Those who know me well know how much I love two 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 West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, this year’s venture did not disappoint.
In fact, this year’s venture might have been even better for two main reasons: my wife could tag along and my photography has improved immensely during the past year. This year’s venture took us to the Pedlar District of the George Washington National Forest outside Charlottesville in Virginia. Although this area is famous for Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia, and Dave Matthews Band, the area boasts some truly exceptional scenery.
During our trip’s first segment, we visited Crabtree Falls. Local tourism boasts Crabtree Falls as the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi, but I’m somewhat skeptical. While the net drop in elevation may be greater than any other series of cascades, the waterfalls is just that . . . a series of cascades. Despite that discrepancy, the waterfall is truly spectacular and no visit to the area should be complete without a visit to the observation site. Or, as in our case, a climb to the top of the primary series of cascades.
We arrived in the parking lot, after a week of sub freezing temps, to a temperature of 24 F. The result was a mostly frozen, really tall waterfall! Crabtree Falls is truly a place that should be visited in all four seasons. The opportunity to see the waterfall frozen in winter is a close second to the beautiful colors of a Virginia autumn. As we climbed the icy trail, numerous switchbacks offered unique vistas of the cascades. 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 the West, Virginia is graced with numerous rugged mountaintop rock outcroppings.
Despite having good roads to the parking lot, there’s still quite a climb to the summit. Even in the 21 F weather, I broke a sweat. With a bit of luck, we arrived at a picture-perfect moment when the rock was fully engulfed in the glow of the quickly setting sun. Every minute, the rock became more saturated with the sun’s brilliant rays . . . but, it felt like none of the rays were helping to keep us warm! (That’s the one thing that I really 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.)
We weren’t alone on the rock for long as a group of students from VCU joined us for the sunset. In the past, the extra people in my “perfect” shot of an isolated peak would’ve completely annoyed me, but these students were greatly enjoying the view so I was happy to share the peak.
The sun quickly faded after a spectacular show in the crystal clear winter air. Day quickly turned to a dark starry night, reminding me of what the German’s call “Still Nacht”. After packing up my equipment, I scurried back to down the parking lot–my wife already back at the car–because, after all, we had dinner and local brews to get to at our favorite pizzeria.