With winter clinging to the last few days of March before spring arrived, Andy and I took off to George Washington National Forest to complete the last of the Hone Quarry hikes.
I’ve written about these three hikes earlier: Our first was in May 2020 to Hone Quarry Falls where a beautiful twenty-five foot waterfall was found. Our second was six days later in May to Hone Quarry Ridge where wildflowers lured us on as we walked the ridge of the mountain. Now we were walking the longer and harder of the three: Oak Knob and Pond Knob. Here are more details:
Almost eight mile loop hike
A 2,250-foot elevation gain
Level Four of Five difficulty
This hike was said to have two amazing overlooks, and while it was not supposed to be a difficult trail in the realm of hiking, I think it largely depends on the season one sets off. With the last offerings of winter on the ground, Andy and I found snow — covered with a thick layer of ice — on one side of the mountain. This side, of course, was where the trail literally hugged the mountain’s edge and so what I’m basically saying is when it came to this part — our simple hike turned treacherous (very, very treacherous).
But I’m getting ahead of myself — Let’s start this trail story where we began, which was the side of Oak Knob Mountain without snow and that is where we followed the yellow-blazed Cliff Trail to steeply ascend the mountain . . .
Then, in a little less than half a mile, we arrived to our first beautiful vista . . .
With the second vista less than half a mile away, we continued on the trail while the sunshine warmed our faces . . .
Turning to leave our look-out of the valley, we walked on, though I admit I found myself pausing often to take in the Blue Ridge Mountains where the rich blue below surely made the sky jealous . . .
As promised, after our vista, the trail became more rocky. This area, we learned is a favorite sunny spot for Timber rattlesnakes, though we lucky did not see any this time of year . . .
With the trees still mostly bare, we could see a glimmer of Hone Quarry Reservoir, which is directly adjacent to where we parked; and here, I was reminded once more about how incredible it is the distance one can travel if he or she simply keeps walking . . .
The best way to describe the next part of this hike in one word is ‘treacherous’ . . .
From here, we slowly made our way around Oak Knob Mountain, following the turns of the yellow-blazed Cliff Trail as it hugged the ridge edge. The trail was narrow and on right, a rocky build up the mountain and on the left, a steep sloping plunge down. What made this part of the trail all the more difficult though was the snow and ice. Because this mountain side was dramatically colder, the old ankle-deep snow was nowhere near melting, proven by the fact that it had an incredibly thick layer of ice on top. In fact, the ice was so thick that we couldn’t even crack it to walk over.
“Maybe we can skate across?” I mused but on attempt, immediately slipped right off the danged side of the mountain. I’m not gonna lie — a scream did escape my lips and a quick-turn grab did come from Andy as he helped me scramble my way back up — surely moments from a dramatically different-story tumble.
“Should we turn around?” I huffed, shaking a bit after my near plummet.
“I do think this is why we saw that other couple head back,” Andy pointed out and it was true — A young couple had bounded past us earlier only to appear again, this time going the opposite direction on the loop-trail so surely walking back towards their car.
Because it was impossible to break the ice under our feet, we stretched our legs to reach an earlier hiker’s footprints. That earlier hiker though — I should point out — was either the tallest person alive or a Virginia Bigfoot because the gait was at least double what Andy’s and mine are. Balancing on one leg, we would extend the other before allowing our one-foot to fall into place. Then with legs splayed wide, we would gather enough energy to repeat the process and all the while our trail turned narrower and steeper. This was the last picture I took on this part of our journey because, quite frankly, I was having a right mission of just taking care of myself — never-the-less taking pictures of us trying to survive.
Hours passed slow trekking this side of the mountain but slowly, we made it around and into the sun.
“I can’t believe we made it and didn’t kill ourselves,” I told Andy.
“I can’t believe you made it and you didn’t kill yourself,” he said and so I requested a picture that encompassed exactly how we felt. This is that picture:
From here, a rocky and wider path — without a single snowflake — meant an easier trail up Pond Knob Mountain, which was welcomed because we needed to make up our lost slow-snow-walking time.
Yet, the sun was setting fast and we were far from our car after scaling two mountains. To give reference — Our car is at the bottom of the valley to the right of the second picture below, which means our trail next descended steeply and without a single switchback.
Pushing through quickly also meant setting aside pictures so that Andy and I could boss the next three and a half miles in record speed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but massive amounts of ground can be covered by simply having a desire and strength to charge on — to carry through.
That’s exactly what Andy and I did — We made our way back to our car just as darkness set in . . .
And I’ll tell ya what — There’s little reward better than that feeling of barely beating the nightfall on a day hike . . . of standing exactly where you have aimed to stand . . . precisely when you wanted to stand there . . . and relishing that moment with someone else who feels the same way.