Devil’s Marbleyard hike and camping trip

This year, my sister, dad and I celebrated father’s day with a weekend of camping (at Cave Mountain Lake Campground) and a hike to Devil’s Marbleyard.

We met up at the campground Friday night, grilled some burgers and hung out around the campfire drinking some good beer.


Saturday morning, we headed out early because the description of this hike says that the parking lot is tiny and warns of “predatory towing” of cars parked along the road. We had a little trouble with directions (even though the trailhead is almost a straight shot and less than three miles from the campground…) A trip that should have taken less than 10 minutes took closer to half an hour. We were the third car in the lot and a truck pulled in right behind us. Arriving early is probably sound advice.

Our plan was to do the 11.3 mile route which included an out and back on the AT to “one of the most spectacular 360 degree views in the state.”


Selfie at the trailhead.

The trail started out at a fairly gentle grade, but got steeper and steeper as we approached the marbleyard.


The view from Devil’s Marbleyard is pretty spectacular.


We climbed around some on the rocks but honestly I was a little scared about starting a rock slide. Some of the rocks did move when you stepped on them and they made an eerie, deep echoing sound. I found it a little disconcerting. I wasn’t the only one. There was a lady there who refused to venture out onto the rocks at all. She watched from the sidelines as the rest of her family explored.




Selfie at the marbleyard.

We didn’t climb all the way to the top but if you do, be prepared to climb back down as well because there isn’t a way to access the trail from the top (or at least, that’s what our maps said).

I was happy we were doing the longer hike because I’m always excited to see some white blazes.

This section of the AT was particularly nice and offered some great views into the valley.

Our directions told us to be on the lookout for a 100 yard clearing which we never saw. We took a detour on the Sulphur Springs trail and several other unmarked trails, but each time we turned back once we all agreed that we had traveled well beyond the 30 yards it was supposed to be to the view.

We were all in agreement that we had gone much further than the mile and a half it was supposed to be to the view, but we hadn’t come across any section of trail that could be described as a “100 yard clearing”  which was supposed to be our cue to look for the trail to the view, so we kept pressing on.

Eventually, we came across a thru-hiker, but he had no clue what we were talking about. He pulled out his maps and guidebooks, but they made no mention of any views in the area. It was after noon at this point. We had wanted to have lunch at the 360 degree view, but were all starving. Reluctantly, we headed back in the direction we had come and very quickly decided to stop along the side of the trail for lunch. While we were sitting there, about half a dozen more thru-hikers and one guy out for a trail run (headed in the opposite direction) passed by us.

On the way back, as Jen and I were off exploring yet another trail, the trail runner we had seen earlier passed back by. Dad stopped him and asked if he knew where the trail was and he actually knew what we were talking about!! We had indeed missed it. He said that at the time our guide map had been written, there had been a 100 yard clearing and a spot just off the trail that offered spectacular 360 degree views, but that is because there had been a forest fire just prior to that. Since then, the trees have had almost a decade to grow back.

And grow they have.

The trail runner was kind enough to mark the trail to the (nonexistent) view for us with an arrow made of sticks and his business card.


I’m sure wthe view was spectacular when those trees weren’t there.

There was a family sitting in the little clearing having a snack and I wondered how the hell they had found the place. We went up the trail a little beyond them and enjoyed a few swigs of icy cold beer from the growler Jen had given dad (and I had carried up the mountain) for Father’s Day.


At one point, not long after we’d reconnected with the original loop, we came to a spot with no clear trail  in any direction. We picked one of the semi-paths and followed it. We hadn’t made it very far at all when we saw the same family we’d met back at the “view” heading back towards us. The dad said, “we followed that trail until it seemed to disappear, then we tried this one, but it just seems to sort of peter out, too.” We followed them back down and we all tried a third trail which ended up being the right one.

There were some more views along the ridge and quite a few blueberries. We ate our way along.

The path down was exposed and hot, and also very overgrown in places. There were supposed to be 13 switchbacks. We stopped counting when we got to 17.


Eventually, we made it to the Glenwood Horse Trail, which was gently graded and passed through some beautiful wooded areas and meadows full of bright wildflowers, but it was dinner time at this point and we were all ready to be off our feet. We dubbed this the never-ending trail because nice as it was, it seemed to go on and on and on and on and on.

Seriously, the end of this hike had a bit of a Twilight Zone feel to it.

We did make it back to the car, though.

And celebrated with an impromptu tailgate party before heading back to camp.


None of us had a GPS with us but dad had his step counter running on his phone and it said we’d covered about 16 miles.

I believe it.

It ended up being a really nice weekend all around. I’m thinking we should maybe make a father/daughter camping/hiking trip an annual Father’s Day thing. 🙂

Riverview Park

As a runner, I like Riverview Park because it provides access to the Greenbelt Trail, which is a two mile long paved (and mostly flat!) section of the Rivanna Trail.

You don’t have to be a runner to enjoy the park, though. In addition to the trail, you’ll find a swing set and playground equipment for the kids, picnic tables, open space to throw a Frisbee and access (by foot) to the Rivanna River.

IMG_20141109_061116IMG_20141109_061004If you do want to go for a walk, run or bike ride, you can choose either path and circle back on the other one, creating a loop that is a little over half a mile long. Bring your four-legged friends to get some exercise, too. Well-behaved dogs are allowed off-leash on designated portions of the trail within the park on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

IMG_20141109_060846IMG_20141109_061249IMG_20141109_061616If you’re looking for a safe place for your kids to ride their bikes, this is it!

If you forgo the loop and instead continue away from the park on the Greenbelt Trail, it will take you under Free Bridge to where it ends in a soccer field two miles away. You also have the option of crossing over Free Bridge and picking up the Old Mills Trail on the other side of the river. Old Mills Trail will take you into the woods and along the river in one direction, or into Darden Towe Park (and along the river) in the other.

Hike to Sherando Lake

Distance: ~7 miles (and 760 feet of loss/gain) round-trip

Park at the White Rock Gap parking area at mile 18.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you are coming from Charlottesville, it will be on your right.

Take the White Rock Trail, which is to the right of the information board (if you are facing it), and marked with orange blazes. It is almost all downhill to the lake, so be prepared to climb on your way back!


IMG_20140827_124052Just a few strides from the parking lot, you will see this sign. The mileage is to the upper lake. The swimming lake is about a mile further.

There’s a nice camping spot just off the trail at mile .6 and another one just after the one mile mark (the second one is well below the trail and on the other side of the creek.)

The (relatively) gentle grade and smooth trail make this a popular spot for mountain bikers.

After you pass the upper lake (which you’ll be able to see through the trees to your right), the trail dead ends at what looks like a jeep trail. Stay to the left and follow the trail out to the paved campground road. Turn right and follow the paved road through the campground and down to Sherando Lake.


IMG_20140826_130534_976~2If you’re up for the challenge, you can swim out to the island.

There are water fountains and restrooms, so you can fill up your bottles and change out of your wet bathing suit before the hike back up to your car.

There is also a camp store with limited supplies and VERY limited hours (12 pm-4 pm Wednesday-Sunday during peak season.)

Sherando lake hike profileSherando lake hike mapIf this isn’t challenging enough, check out the HikingUpward website for a 9.1 mile loop hike.

Of course, you could just drive to the lake and hike around on the trails while you’re there.

From Charlottesville, take 64 West to Exit 96. After exiting, turn left and continue (about ten miles) until you see the park entrance on your right.

A day use fee is charged at the gate (or collected in a self-pay box, if nobody is at the gate)

Torry Ridge/Sherando Lake run

The plan was to do the 9.1 mile Torry Ridge loop twice, maybe adding a little extra somewhere to make it an even 20 miles.

But that’s not exactly how it went.

I decided to start with the gentle downhill section first (passing Sherando Lake at about 3.5 miles) then run the second loop in the opposite direction.  That way I would only have 3.5 miles left to run after I stopped for a swim on my second lap.

It had rained overnight and was still overcast as I headed into the surprisingly dark woods. My little spotted newt friends were all over the place. I had to watch where I was stepping to avoid squashing them.

PhotoGrid_1405795807415The campground was completely quiet the first time I passed through. I didn’t see another soul.

When I got to the lake, I decided to take the trail around the lake before heading up to the Torry Ridge trail. I felt like exploring a little, and figured it would be a good way to tack on an extra mile or two.

IMG_20140719_072009_827After that, it was a very steep and rocky climb up to the Torry Ridge trail. There were some nice views along the way, though.

IMG_20140719_073601_229IMG_20140719_073614_509~2That’s the beach where I had been about two miles before.

From here, it got a little bit tricky. I had never run the loop in this direction and had failed to bring a map with me.

I somehow managed to stay on course, though. It felt very much like dumb luck, but I’ll take it.

IMG_20140719_081948_547IMG_20140719_145202Back at my car, I drank what was left of my (no longer) iced coffee, re-applied Body Glide, and grabbed my second bag of snacks.

I also took a minute to check out the posted trail map, and found this little tidbit amusing:

IMG_20140719_111656_064~2I headed back up the trail in the same direction I’d just come. I hadn’t made it more than 200 yards before I realized that I didn’t remember locking my car door. I ran back and checked. It was locked. I headed out again.

I made it about 3/4 of a mile and my foot started hurting. I had brought my metatarsal inserts, knowing that I would probably need them for the second loop, but I had forgotten to grab them. I headed back to the car.

At this point, if I set out to do the entire loop again, I would end up running further than 20 miles. I didn’t want to do that, so I headed back down the trail to the lake, figuring that if I ran around the lake again, that would add up to just about 20.

After my second time around the lake, I was at 16.8 miles. I stopped for a swim. The sun had come out so I was surprised that I had the entire beach to myself.

IMG_20140719_102021_746~3It was hard to drag myself out of the water. If I hadn’t been so hungry, I would have stayed much longer.

I was a little worried about finishing the run with 3.5 miles of climbing, but it ended up not being an issue. The grade is so mild on that section of trail that I was actually able to run the entire way.

torry ridge maptorry ridge elevationFunny that the climb at the end looks so steep. I promise it’s not! The one at mile 5 felt just like it looks, though 🙂

Another long run at Sugar Hollow

I ran the same loop that I’ve been running, but added an out and back up Turk Mountain. I also did a lot more walking.

The river crossings were not as deep. Somebody had moved several large boulders to be used as stepping-stones across the first one. It must have been a lot of work. I was very appreciative.

The tall grasses along the trail had also been trimmed, which was nice.

I saw a wild turkey and about a million mushrooms.

PhotoGrid_1405193035244IMG_20140712_130522This little guy was my favorite.

I also saw a lot of pretty flowers, of course.

IMG_20140712_130348IMG_20140712_092454_798Something about the way these ones appeared to hover above the ground seemed magical to me (like dancing fairies, or orbs of light.)

IMG_20140712_092332_326The well-endowed tree:


There is a rocky outcropping at the top of Turk Mountain that offers unobstructed views to the west and north.

IMG_20140712_100139_987IMG_20140712_100221_256On the way back down, I wasn’t paying attention and almost stepped on a snake. I screamed and did some fancy footwork. I don’t know what kind of snake it was, but it was fat (maybe 3.5-4 inches in diameter.) It may have been a Rattlesnake.

Since I did so much more walking, I felt a lot better during the final stretch than I did last time.

The only thing that bothered me was my chafed skin. I got the chub rub!

I was surprised that I had Blue Hole all to myself. The cold water felt SO good. It was hot out there today.

I passed a steady stream of people heading up to the swimming hole as I was making my way back to my car. If I had been ten minutes slower, I would have had a lot of company for my swim. I’m kind of happy that I’m so speedy 🙂

Long Run at Sugar Hollow

Kurt and I didn’t run the Varmint this year. Neither of us were feeling up to the three and a half hour (each way) drive.

I was happy not to be spending so much time in the car, but a little sad to miss the race. I was also left without a plan (not necessarily a bad thing) for my Saturday long run.

When I woke up this morning, I still hadn’t decided where I was going to run. I knew I wanted to run about 16 miles on trails and that I wanted there to be water for a swim along the way.

I finally decided on a loop that I used to run at Sugar Hollow.

There were several reasons for my decision:

1. I would begin and end at the base of the mountains, which meant most of the climbing would happen earlier in the run.
2. I’d get to check out Blue Hole. I hadn’t been there in a while and wanted to make sure nothing had changed that required an update to my blog post.
3. I would arrive at Blue Hole near the end of my run (when swimming would be most appealing).
4. At 18 miles, it wouldn’t require any doubling back or adding on. Sure, there was the fact that it was further than I wanted to run, but the last few miles were all downhill, so I figured they didn’t really count (and I wonder why I end up injured).

To form the loop, I take the N.F. Moormans River Trail up to Skyline Drive, turn onto the Appalachian Trail heading south to the Turk Mountain parking area where I get on the Turk Branch Trail and take that back down to Moormans River Road.

For the first 5 miles, today’s run was exactly the same as the run I’d done on Tuesday.

I didn’t see any bears on the road this time, but I did see two small Toyotas well beyond the lower parking area.

Hmph. I guess my car could make it. Not that there’s any reason to park at the top, especially today, since I would be making a loop back to my car anyway.

I met up with two guys and two dogs at the first river crossing. They asked me where the North Fork Moormans River Trail was. I pointed them in the direction I was headed, straight across the river.

I crossed ahead of them and was on my way, but a few minutes later I realized that I probably should have given them better directions. I also hoped they knew about the cement post signs used in Shenandoah. The signs are very helpful, but easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. I wished I’d told them.

I didn’t have as much energy as I’d had on Tuesday. I wondered if it was because I knew I had much further to go, or if I was genuinely more tired.

IMG_20140614_123944At about the point where I’d turned around on Tuesday, I started sprinkling some preemptive walk breaks into the climb.

I was not feeling great, but I was still chugging along fine when I turned onto the Appalachian Trail. About a mile later, when I was still climbing, I was no longer chugging along just fine. The preemptive walk breaks became necessary walk breaks.

In my mind, the profile for this run looked like this (6 miles up/6 miles across/6 miles down):

IMG_20140614_141911_328In reality, it looks like this:

sugar hollow loopThere were many more miles of climbing than I’d anticipated. On some level, I must have known this. I run the loop in this direction because the climb is not as steep. I’d just forgotten that not being as steep means that it must be longer.

Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to be out there.

I was just really friggin’ tired.

The Mountain Laurels were still in bloom.

IMG_20140614_124634There aren’t any grand vistas on this loop, but there are a few places where you can catch a glimpse of the mountains and valleys in the distance through the trees.

IMG_20140614_125254IMG_20140614_124944About 9 miles into my run, I noticed that my upper arm was chafing. I’d put some Body Glide under my bra strap, but had forgotten about my arm. I spent some time running like a chicken with a broken wing, trying to keep my arm from hitting the side of my body.

Not long after I’d turned onto the Turk Branch Trail, I came up behind two men and two dogs. I asked to pass, and when they stopped to let me by, one of them said, “Hey, we saw you earlier! You ran all this way? It makes a loop?” I told them yes, and yes. They told me that they’d gotten lost (now I really felt bad that I hadn’t given them better directions) and had driven up to the top.

I explained which trails to take to make the loop, and also made sure they knew about the cement post signs (they hadn’t known.)

Because of several storms we’d had this week, the river crossings were even higher than they’d been on Tuesday.

IMG_20140614_124258My feet were very wet for almost the entire run.

I was grateful that the last few miles to Blue Hole were entirely down hill. I felt certain that I’d be walking if faced with even the slightest of inclines.

When I got to Blue Hole (which is about 20 feet below the trail) I looked down and saw that there were already some people there. Three guys, from what I could see. I caught sight of a naked bottom. I assumed that they had been skinny dipping.

I turned away from them and ate some dried mango and stretched a little. I tried to make some noise. I thought about just continuing on, but I’d just run 16 miles. There was no way a few naked dudes were going to keep me from my swim in Blue Hole! My gut told me everything was fine. I sensed no bad vibes from these guys.

After a few minutes, I turned and climbed down the ledge, toward them. They were now all clothed and packing up to go. I apologized, and they said, “no problem”.

I waded right in. The water was cold, but felt spectacular to my hot, aching body. I swam around for a while, taking it all in. Blue Hole is one of the prettiest swimming holes I’ve seen. Even today, when the water was murky and brown from all the rain.

Another group of people arrived just as I was putting my shoes on.

I had been there long enough for my Garmin to stop, so I walked while I waited for it to find a signal again. Everything hurt (particularly my feet and shins and the chafed spot on my arm.) By the time my Garmin found satellite, I had come to the realization that there would be no more running today. I had already run a little over 16 miles, which was all I’d wanted to do today, anyway.

I made my way slowly back to the car. The trail was mostly in the sun, which was surprisingly nice. I was a little chilled from my swim, and the sun felt wonderful.

I’m still wondering what the etiquette is when you happen upon strangers skinny dipping.

What would you have done?

Sugar Hollow Trail Run

My plan was to run up the North Fork Moormans River Trail for about 4 miles and turn around, stopping for a swim in Snake Hole on the way back.

I parked in the lower parking lot, which meant a .4 mile road walk to the trailhead. Before I even got to the trail, I heard a twig snap. I looked up, heard a loud rustling and a whole lot more snapping, looked up even higher and saw a huge black bear shimmying down a skinny tree.

Oh Shit. HELLO!

I wasn’t sure if the bear was planning to run away from me or toward me when he reached the ground, so I didn’t stop to take a picture.

I turned around and walked slowly back the direction I’d come from. I didn’t hear anything running toward me, but I figured I’d give the bear some time to clear the path. I needed to pee, anyway. I found a safe spot to do that, took a few deep breaths and headed back up the trail.

The mosquitoes were out in full force, but they only bothered me at the river crossings (which there are many of on this trail.)

PhotoGrid_1402410701303I got a chance to see how my new trail shoes performed soaking wet.

They did fine.

I passed by Snake Hole, and continued climbing.

IMG_20140610_123531IMG_20140610_093441IMG_20140610_092907IMG_20140610_092214I was surprised how over-grown the trail was in places. I made a mental note to do a thorough check for ticks when I got home.

IMG_20140610_101422IMG_20140610_125932I was hoping to make it up to Skyline Drive, but I ended up turning around about a mile before that. I was already running further than I’d meant to (ended up with 9.77 total). As many times as I’ve run this trail, you would think that I’d have a better grasp on distances.

Oh well.

I felt fine on the way up, and amazing on the way back down.

sugar hollow run profileAt about mile 7, I looked down and realized that my shorts were soaked. I wondered if my hydration pack was leaking again. My shirt was soaked too, though, and I seemed to still have plenty of water in my hydration bladder. It just seemed strange that I didn’t notice how much I was sweating until I was drenched.

As hot as I was, Snake Hole still felt COLD! It took me a while to get in. The bugs hurried me along, though.

IMG_20140610_125634Swimming after a hot run is one of my favorite things in the world.

Does it get any better?