On March 15th, I met up with my friend Pat halfway between Charlottesville and NoVa for a hike. The forecast called for clear, sunny skies with a high of 70 down in the valley. Just about perfect hiking weather! We decided to meet up at Thornton Gap because of the similar drive times for each of us, but we didn’t really have a hike in mind. I had a preference to start down at the bottom of the gap to avoid paying the entry fee onto Skyline Drive, but other than that I figured we would plan it when we arrived. I didn’t realize that we would have no signal and my offline maps didn’t include that region! I thought I remembered seeing trails that led to the ridge-line north and south of Route 211, so I knew that we should be able to make a loop of things. I also had the idea in mind that we should try to make it to Mary’s Rock, as that is supposed to have phenomenal views of the area.
We met up at the lower parking lot, farther east on 211. We left my car there and drove up to the next parking lot in Pat’s. We set off across the road and up Pass Mountain Trail, with occasional views across the gap of our beautiful and somewhat intimidating goal for the day: Mary’s Rock. We enjoyed great trail conditions and a steady reasonable climb for 2.7 miles until we reached the Pass Mountain Hut. Another 0.2 miles got us to the Appalachian Trail, where we turned left to go southbound. The trail took us down into Thornton Gap where we had two low-traffic road crossings and a view of Mary’s Rock shooting up above us.
From there it was a serious (and seriously fun) climb up the mountain. We passed a family with a little guy, 10ish, who looked ready to quit, and another couple wearing jeans who I felt even worse for. There were a couple icy sections next to drop offs that I wasn’t expecting to find after the recent weather, but nothing else of note on the way up. Once to the top there’s a beautiful vista, but it looked like we could get even higher by scrambling up some of the rocks so we stopped for long enough to throw on windbreakers and started climbing. Atop the highest of these, we found a little USGS marker letting us know we had reached the summit! This was Pat’s first peak achieved in the U.S. and what an incredible day for it.
We spent 30-35 minutes at the top loving life, chatting, and eating snacks. There’s nowhere I would rather spend a beautiful Friday than hiking with good friends and relaxing on top of mountains. That’s the dream.
Unfortunately, we eventually had to start heading down from there. We thought we heard people passing by on the trail just behind the peak, so instead of backtracking, we bushwhacked down to the trail. We turned at the next intersection we saw, hoping it was the right place, and followed Meadow Spring Trail down to Skyline Drive. This part of the hike was uneventful, with a few valley views but nothing that compared to the view from the top. We crossed Skyline and proceeded down Buck Hollow Trail to my car, paralleling and occasionally crossing the stream that ran through the hollow.
Overall, the hike was amazing as a day hike for many reasons: it’s a perfect distance from each of us, the trail was nice, packed dirt for the vast majority, the views from the top were amazing, the distance was just right, and we were able to make the hike a loop. Overall, it was an absolute stunner.
Let me know what you found interesting, if there are any other similar hikes you’d recommend, or things in the area I might have missed! Thanks for reading.