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A Return to The Channels

Three years ago I failed… I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

If you are anything like me, you plan your hiking trips to the last detail. You know where the trailhead is, you know the length, the terrain, etc. This relieves a lot of stress and anxiety when starting out on the hike. I did 99% of this last time I took my kids to The Channels of Virginia. I still ended up failing because I couldn’t find the sign that would lead us to the actual channels. We looked around but I was full of fear. I hadn’t lead my kids on a hike quite like that. We had done short hikes. Easy hikes. One really long, dumb, flat hike. This was different. We were all by ourselves in the middle of no where. There was the large fire tower looming above me and it made me a bit dizzy to look up at it. And I didn’t see the sign. We had a wonderful lunch on the top of the mountain and returned and I always felt so frustrated that we hiked all that way and missed it.

My daughter is getting ready to leave for college in three weeks. I try not to think about it too hard because I will cry. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very happy for her. I’m excited for her. But I will miss my girl. Badly. Especially when movies come out that we’d see together. Anyway… before I get too teary-eyed writing this… She plans on studying geology in college. I always told her we needed to get back to The Channels because they are a cool rock thing here in Virginia. She was a bit annoyed at having to complete the hike again. But we planned our weekend and tackled it this past Saturday.

The Trail

The trail to The Channels isn’t hard, per se. It is steep in part but not bad. I guess I find it pretty easy because I don’t have to step up to hike it. You can generally walk it but the incline can be hard at times. It will get your heart pumping. It is, however, only 3 miles. We were laughing because it felt like we made it there pretty quickly (compared to last time). It took us just about 1.5 hrs to hike there. If you’re an avid hiker you can do it in less time. While there aren’t a lot of views from the trail during the summer, it is still beautiful. If you don’t talk, you have complete peace and quiet. There were wildflowers blooming all around us. And, lots of bugs. The flies were quite annoying (no wind). I’d say wear a hat in the summer – it seemed to help me.

Once you reach the top, you’ll see the fire tower and walk past it. You should, then, see the sign. It seemed so easy this time. I don’t know how we missed it last time. There is a trail prior to the fire tower and that takes you to a flat portion of the mountain. I think I was just distracted by it. We took a couple of “three years later” photos and continued down the path to The Channels. They didn’t disappoint. They were so very cool. It was a good 10 degrees cooler in there and it was fun to walk around. You really can’t get lost as they do end from all directions. You can shimmy between rocks, climb over them, or just stand in awe of the formations. We spent a good amount of time exploring.

As we exited, there was a large black cloud above us. I ran over to the other portion of the mountain top for a few photos and we headed back to the car. Obviously, the trip back was really fast. We were sweaty. Hungry. And satisfied. I was so happy we were able to do this hike. I think she was really “wowed” by The Channels. My son did his 14 year old thing but she was really impressed and that made me happy. I can see myself hiking this trail again. I really enjoy it. I would like to plan it when the rhododendrons are blooming – they line the trail and the trail down to The Channels. I bet it would be beautiful!

You can find the trailhead at the intersection of Hayters Gap Road and Raven Ridge Road in Jefferson, VA. There is parking for quite a few cars. You’ll climb about 1200 ft in elevation and the round trip hike is around 6.2 miles (depending on how much you explore).

Lands Run Falls

I was happy to have Indigenous People Day to get out for a short hike. I asked my daughter to go with me and she actually agreed to wake up early and go. This was exciting because it has been over a year since she’s gone hiking with me.  I told her we wouldn’t go too far and it would be pretty.  Check and check.

We woke up at 5:00 am to get to an overlook by sunrise.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) there was a lot of fog.  Since we would be in the North District for Shenandoah National Park for our hike, the overlooks were few and far between on the east side.  They get better as you head south in the park.  I found one and we waited. Finally, the sun came up and illuminated the fog.  I had not brought my 18-200 mm lens and wish I would have for this morning.  I could have gotten a better shot of the fog against the mountains.  My wide shot was okay but sometimes zooming in is also good in landscapes.

foggy sunrise 2

Morning Fog

morning

Overlook Illuminated

We drove back towards our hiking location as I worried about the sun being too bright for a waterfall.  As we started down our path, I was happy with the cover and the fact that the waterfall was located on the west side of the trail. This means the light wouldn’t reach it for a couple of hours.  The hike to Lands Run Falls is very short. It took us no more than 10 mins or so to reach the falls (or the first part of the falls).  Some fall colors were showing and leaves were scattered around the rocks.  This made for great photos.

I am normally alone when I hike but having my daughter with me allowed me to crawl down the rocks. She handed my tripod to me and I took photos from further down. I debated going farther down the rocks but they were slippery and there was no way my daughter would know if I fell (the falls were that loud).  I took some shots and whistled loudly.  Thankfully, she appeared.  I handed her my tripod again and climbed back up the rocks.  As I climbed up, I knew I wouldn’t have made it alone.

waterfall

Towards the bottom of the first drop

cascade2

Cascades at the top

The falls were really pretty.  I think that if we had continued down the trail we would have come to more falls but I kept my promise.  We hiked back up to the car.  The whole hike took about an hour. Super short and sweet.  On our way home, we traveled through the Virginia countryside.  My girl is a lover of small, quaint towns. We drove through The Plains, Virginia and on towards Loudoun County.  We had a wonderful time chatting and driving slow.

I get to go back to Shenandoah soon and I’m hoping the trees are popping with color. Fingers crossed.

Solo Hiking…Running…Walking…Existing as a Woman

This past weekend, as I was talking with my mom and preparing to say good-bye, she said to me, “Jenn, I want to ask you, once more, to please never go hiking alone.”  She has asked me this numerous times. She can’t ever believe that I go out alone. That I leave, early in the morning, arrive and hike Shenandoah National Park (or anywhere) all alone. She can’t fathom that I’m out there for hours and sometimes only see 1-2 other people.  I sometimes don’t tell her I’m going so she doesn’t worry.

This question was asked because of Mollie Tibbets.  My mom heard her story and believed the reason she was targeted was because she was running alone. Mollie wasn’t killed because she was running solo.  A woman does not face violence BECAUSE she is solo.  There have been women killed when together. Sometimes in groups. Often times at parties.  The fact is, men go missing and die while out in nature as well and guess what, I never see, “Hey men! Be careful as you hike solo.”  I haven’t ever seen it up for debate.

I get tired of hearing, “Don’t go alone.”  Well who is going to go with me? My son? That’s been discussed here already. My daughter is too busy. I ask friends and only once out of 20 times will someone try to go with me. So my choice is to never go hiking or to act like a grown up woman and go anyway.  The violence that follows women who are alone has more to do with the men who attack them. I guarantee if you ask your female friends they all have a story about a man who reacted poorly because he was turned down, refused, or ignored. I have more than one. I have been on the receiving end of a hand that ended up across my face, in public, where no one (including my boyfriend at the time) did nothing.

Hiking alone is one of the best things I do in life. I love the solitude. I know I can take as long as I want to take photos. I can take my time or I can hurry. I do all the things I’m supposed to do: let someone know where I’m going, carry a weapon, carry bear spray (more for people than the bear), and carry my SPOT in case I get lost (this has NEVER happened – not even while bushwhacking).  I read a lot of blogs and admire the women who have hiked the PCT, John Muir, or Appalachian Trail solo.  I think it is incredible and I long to do something similar.  I refuse to be scared. I refuse to let worry overtake my life and stop me from doing the things I want to do.  When I used to travel for work, I would go out hiking wherever I was and never had any fear. I have walked the streets of Washington, D.C. at night with no fear. I have sat at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at 2:00 am with no fear.   It just isn’t going to happen.

Thankfully, I haven’t ever had an issue while on a trail. I am always aware. I look around. I take notice if anyone is around me. I listen. Maybe I’m lucky that I haven’t had any issues.  I walk, hike, carry myself in such a way that shows I’m not intimidated. I’m sure that helps. I look people dead in the eyes as we pass each other on a trail.  Also, I am well versed on where I am so that if I have to take a different trail, I can. Or, I can bushwhack to safety.

This is probably getting a bit long. I hate being treated like I am not strong. I hate being treated like I don’t know what I’m doing or that I’m not careful. The words, “Be careful!” for the most part annoy me. I understand people are showing their concern but honestly, how about, “Have fun!” instead?