Something about autumn just calls out for a good rock scramble. The crisp air, the crunchy leaves, and the endless blue above just make you want to travel upward with your whole being, and all your senses. In Virginia, your quintessential rock scramble would be Old Rag, but it is also more of a party than a meditative experience. We turned instead to Strickler Knob, at the southern end of Massanutten Mountain, which is just as fun and challenging as Old Rag but much more secluded. It does have its following, however, so we started just after dawn in order to have the glorious rocks to ourselves.
The Strickler Knob trail is technically a bushwhack, but it is more lovingly maintained than many of the official trails in the Massanutten area. Until you reach it, the hike is a rather mundane climb, occasionally quite steep, though yesterday’s hike held several autumn splendors, including a magnificent orange fungus (’tis the season), and a tiny toad practicing his camouflage skills amid the falling leaves:
As you turn onto the Strickler Knob trail, the ground quickly grows rocky and soon you are hopping with graceful abandon. Ascending the Knob itself requires hand-over-hand climbing as the tantalizing view bobs just out of sight.
The trail ends at a lesser summit where you are looking up at the rocks above: keep going!
When you finally crest the highest rocks there are 360-degree views of Shenandoah National Park and the Shenandoah Valley:
In hiking as in life (hey, hiking metaphors are what I do!), a map, a plan, and a sure and steady pace will almost always get you there. It will rain, snow, or hail; you will get sunburned; you might have to go thirsty sometimes, and you will occasionally wonder what the heck you were thinking (though fortunately the truly catastrophic events are statistical improbabilities). Work the map, work the plan, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You will get there. And when you reach the false summit, don’t settle: you know darn well you can see your true destination just ahead. Rock it.