Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hike to the Top

I'd made trips to Hanging Rock State Park before. But in the past I had either concentrated on tougher hikes (Cook's Wall and Moore's Wall) and had seen most of the waterfalls in the park. However, most people who go to Hanging Rock hike to the namesake peak (Hanging Rock) and to the best known waterfall in the park, Lower Cascade Falls. But contrarian that I am, I'd always avoided those two relatively easy hikes to take on tougher trails. This time I decided to hit those two locations and be done with it.

As I discovered, both spots in the park have well deserved reputations for spectacular scenery. Hanging Rock boasts a number of cliff faces, bare summit areas, and truly impressive long range views. I think I'd avoided that 2.6-mile round trip hike in the past because I figured it would be crowded, and I generally don't like being around crowds of people when what I generally go to the forests for is to seek some solitude. And, as I'd suspected, this trail proved to be EXTREMELY popular. But what was cool is that everyone I encountered were really quiet and respectful of the place and seemed to be completely enjoying the experience. The only exception to this was a couple I saw just as I got to the top of Hanging Rock who were having a bit of an argument. Well, it was a one-sided argument with the female member of the pair being exceedingly upset that her beau had lured her into an activity that had required her to expend a great deal (in her opinion) of physical effort. Oh, well.

The hike is pretty easy. The trail is superlatively graded and maintained and follows the rolling topography of a ridge line with only one moderately tough climb right at the end. And even the climb is pretty simple because you gain about five hundred vertical feet via wood, earth, and quartzite stairs that have been lovingly engineered for hikers. In fact, a ranger and a crew of volunteers were doing some upgrading on the hike while I was there. I should have stopped to thank them, but I didn't think about doing that until I was out of the park.

This is the park office and visitor center. The mountain looming in the background is Moore's Knob, the highest peak in the park at 2,579 feet above sea level. The thing about the Sauratown Mountains is that while they aren't very high, they stand really tall above the surrounding Piedmont plains--anywhere from 1500 to 2000 feet tall. Combine that with lots of sheer quartzite cliffs and you have the makings of spectacular scenery.

The park ranger I encountered working on the trail. This contraption was for carrying heavy rock slabs up the trail. There were about six civilian volunteers helping him do the trail improvements.

A shot looking back down the trail. You can see the work and detail that went into engineering and constructing this trail.

Near the top you can look up to see the Hanging Rock itself: a tower of pure quartzite rock.

This is an boulder at the summit. This is pretty much the highest point on the peak. This is the couple having the tiff. The guy was on top of the rock trying to relax while his girlfriend stalked about bitching about the exertion involved in getting up there.

Video of one summit view.

From the top looking off toward the highest part of the Sauratown range. Directly below you can see the trail leading back to the visitor's center. The big mountain on the right is Moore's Knob with its many cliff faces.

I call this wall "In Grodd We Trust". Named after the comic book character Gorilla Grodd. I also like to joke that this formation is proof that a race of sentient gorillas once ruled the Earth.

Another nice view from the top.

Quartzite is tough but not invulnerable. Water and gravity slowly has its way with the stuff, resistant though it tries to be.

I didn't take my tripod with me, so I had to set the camera on some stuff and hope for the best with my self-portrait. You can see a girl sitting on the top of Hanging Rock behind me.

Another video.

And looking back at Hanging Rock from a distance.

Tomorrow, details of the hike down to Lower Cascade Falls.

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