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?

Hike to Blue Hole

Distance: about 3 miles round-trip

I love this swimming hole! ┬áThe water is always refreshing and it’s usually less crowded than Snake Hole (the other swimming hole at Sugar Hollow), which is on the North Fork Moormans River trail. It is a steeper and longer hike to get to Blue Hole, but well worth the extra work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can’t tell from the picture, but this swimming hole is quite deep. There are places where I have not been able to touch bottom (not that I’ve tried too hard.) Obviously this depends on recent rain fall and water levels.

There used to be a rope swing. You can read about that here.

Other rope swings have appeared and disappeared in recent years. As of June 2020, there is one just in front of the falls.

Directions from Charlottesville:

To get to Sugar Hollow, take Barracks Road away from town. Barracks road turns into Garth Road. Continue several miles. At White Hall, you will come to a very sharp turn in the road . Piedmont Store will be directly in front of you. Garth Road takes a sharp right. You want to stay straight, keeping Piedmont store on your right as you pass it.

This is 614. Continue a few more miles. Eventually you will climb a steep hill and see the dam and then Charlottesville Reservoir on your left. At the top of the hill, the road turns to gravel. Maybe a half mile after this the road is blocked by a gate.

Park here.

There are some spots off to the left, but later in the day cars just line up along the side of the road.

IMG_20140709_121559You want to take the Moormans River trail along the South Fork of the Moormans River. The cement post will point you in the direction that you want to go. You do not continue up the road you drove in on.


IMG_20130410_144919_876From the parking area, walk around the metal gate (the one to the left, not the one blocking the main road). Follow the crushed gravel path that leads to what is usually a rock hop across the river (lately it’s been a ford).

IMG_20140709_121422The trail continues on the other side of the river. It is about a 1.5 mile hike up to Blue Hole, which will be on your right. You will have to climb down from the trail to get to it.

There is another river crossing before you reach blue hole. This is usually more than a rock hop.

You will also pass an old chimney a little after this river crossing (and about 1/2 a mile before you reach blue hole). It is off the trail to the left and possible to miss if you’re not paying attention.

If you come to the intersection with the Turk Branch trail, you have gone too far.

Blue Hole Elevation

Blue Hole Hike Elevation Map – One Way

Happy swimming!