Friday, March 27, 2015

In early March of 1993 I was a 13 year old living at home in Hiltons, Virginia with my mom and dad. A late winter storm was brewing and with it forecasts for record snowfalls had everyone rushing to the store to stock up and be prepared for the worst. As it turns out, the worst is exactly what we got. Over two feet of snow fell at my home during the storm. The winds with the snow caused wild drifts to form some measuring five feet or more. To this day, I still vividly remember snow above the door knob leading onto our back deck. we didn't go to school for two weeks and a week of that was without power. Needless to say, my brother and I were ecstatic. Twenty two years would pass before anything would come close to even touching it.

Now 35 years old and working in a grocery store as an assistant manager my love for snow storms has greatly diminished. With the mere mention of snow it's a mad dash and crazed shoppers rip the shelves of bread and milk. This winter has seen it's share of snow scares and actual snows. a couple of the storm systems lined themselves up on back to back days creating a nightmare scenario of over a foot of snow. Despite my dread for what was to come my mind went back to snow tunnels built on my uncles farm and riding the tractor through those huge drifts during the Blizzard of 93.

The bulk of the snow only grazed the Tricities with still respectable amounts of up to 10 inches or more that I received at my house in Gray, Tennessee. The storm instead stayed compact dumping the majority of the snow on Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia or as I call it, home. When the dust finally settled enough at work for an off day I decided I would head to the hills of Virginia to visit one of my favorite waterfalls with some of my friends, but none of us were prepared for what we would find when we got there.
Buried car roadside in Dungannon, Virginia.

Amber, Halley, and I left from Gray and as it had been a few days since it snowed last the roads were clear and patches of grass could be seen throughout the neighborhood. As we crossed Bays Mountain with very little snow I was beginning to think it might be a total bust, but the closer we got to Virginia the more snow began to pile along the edges of the road. We met John at the Food City in Weber City and huge snow mounds were all over the parking lot some of them nearly 12ft high or more. I couldn't believe the difference in snowfall amounts within a thirty minute drive! Elsewhere Shane was traveling to meet us at the trail head at Hanging Rock in Dungannon, Va from his home in Abingdon.

Highway 72 to Fort Blackmore was clear of snow but some of it was piled so deep it was even with the bottom of the truck windows. The road beyond Mann Farms in Fort Blackmore started showing patches of ice and lingering snow deepening the further we drove along the road. However the first true sign we were in for something that I hadn't seen in years happened as we went through downtown Dungannon. I seen a large mound in the snow near the road. As we got closer I could see the side mirror of a car sticking out, it was a car that was completely buried! I stopped in the middle of the road so we could take a few pictures and I began to wonder how we would even pull off the road to park at Hanging Rock.

Almost an hour earlier Shane had arrived at the trail head at Hanging Rock finding that the snow was over two feet deep and there wasn't a way to get off the road. Thankfully he was prepared with a snow shovel and while he waited on us to arrive he dug out two parking places! I can't tell you my surprise when I rounded the corner and seen Shane in a t-shirt digging snow in a trench hitting him above the knee! He pulled his truck out into the road revealing room for one more vehicle just in front of where he was parked. Everyone was stunned at how much he had shoveled JUST so we could pull off the road! What could we expect further up the mountain?
Shane at the trail head.
The START of our day! Crazy deep snow at the start of Hanging Rock Recreation Area.
Amber ready to tackle Little Stony.

As everyone jumped out of the truck we all sunk in snow of varying depths based on our heights. I had a clear advantage only having snow below my knees but John and Amber were already in snow hitting them up on the thighs. We set our sights on the Falls of Little Stony but not being able to even drive to the gated road inside Hanging Rock we now added even more walking in deep snow on top of a 2.6 mile hike. Marching through the snow added an element of extreme hiking I've never attempted. I had to lift my legs high to keep moving and in a short distance my legs were burning. Everyone was having fun though, and we played in the snow like children, pushing each other into drifts, and throwing snow balls. It's probably only a few tenths of a mile to the forest sign that starts the Little Stony National Recreation Trail but it felt like I had walked a mile or more as I was already sweating through my many layers of clothes. Little Stony was as wild as I'd seen it with the snow melt it was muddy and large chunks of ice churned downstream as we walked by. Despite his size disadvantage John took the lead as we approached Hanging Rock. The drifts between the boulders were hitting us above the belt line and it made for some dream photo ops. John scrambled up and under the Hanging Rock and we all joined him. Large icicles draped from the cliffs and I found a small ice cave where icicles had reached the ground and you could crawl behind them. Despite the cold and deep snow we were all smiles and even Amber was living it up in our winter playground.
When the snow is this deep on me, you know it's extreme! Photo by John Forbes.
John coming up what is usually a paved road.
First attempt at catching a snowball in flight...SUCCESS. Halley enjoying the stroll up to the trail head.
Trudging toward the trail head, Halley and Shane making a trail.
Drifts on the boulders near Hanging Rock.
Little Stony from Hanging Rock.
No tracks.
The snow around Hanging Rock.
I was there and it still seems unreal at how deep the snow is. Photo by John Forbes.
Amber and Halley at Hanging Rock.
Icicles from Hanging Rock.

Leaving Hanging Rock the trail was non existent and with the creek being out of banks we had to be careful where we stepped or we would end up with wet feet and a trip back to the truck. The blazes on the trees were the only thing that kept us on course. When we arrived at the first bridge crossing of the creek. The true depth of the snow was obvious. The stairs were completely buried and snow was delicately balanced on the rails up to a foot deep! I made a short video of Amber plowing through the snow giving us all a good laugh watching her high step across. Normally there are small streams that can be easily stepped across but with the raging waters we had to find ways off trail to jump the newly formed creeks. Shane saved the hike for me by convincing Amber to cross one of the wider streams, I still owe him for keeping me out of trouble! Shane and I found our stride across the stream and distanced ourselves from John, Halley, and Amber. We seemed to be in constant bewilderment as snow drifts continued to grow in size. Shane eventually stopped in his tracks saying he couldn't find a way to continue. I could see a blaze on a tree ahead but the snow was piled up chest high now. I told him we would have to dig through and we took to using sticks and our hands clearing the trail so that we could continue. On the opposite side of the drift we had to crawl under some fallen trees and I couldn't help but think of crawling through snow tunnels twenty two years earlier. Shane and I arrived at the second bridge and the first significant waterfall and decided to wait for everyone to catch up. Across the gorge a side stream fell around fifty feet making a large ice cone at it's base and I couldn't wait to get over for a closer inspection. As I watched the trail for signs of anyone coming our way I could see Amber was next to catch us! I was so proud of her for pushing through what had to be misery in places and still smiling when she saw Shane and I waiting on her. When John and Halley caught up they told us of seeing a small mouse sitting in the trail in one of our tracks and John had grabbed a few pictures. Amber elected to stay on the bridge while we explored the rocky wall and waterfall across the creek.
Amber, Shane, and John coming up the trail.
Halley being a bully as usual. Amber looking usual.
Sweet revenge! Photo by John Forbes.
Amber on the first bridge across Little Stony.
Ice build up along the banks of the creek.
Snow covered boulders along the creek.
Waist deep snow as the trail narrows around some cliffs. Photo by John Forbes.
Snow wading! Photo by John Forbes.
Shane with that look of "seriously?"
Amber's arrival at the second bridge.
Shane crawling through the snow under some fallen trees.
This is the look of pride...well at least from me.
Shane's rock paddle.
The trio under the waterfall along Little Stony Creek. Photo by Shane Estep.
a close up of the ice cone.
Shane next to the ice cone.
Krypton attempt #2. Photo by John Forbes.
From the lost Halley Burleson collection. Shane, John, and I behind the waterfall.
Thigh deep snow..on ME!
Amber making her way back.
High above Little Stony.
Our trail we blazed, what a day!

Climbing the steep bank wasn't an easy task but I plowed through making foot holds for Shane, Halley, and John. It was a welcome rest for my legs once I got under the cliffs and out of the snow. I paced up to the waterfall to inspect the ice cone. Large fragments of ice had broke free from a week of warming temperatures and they were piled around where I stepped. An idea struck me and I had Shane film me as I threw one into the ice cone in attempt to resurrect the lost planet of Krypton, a continuing just for fun series we had started on an icy trip to Rowland Creek Falls. Halley rested under the cliffs while John joined Shane and I playing under the waterfall. We took a few more pictures before deciding to hike back to Amber on the bridge. Shane needed to get back for some afternoon obligations and my feet were frozen with my boots being full  of snow, so we started hiking back not making it to the upper falls.  Normally I would be disappointed but I had seen and experienced things that some people go a lifetime without. Having Amber along for one of the more extreme trips made me feel validated as well, I often tell her the stories and show her pictures when I get home usually getting no more than a shrug or a "that's nice honey" but watching her churn through the snow made me smile knowing she would remember this one. In fact, she's the reason I've jumped a trip or two ahead to bring you this story, she just couldn't wait to relive the unforgettable day on Little Snowy...err Stony. Until next time, happy trails!
Little Stony Snow Waders. Gopro shot from the first bridge over Little Stony.

No comments:

Post a Comment