s Eve was not in his realm of what was probable.

We had to go on this day as a winter ice storm was predicted for Saturday making driving tough. We reached the park entrance at 7:50am to find 3 inches of snow on the ground and a closed gate staring us in the eyes. Closed? Why? Well, I guess I am not familiar enough with SNP to answer that question just yet but next time I am up there and there is a ranger around I will find out. Hmm, the plan had been to do an 8-mile loop, now what?

The first thing I decided was to park under the covered entrance ramp that was blocked off in case it snowed. Secondly, as I got out of the car I decided just to go; the destination would come to me. I let Opal out and she did her 5-minute routine of “I am free, not on leash, and able to run large circles for no good reason”. It was chilly (about 22 degrees) and the sun had not cleared the ridge to my east when we set out up the snow covered Skyline Drive. After about 100 yards, the Dickey Ridge trail veered off into a ravine with a flowing creek and so did we as a plan began to form.

Originally we were going to start at the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center; now it looked like that would be our destination. We started up the trail following a multitude of footprints in the snow. After about .5 miles, we were only following one set of tracks, and after the first mile there were none. We were setting a sharp pace and I had to stop twice to take off my shell and my fleece, leaving me to work up a winter sweat in my poly pro. The ridge really is worthwhile to hike along once you gain sufficient elevation to leave the ravine behind. We continued up and as we crested the ridge top the easterly wind cooled things down a bit more. Wild turkey, rabbit, and deer tracks were the ones I could identify and at one point we saw three deer running through the woods.

The damage from the ice storms of 98 was apparent everywhere a year later and I was hoping that the same forest would not see another storm in 99. Each step was a cleansing step and I was feeling and stronger with each bend in the trail. It was 5 road miles to the visitors’ center and probably 4.5 by trail. I was very surprised to arrive at the turn off for the Fox nature Trail, which I knew to be very close to the visitors’ center. As we reached the turn off for the visitors’ center I recorded 1.5 hours. We crossed the still snow covered deserted road to walk to the center across a field. A group of five deer stood in the road with their white 10″ tails standing straight up.

Opal had lost her enthusiasm for the chase and she only wanted to go to the buildings across the field. The easterly wind hit us full force as we hustled to the lee side of the building. There is something about being around deserted buildings in the winter that is cool. We looked inside and found the shelves bare of all of the books and trinkets they sell in the summer. A big “CLOSED” sign hung in the windows. Usually there would be 100 cars in this parking lot. Now, it strangely reminded me of the hotel on Mt Hood that was used in the “The Shining” movie.

We went around the building to catch the view on the west side that I knew was there. The last time I had been there was in the summer when the family went up there one Sunday night to watch the sunset. Then, we
chased persistent gnats away; today my face was stung by blowing snow and ice crystals. We quickly retreated to the east side of the building where Opal and I each had a snack. One went the Marmot Gore-Tex jacket and it would remain on until we reached the car some time later. After about 10 minutes admiring the view, Opal told me it was time to go.

We retraced our steps back to the ridge and headed down, feeling completely refreshed, emotionally and physically. We made great time back and made the return trip in less than 1.3 hours. This was a great way to start out 1999 and once again, proved the great outdoors is a great place to recharge one battery.

Beta: Dickey Ridge Trail, Shenandoah Natl. Park. Approx. 8 miles RT, 800 elevation gain, 3 hours.