Those who know me well, know how much I love 2 things: cold weather and forests. Therefore its natural that I take an annual trip deep into the woods on one of the coldest days of the year. While not as cold as the previous year’s -10 F venture into the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia, this year’s venture did not disappoint.
In fact, I’d say that this year’s venture was better because: A. my wife could tag along and B. my photography has improved immensely over the past year. Our venue this time was to the Pedlar District of the George Washington National Forest, also known as the mountains to the Southwest of Charlottesville, Virginia. In addition to being the home to Thomas Jefferson, UVA, Dave Matthews Band, many great breweries, the area boasts some truly exceptional scenery.
For the first segment of our trip, we chose to visit Crabtree Falls, which boasts (by local tourism agencies) “the tallest waterfall” East of the Mississippi. I’m somewhat skeptical, because while the net drop in elevation may be greater than any other series of cascades, the waterfalls is just that a series of cascades (multiple waterfall). That out of the way, the waterfall is truly spectacular and no visit to the area would be complete without gazing up at it. Or in this case, climbing to the top of the primary series of cascades.
We arrived in the parking lot to a temperature of 24 F, after a week of sub freezing temps. The result: (mostly) frozen really tall waterfall! This is truly a place that should be visited in all 4 seasons. And next to autumn, I’d say seeing the waterfall frozen up in winter is a close second. Climbing the trail, zig zagging up the mountain through switchbacks we climbed the icy trail, seeing numerous unique and differing vistas of the cascades. Finally arriving at the top, we were greeted by a beautiful vista down the “ice chute” and a view of the still rushing stream up above.
For our next adventure of the day, we drove back up twisty Virginia 56 to its intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway at 3000′. We hopped on the parkway and drove almost to its end, to the trail-head for Humpback Rocks.
While not as rugged as a Western state, Virginia is graced with numerous rugged mountaintop rock outcroppings. Some of them are downright impressive, and this is one of the better ones…or at least one of the most popular. Proximity to a large college town and good road access also help.
Despite having good roads to the base…they still make you climb a little…I actually broke a sweat, despite taking off my fleece and it being 21 deg. outside. We arrived just at the right time, the rock was fully engulfed in the glow of the quickly setting sun. Every minute, the rock became more saturated with more and more of the sun’s brilliant rays…and it felt like none of them were doing anything to warm my now cold body. The one thing that I don’t like about hiking in the winter: you have to be very careful to manage your body’s temperature and not sweat so much that you soak your clothes…fortunately I’ve learned how to control this, but it’s still cold!
Back to talking about the photography, we weren’t alone on the rock. In fact there was another photographer and a group of college students from VCU in Richmond. In the past, I would’ve been completely annoyed with other people scampering about the rock, ruining my “perfect” shot of an isolated wild mountain peak. But, people make great subjects, especially when they’re enjoying the very place that you came to capture…I was actually quite glad that they were there.
The sun quickly faded, but not before putting on a spectacular show in the crystal clear winter air. Day quickly turned to night, quickly becoming a dark starry night, what the German’s call: Still Nacht. I packed up my equipment and rushed down (My wife already back at the car), because after all we had dinner and local brews to get to at our favorite pizzeria.