I thought it would be a really good idea to plan a hike with two friends a couple of weeks ago. I was itching to be out in the sun, plant my feet on the trail and take in some good vistas. With that being said, I’d like to point out that I live in northern Virginia…and it’s March. This part of the country gets unwieldy snow storms through the months that you think should be sunny and warm with high temps in the 60s and 70s. It just so happens that it has snowed every week here for the past three weeks. Three weeks of wearing layers, bundling up in winter coats and scraping the car free of snow has not made me a happy girl. Alas, when I decide that I want something, that’s what sticks in my brain until I do it, and therefore, this weekend it was decided that I would meet up with two good friends (and make a new friend, as one of my friends brought a new acquaintance with her) and we would hike Stony Man Mountain. I’d read about Stony Man before; the views were supposed to be stellar and (the big plus side of this trail since I hadn’t hiked in a while) it was rated as “easy”. I don’t know who rates these trails, but whoever it is a liar. This ended up being one of the more difficult trails I’ve done.
Now, remember I told you had it has snowed quite a bit recently? We’ve had a few warm-ish days recently and for whatever reason, the prospect of a snowy trail didn’t even register in my (what must be tiny) brain. I met up with Christina (long time friend with whom I’ve hiked before) at 7:30 a.m. to make the trek to Sperryville, VA to catch up with my good friend Kate and her new friend, Abby. It was a bright, sunny day and the temperate felt fairly moderate so I was excited to hit the trail for the first time since New Years Day. As we made the drive to the entrance of Skyline Drive, peeking out of the car window I noticed how the mountains were still draped in snow, and yet, the thought of trudging through a snowy trail didn’t pop into my head. We paid our fee and proceeded along the parkway to Skyland, a parking area between mileposts 41 and 42. After bundling up and consulting our map and directions, we proceeded to the trailhead and were met with a thick carpet of snow to either side of the crystalized-in-ice trail.
This made me nervous. The last time I hiked, I hiked on trails like this and was sore for literally days afterward because of the slow-going and tedious business of staying upright. We marched on, Abby and Christina taking the lead, Kate taking small steps and me bringing up the rear with baby steps in hopes of not face planting onto the icy trail.
I’m not what one would call sure footed at all; in fact, I have a small stride and plant my feet rather lightly – both of which put me at a disadvantage when it comes to making ground and staying vertical! I felt a bit better once Christina had found me a sturdy walking stick; note to all who want to hike in the snow: trekking poles or walking sticks are your friends.
We made the short (yet icy, and slippery) jaunt to Stony Man lookout without any incidents of bum or face plants and boy was it worth it!
The views atop this summit are incredible: 360 degree views with snow-capped mountains surrounding you and an amazing view of the valley below. The photo op here was too much for me to resist and I wound up taking picture after crystal clear picture of the snowy scene.
After a little snack on the blustery lookout rocks, it was time to head back the way we came and figure out what way to go to end up at our next destination: Little Stony Man. Little Stony Man is touted as an east coast climber’s hangout; I can only assume that because of the ice and snow that there were no climbers today.
After lots of discussion, and a peek at our map and our directions, I discovered that only one out of the four of us were good with directions. Abby took the lead, blazing forward down the White Trail (the AT or Appalachian Trail). Trail conditions remained less than desirable for me, every step I made I worried that I’d end up in a split on the ground or with a broken leg or ankle. I think my trail name should be Sure Foot, don’t you? Alas, we made it to the next post with only one incident: Christina slipped and bit the dust after taking a slippery step on a rock. No blood, no foul…we kept moving on.
Once again consulting the directions and labeled post, we followed the way that read clearly “Skyland 1.4 miles”. Only this time, the trail didn’t feel right to me. We were gaining elevation and while we’d had a safe bit of distance between us and the edge of the cliff until this point, we were allotted that security no more. A few inches now separated me, (good ol’ Sure Foot) and my demise. With every step I planted my walking stick firmly, swallow in determination and try not to think of how easily it would be for me to make a stupid mistake and end up rolling down into a ravine. That right there shows how much confidence I have in my feet and balance. Needless to say, I was the next person to fall. And hard did I fall. Right on top of a rock; I landed right on my hind end while spouting an expletive I’ll keep to myself now. After getting back up, I proceeded to fall yet again. That’s right! Not once more, but twice more. The downward slope that we had come to was getting the best of me and I was none too pleased about it. But then we came to a rather steep upward slope that got the best of me.
We finally arrived at another post marker which put us on the yellow blazed trail, getting me off the blasted Passamaquoddy Trail. I cursed it and it’s ice and smiled as we hit our last 0.4 mile stretch of trail. I was thinking to myself, “this will be cake! Less than half a mile and I’m sure it’ll be relatively flat since we’re so close to the parking lot.” I was wrong. In fact, I’ve never been more wrong in my life. The trail description and directions state that there is a “slight incline” before coming to the parking lot. All I have to say to that is, “nu uh”. Slight my ass. I think what made this stretch even more challenging was that the snow was no were near as packed down to resemble an actual trail through this stretch as the previous miles we’d covered. This felt more like a walk through the woods in lightly trampled snow. Abby and Christina are total pros; they found their speed and stuck with it, stopping every now and again to make sure that I hadn’t thrown down my walking stick and sat down in the middle of the trail in protest of the cursed white stuff. This section of the trail was the worst for all of us; even good-natured Kate started asking where in the hell the parking lot was (after we heard several cars, I knew it couldn’t be far). After huffing and puffing, baby stepping, slipping and trudging along, I finally saw the blacktop of the parking lot! Once that blessed parking lot was sighted, I thanked God (and my lungs for helping me through that tough portion) and picked up my pace. We’d done it! First hike of “spring” done. Honestly, this hike may put me off hiking for a while…or at least until the snow melts and there is no more danger of a snowy forecast! Without the powerhouse that is Abby to lead the way, Christina helping me down slick downward slopes and Kate to keep pace with me, I don’t know that I could have made this hike today. The views were definitely a reward for the hard work we all put in, but I think the real prize is knowing your friends can help motivate you through the tough spots (in life and on the trail) and get you to your destination.