I’m use to Indian Summer in the Shenandoah Valley arriving around the end of October. For me, Indian Summer means one last glimpse of warm weather with balmy temperatures in the 70’s or even low 80’s. This was exactly what we had on the first Friday of November 2015, my hiking day.
I had been anticipating this hike for sometime. I am part of a group of nature enthusiasts and outdoor lovers called the Shenandoah Take-A-Hike group. I first heard of this group from reading an article in the Mountain Courier while sitting in the waiting room at my chiropractor’s office. This was several years ago and being a homeschool mama with a young child, I longed to go on these hikes. The hikes were on average 3-5 miles in length, some more difficult than others and my child was around 7 yrs old at that time. I felt that it would be a bit much for her so I bided my time and once she was a little older I suggested that we join the group for a hike. Our first hike was in March 2014 along the Appalachian trail in the Thompson Wildlife Management area. It was a 3-4 mile hike and boy did I feel it in my legs and feet when we were done. I felt it every time I went downstairs for the next two days! My daughter has joined me on the “easy” hikes since then and we make other arrangements for her now when it is a more challenging hike. If the hike is more than 3 miles or over 1,000 ft elevation she has no interest in going. Let’s just call it what it is, she’s a fair weather hiker!
The group has scheduled hikes all year long. Yes, even during the winter months! Generally the hikes are scheduled for the 2nd Friday of the month and the 4th or last Tuesday of the month. Sometimes there may only be 4-5 people and other times we’ve had over 25-30 people show up. I was able to go on many of the hikes during the 2014 season. Once 2015 arrived, we had a lot of weather that made hiking difficult or dangerous so I kind of lost my groove for a bit. Then I took a part time job that made it impossible to go on the hikes. Needless to say, I quit that job. Hiking is WAY more important! So now I’m back to being able to go on most of the hikes and I am in my happy place. I was anticipating this first hike in November because it has been months and months since I was on a hike and I had not done anything physical for the last couple of months. I was psyching myself up for the pain and the consequence of being inactive for so long. But, like riding a bike, it was easy to jump back into it.
I was checking the weather all week long and was a bit apprehensive about it being so warm. I’m okay with hiking in warmer weather as long as I am dressed for it. Same goes for it being bitter cold or windy, I can deal with it as long as I am prepared. A hiking day always begins earlier than my normal day so that alone is a little exciting. I set my alarm for 5:30 am or 6:00 am so that I can grab a shower and a healthy protein breakfast before I head out the door to the designated meet up location. This morning was cool, like most November mornings. I decided to wear a tee shirt with a hoodie sweatshirt over top, thinking I probably wasn’t going to need the sweatshirt but I better take it along, just in case. I drove to Mt. Jackson, VA to the Town Hall parking lot to meet up with other hikers and then we split up in vehicles to head to the trail head on the Skyline drive. There is a fee to enter the Skyline drive and it is quite convenient to ride with someone else who has a season pass. One of the great perks about getting older is when you turn 62 you are eligible for a lifetime pass for only $10! The daily entrance fee per vehicle is $20 so if you plan to visit more than twice in a year and you are not yet 62 years old, it makes sense to purchase an annual pass for $40. There are also discounted passes for permanently disabled Americans as well as active duty military.
I rode with Jane. Jane and I both live in the same town and quite often she will give me a call before a hike to see if I’d like a ride. I really like Jane, she is kind of the poster child for the type of people who get together to go on these hikes. Warm, generous, friendly and retired. Jane worked as an emergency room nurse for years and is fully enjoying her retirement. I kind of like the idea of having someone with medical training along on these hikes, especially since the average age of our hikers is usually in the senior range. So Jane and I cruised from Mt. Jackson via Luray to the Skyline Drive to MP 50.7. The beginning of the Dark Hollow Falls trail. We got out of the car and boy howdy was I glad I had my sweatshirt with a hoodie. It was quite windy and the temps were probably in the low 60’s. We had 14 people for this hike which was led by Dale Wurzer. Dale is also a very interesting guy. I remember the first time I hiked with the group, Dale was about 2 months post op from having a knee replaced. That first hike was not what I would call an easy hike and there was a LOT of steep downhill hiking. Dale is definitely not a fair weather hiker! We had several experienced leaders hiking with us this day. Ed, Dennis and his wife Kay, John, Jane, June and her husband, as well as a couple of new hikers to the group Cindy, Robin, Ann, another lady named Ann and her friend Flora. I’m 51 and I’m pretty sure that I was the youngest hiker in the group. I asked Ed his age and he shared that he was 79. I’m like “Go Ed Go”. My desire is that I am still able to get out there and hike these trails when I’m in my 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. This group is such an inspiration for me.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
-George Bernard Shaw
The Dark Hollow Falls Trail is 1.4 miles round trip and very steep. The highlight of the hike is the amazing 70’ waterfall. This time of the year the entire waterfall is easy to see from the bottom of the falls since there is little foliage left on the trees to obstruct the view. Our hike was not a round trip hike though. We hiked to the bottom of Dark Hollow Falls and then we picked up the Rose River Loop Trail. Part of our group ended up taking the Rose River Fire Road out instead of the 4+ miles along the Rose River. Here is where the story really gets interesting. Once we passed the bottom of Dark Hollow Falls we proceeded along the Rose River Loop trail. We stopped at one point for a bit of a rest and to have a bite to eat. We started our hike at 9:30 am and by now it was close to 11:30 or noon. After all that downhill trekking I was ready for a bite to eat. I usually pack an apple, maybe a couple of pieces of hard cheese, a snack baggie of mixed nuts and dried fruit and of course a couple of bottles of water. So we are all just hanging out sitting on fallen trees and chatting when one of our new hikers, Flora starts to just slide off her tree trunk. I see her reach her arm up to grab a low hanging branch to try to catch herself but it was too little too late and down she goes. My friend Jane dropped her pack and was next to Flora before her head even touched the ground. I’m thinking now THAT is a first responder! Dale, Jane and Flora’s friend Ann are working with her to revive her and help her sit back up. I’m quietly praying that she is going to be okay. The rest of the group looked like they were doing the same, praying for her and wondering what happened? I’m hearing questions like is she diabetic, did she have something to eat, does she need to drink more water? Does anyone have a signal on their cell phone? Remember, we are at the base of Dark Hollow Falls. No one has cell service. We can see that the color is starting to come back into Flora’s face and I’m hopeful that she’s going to be just fine. It was decided to send Dennis back up the Dark Hollows trail to get a signal and call for help. Dennis is no doubt the fastest in the group and he is use to 10-15 mile a day hikes. A 5 mile hike is a cake walk for him. Jane and Dale opt to stay behind with Flora and her friend Ann. Kay decides to stay behind and wait for her husband Dennis to return and John decided to stay behind in case there was a need to carry Flora out. The rest of us were led by Ed and we completed the hike along the Rose River trail. The total hiking distance ended up being 5.55 miles and we ended at Fisher’s Gap overlook where Ed had parked his truck. Not long after we reached the end of the hike we saw a couple of park ranger vehicles getting ready to descend down the fire road. We let the ranger know that it was our party that called for help so that we could get an update on our friends left behind. Probably 15-20 minutes later the rangers along with Dennis in his vehicle returned up the fire road. Flora was doing well. This was her first hike with this group and for all I know may have been her first hike ever. She did not eat much that morning and did not have a lot to drink either so it was probably a combination of not having food to fuel her and being dehydrated that caused her to faint. I have no doubt that she was very embarrassed by the whole situation.
The rangers gave each of us a large yellow bandanna listing around the border of the cloth all of the basic things a person should bring with them when going on a hike. In the middle of the cloth is a stick figure person hiking up hill and the words “Know Your Limits”.
I was thankful that Flora was okay and very grateful that we had trained medical personnel with us in case the situation had been more serious. The next scheduled hike is Tues, November 17th at Mary’s Rock. Hiking announcements are announced on the Living In Abundance Meetup.com page.All are welcome, just “Know Your Limits” 🙂
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Jen Roszelle is the founder of Living In Abundance, a business created to support others in living a healthy and holistic lifestyle. Jen calls herself a “Whole Foods Revolutionary” and specializes in showing others how to create healthy and nourishing meals using local, organic ingredients and sustainable resources. She is also a homeschool mom, adoptive parent to a gorgeous pit bull dog and is a fair weather hiker.