As terrain goes, this hike is very similar to so many others that begin on Skyline Drive. A few walks do follow the ridgeline, but it seems like most go straight down a mountain, only to head back up at the end of the day. So it went today! The Buck Hollow Trail dropped toward the valley below with a vengeance, following a stream along the way. As the stream grew larger, so did the fact that we had a really big climb ahead of us.
I do enjoy hiking in the mountains, so the terrain wasn’t all that disappointing. The problem was that the main purpose of the hike was to find Indian pipe–a ghostly white plant that is reputed to grow in the area. We struck out on the way down, and as we hung a right and started up the Buck Ridge Trail, I began to lose hope of seeing the elusive plant.
Buck Ridge begins its ascent moderately, but quite suddenly, a flight of literally hundreds of rustic steps appears, and the sight is pretty intimidating. Perhaps I haven’t been “around” as much as some of my fellow hikers, but I have to say that this is one of the steepest stretched that I have encountered to date. Nevertheless, I’m going to give the engineers behind the step project kudos. These well-placed logs take a considerable amount of sting out of the climb.
Beyond the steps, my usual sense of botanical failure took a turn for the better, as we spotted the first of two clusters of Indian pipe. The white plant stood about 8″ high, and it was surprisingly unspectacular at first. I have since blown up the picture and seen a sort of odd beauty in the plant. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the initial sighting of the Indian pipe provided a spark that made the last couple of miles of climbing much easier. Then again, adrenaline doesn’t really require much of an explanation.
On the way back to the park’s northern entrance, we were fortunate to catch brief glimpses of two bears, and this helped to make for a great day in the woods. The final stats for this hike (starting at mile 33.5 on Skyline Drive) were 5.8 miles with a cumulative elevation gain of 1645′. There was a significant amount of blueberries (mostly unripened) along the Buck Ridge Trail, so at some later date, a lucky hiker has a good chance of seeing a bear or two, That’s about as good as it gets!