Trip Report: Central SNP Loop: Cedar Run, Hawksbill, Stony Man, Old Rag

Posted by Michael Martin on

“In my first 30 minutes hiking with this group, I saw a bear. Then, two guys got naked.” –Mike Korin

Every once in a while, we do a trip where the people, the weather, the trail all combine for a really fantastic weekend. Our Shenandoah loop this weekend was pretty much that experience. I think we were all, perhaps, a little nervous when we met up at the White Oak parking lot Saturday around 10am. I don’t think I had ever done a hike where six people had never backpacked with the group before, and the route I had selected, though perhaps technically “low mileage” for us, was far from a walk in the park. George and John Lambert had come up from the Norfolk area with Amos—they are in their local search and rescue organizations. I knew Giuseppe had an impressive resume as a climber. Mike had hiked and backpacked all over the world and used to work for the Forest Service. Noah is a former AT thru-hiker. Everybody seemed game for anything.

Oh, and I did mention? Denise had never backpacked before. Not a single night in the woods. When I mentioned that at the trailhead, I’m sure everyone questioned my sanity, but I had seen her on Leading Ridge, the previous weekend, in the ice. I knew she was tough.

Well, soon enough, we were walking up Cedar Run on our way to Hawksbill. Anyone who has ever done this climb knows that it’s one of the tougher climbs in the park—about 3,000ft. from the base of the Shenandoah to the highest point in the park, at about 4,050ft., over 4 miles. Almost immediately, at the first creek crossing, a small black bear crossed our path. Giuseppe saw a second one on the left. As the climbing started in good earnest, our line got strung out a little and Giuseppe and Brian took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to skinny dip in one of the swimming holes.

We reached the summit of Hawksbill in great order, enjoyed the bluebird skies there, took lots of pictures, and lounged around with a long lunch. We had so many picture-taking opportunities on this trip that I’m sure we resembled a traveling troupe of models for Backpacker Magazine. Soon enough, we were off, reaching the AT on the backside of Hawksbill. The threatened ice (we all had spikes and I actually had my ice ax, again) did not materialize, but there was some slush and a few tricky parts. So, AT north to Skyland and Stony Man.

Here, I think nature put on one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. From the summit of Stony Man, the sky was bathed in the most beautiful blues and reds. Little Stony Man was awash in gold light, and the mountains to the north glowed. We probably took 500 pictures, collectively. Is this an effect of having the sun so far to the south? I don’t know, but it made even me look like a decent photographer. Brian, by the way, revealed himself to have an uncanny trick for nosing out the best spots for a photo.

Seriously, check out the pictures for this trip.

Soon enough (after the leader (ahem!) had a little issue finding the intersection with Nicholson Hollow), we were on our way down the mountain. Most of this walk we did in the twilight, and then with headlamps on—Corbin Cabin, the Hannah Run Trail, and finally the intersection with Hot Short Mountain at about 7pm. We camped there. Noah revealed his mad ninja skillz as a thru-hiker. After loafing a bit on Skyline Drive to watch the lingering sunset and listen to a fellow strum Bob Dylan on a guitar, he found our campsite all alone, well after dark. We cheered as he strolled in, acting like it was nothing.

Everybody slept in a variety of unusual UL shelters—a Trailstar and several bivies, as well as a few different tents. George and John were trying out their homemade Tyvek bivies. I believe the results were mixed. It was really too warm for us to brag about the shelters—the temperatures were nowhere near freezing.

We had collectively decided against making for Old Rag’s summit too early, as Saturday’s morning was very foggy and we feared that we’d just be climbing through a cloud. We all wanted to take pictures! So the wake up call came at 5:30am and we were on the trail by 6:45am. A lazy start! But we were correct, Nicholson Hollow and the Weakley Hollow fire road were bathed in a Dickensian fog. As we climbed Old Rag, though, the blue skies opened out, and the ridge itself reared up above the clouds. On the scramble, Brian and Mike took some of the best DC UL photos I’ve ever seen. We spent about an hour on the windy summit, taking photos, chatting, and just enjoying the spectacle of the clouds below us.

A quick descent down the backside of the mountain, then a left into Berry Hollow, and we were back at the trailhead. I still need to get my GPS data into Google Earth (tonight), but our splits were 16-9. I believe that our total gain for the trip was about 6,000 ft. (I will check this), so about 12,000 ft. of change. To put that in perspective, Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River and back is about 8,800 ft. of change. Paradise to the summit of Rainier and back is about 18,000 ft (of change). So, a solid weekend of climbing: don’t underestimate the Appalachians.

Noah, George, John, Mike, and Giuseppe were all true DC ULers born—they more than earned their status as members. I hope they do many, many trips with us in the coming months. But I really have to hand it to Denise. She weighs about 100 lbs., sopping wet, but she carried her pack (which didn’t fit her at all (the sternum strap was across her belly!)) over this loop as fast as anybody … on her first trip. I’m certain that none of us could say that we took a first backpacking trip as difficult as this one. So, seriously, well done.

Thanks everyone for such a fantastic trip!


PS Oh, and two people got trail names this weekend. Denise is “Twinkle Toes” and I’m “U-Turn”!

Denise Murray posted on

Great write up Michael! You have a knack for organizing trips & the review is spot on. Thank you for the praise, the planning & everything that made this possible for me, & thank you to the rest of the group as well. I will never forget it & hope to go on SEVERAL more. 19 (?) this year, I believe... Haha!! This was simply the beginning for me. John, the trail name has stuck because I am so very graceful. The quote in the beginning, per Mike Korin, classic! I missed the two naked men, as I was too busy trucking upwards, however, I did glimpse the bear! Old Rag was gorgeous & very unique. I've been told that it was quite a difficult trip with which to begin my backpacking career. I agree! And I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. - Denise 'Twinkle Toes' :)