Sunday, June 4, 2017

Whiteoak Canyon and Hawksbill Mountain, VA (4011')

Back in April, I decided to treat myself to a backpacking trip in Shenandoah National Park for my birthday. The plan was to hike in from the east via Whiteoak Canyon, swing around to tag the high point of the park, 4011-foot Hawksbill Mountain, and then continue down the Appalachian Trail to Big Meadows Campground, where I'd camp for the night. I'd spend the next day making my way back to my car however I felt like it, perhaps by way of the deliciously sinister-sounding Dark Hollow Falls?

I rearranged my work schedule, cleared my social calendar, packed my bags, and waited...

...until the day of, when I checked the weather and saw it was scheduled to thunderstorm every night that weekend. Discretion is the better part of valor; I stayed in town. Work kept me homebound through the next two weekends, and more thunderstorms through a third... would I ever get to take this trip?

I finally set out on the 19th, nearly a month later than intended. Despite the delays, I was excited: it would be my first proper backpacking trip, my first chance to use the Osprey overnight pack that had spent four years holding hats in my closet. Whatever happened out there, it would be an adventure.

To get there, I retraced the route I'd taken to Old Rag Mountain that winter; the Whiteoak trailhead was just a few miles south from there off VA-231. The drive was uneventful except for a tense moment when a family of geese waddled onto US-211 right in front of my car. I braked hard and managed to stop just in time. The poor gander wound up three feet from my bumper, honking his head off as if he'd had the right of way. (Maybe he thought he had?)

As I approached the mountains, I noticed that their upper ridges still looked brown compared to their lower slopes. The leaves had come in weeks ago back home; had they not yet up there?

Soon after, I pulled into the Whiteoak Canyon parking lot, which was tucked into a narrow stream valley at the end of Weakley Hollow Rd.