Saturday, March 29, 2014

Driving in traffic is perhaps one of my greatest stresses. I often marvel at the level of stupidity of the people I share the road with and often arrive at my destination with a red face and what I'm sure is unsafe blood pressure levels. For instance, while commuting to a meeting I became trapped behind three cars who felt the need to drive side by side by side driving 10 miles under the speed limit. It's in these times the full appreciation of the outdoors and the isolation they provide are most evident to me.
Trail closed? Yeah right!
The trail as it enters the rock slide area.
Deep pool on Stony Creek.

One of my personal favorites for such seclusion is found in Dungannon, Virginia. Hanging Rock Recreation Area is seldom used but has beauty at every turn. The park has no doubt seen better days but it also serves as a trail head for several nice hikes including the Falls of Little Stony. I consider hiking in from the rec area the "back way" because during the summer you can drive to a short distance above the upper falls and see all the waterfalls in less than a miles hike, but I also prefer the longer route because of the numerous cascades, cliffs, and overall beauty along the 5.2 mile journey.
Cascade at the first footbridge.
Dad heading up the trail.
Awesome cascades.

My dad has become quite the hiker himself, shedding over 100lbs since last April and really being determined to get his life and health in order. I've been amazed at the transformation and blessed because now he can tag along with me without being exhausted. A few weeks ago we headed into the mountains of Virginia for hike up to the falls on one of the warmer days we've had this winter.
Creek side at the cascades.
The tree waterfall.

The trail is in great shape and remains level as it follows Little Stony Creek up the valley. A short distance into the hike is a large rock shelf that has collapsed some time ago and the massive boulders are stuck in the ground like daggers. One of the boulders has split once it hit the ground and the trail snakes narrowly between the rocks. At around half a mile the first footbridge crosses the creek and a large cascade. The trail enters a flat stretch along the left side of the creek with a large rock that stretches for over 100 yards level with the water. I love this area and always stop to take photos from different perspectives. I told dad to hike on and I would catch up with him up the trail. After getting my fill of photos I sprinted up the trail looking for dad, and was surprised at how far he had hiked in a short distance. It wasn't long before we arrived at the second foot bridge which crosses the creek at a side stream waterfall that empties into the gorge.

As the trail gained elevation I noticed large icicles formed along the gorge walls and soon snow started to line the trail. Dad and I took our time and he waited patiently as I would stop to drop the tripod for each shot. I found a nice cascade that was about a twenty foot drop below us and was able to slide down the bank and keep my feet under me impressing him that someone my size was so nimble. A tree has fell over the creek creating a perfect waterfall spanning it's length and by the size of the tree, it will be there for years to come.
Clear skies.
Snow starting to line the trail.

We made good timing and the gorge transformed before our eyes with the cliffs rising steeper and the snow getting deeper. The trail passes under a cliff were icicles hang dangerously above your head. I had to take advantage of such a unique photo op although I wasn't about to make a sound and cause them to come crashing down on me. The trail winds up the mountain away from the creek to avoid some slide damage and eventually drops back down to creek level just short of the third and final footbridge before reaching the waterfalls. On the ridge high above us Bear Rock loomed over the valley and we crossed the longest of the bridges and a short time later we were at the largest of the waterfalls on Little Stony at the observation deck the forest service has constructed. Of course, I wanted to be at the base of the falls and left dad to take a break and headed down the steep bank. I went off trail to get further downstream to include some cascades in my shots. In my haste, I lost my footing and caught my arm in a small tree causing it to get jerked painfully above my head. I wiggled free but my arm hung completely numb at my side! I tried lifting it and it wouldn't budge and used my right arm to pick it up but still nothing. I rubbed my hand over the other one for what seemed like an eternity before my fingers began to tingle and the feeling came back in my arm. Dad had missed it and I was glad as I took photos of the roaring falls. I told him about it once I reached the observation deck and he surmised it could have been a slight nerve strain or rotator cuff issue. He had me do a couple of throwing motions and stretch it over my head before determining I was a wimp and that we should move along.
The longest bridge on the trail.
Death from above.
Lower falls on Little Stony.
From the observation deck.

A short distance upstream from the lower waterfalls is the smallest waterfall on Little Stony. It's hidden off trail in a rocky cove and I didn't take time to scramble down this time. Maybe a couple of tenths of a mile upstream is the upper falls and one of the nicer falls in Virginia. It isn't very high but free falls into a large pool and can be photographed on all sides INCLUDING behind it! I could tell dad was proud we had reached our destination and was even more excited that he still felt great. I told him that he was just tuning up for our father/son hike to Mt LeConte this coming summer.
Sun peeking over Upper Stony Falls.
Dad and I.
One last look at Little Stony.

If you ever find yourself feeling the stresses of life maybe a trip to Dungannon, Virginia and Little Stony Falls will brighten your day. Hiking always helps me unwind but it also helps me focus on how blessed I am. No matter your situation there is always someone who has it worse than you. Until next time, happy trails!

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