Let's hike Bearfence Mountain

September 17, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

At the end of August, I hiked to the top of Bearfence Mountain in Shenandoah National Park to shoot the sunrise. I had never been there before and had heard it was very pretty. Shall we pretend we can go back in time and hike it together? Let's go!

The Photographer's Ephemeris says sunrise will be at 6:38 atop the mountain. We want to be there for dawn as well, which begins at 6:10. We should be there no later than 6:00, so we have a few minutes to setup for the shoot. And we'll have to hike to get there. The National Park Service says the hike is of moderate difficulty, but short—only a 1 hour hike, round trip. So, we should make sure to be at the trailhead by 5:30 at the latest. Apple Maps says it's a 2.5 hour drive, so we'd better leave by 3:00. Getting up at 2:30 should be fine, as long as we setup the coffee maker the night before (we'll need it) and pack the gear ahead of time.

So we head out at 3:00 in the morning. It's temping to go back to bed, but the coffee is helping. The drive is going great until we get into further out into the Piedmont region. It's still dark, fog is settling in, and there are lots of deer along the side of the road. We'll have to slow down a bit to stay safe. Keep your fingers crossed we make good time—we would feel really silly getting up at 2:30, drive out all this way, and then miss the sunrise!

Fortunately, we get there on time. There are almost no cars on the road and just one other car in the parking lot at the trailhead. So, we don our head lamps and set off. We'll have to hike at a brisk pace. It's not easy going though—much of the trail consists of a rock scramble and everything is harder in the dark. Here's an iPhone photo of the trail:

JWB3_170825_0138JWB3_170825_0138The rock scramble portion of the Bearfence Mountain trail in Shenandoah National Park as seen with a head lamp at night.

The trail isn't quite as bad as it seemed at first. We make it up just in time for dawn.

Summer Dawn from Bearfence MountainSummer Dawn from Bearfence MountainA summer dawn in Shenandoah National Park as seen from Bearfence Mountain.

It's pretty atop the mountain, but a little chilly and a little windy. We'll have to experiment with our camera settings to compensate for the wind. It won't do to have all the foliage blurry. ... And then the sun comes up:

Summer Sunrise from Bearfence MountainSummer Sunrise from Bearfence MountainA summer sunrise in Shenandoah National Park as seen from Bearfence Mountain. It's very pretty, but too bad there aren't any clouds. One of the special things about Bearfence is that from the peak you have a 360-degree view of Shenandoah. In fact, if we turn around, we can see that there are clouds coming in from the west.

Low Clouds over the Blue Ridge MountainsLow Clouds over the Blue Ridge MountainsMorning low clouds approach from the west in Shenandoah National Park, as seen from Bearfence Mountain.

Speaking of which, turning around is difficult. We're literally standing on a bunch of rocks at the top of the mountain. If we take a step backwards, we'll fall down the other side of the mountain. Oh and let's look at those clouds gain. Wow, they're moving fast!

Low Clouds Approaching BearfenceLow Clouds Approaching BearfenceLow clouds quickly approach Bearfence Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.

And then:

JWB_170825_4688JWB_170825_4688Low clouds engulf Bearfence Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. Well, there goes our special 360-degree view of Shenandoah! I guess we might as well pack up and continue onto the second part of the trail and climb back down. We have more rock scramble ahead of us:

Bearfence Rock Scramble in FogBearfence Rock Scramble in FogLow clouds and the second half of the rock scramble leading away from the panoramic view atop Bearfence Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. Blue blazes mark the trail.

The trail is a bit ho-hum in the fog. We find a little lookout along the trail and stop to eat sandwiches. There's nothing to see but fog. After eating, we head out again. Further along the trail, there's a moment  when the sun pushes its way through the fog and foliage. We'll have to get the camera back out for this!

Forest Light Through the FogForest Light Through the FogThe sun peeks through summer foliage and low clouds on the trail from Bearfence Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.

That was a fun hike. We're back in the car now. It's getting close to mid-morning. We might as well drive north and start heading back. Mid-morning light usually makes for bad landscapes. But we got some good stuff and we might get back home in time for a late lunch.

On our drive north, we pass by some beautiful vistas. The patchy clouds are casting shadows on the forest below:

Patchy Clouds Over ShenandoahPatchy Clouds Over ShenandoahPatchy clouds cast shdaows upon the Blue Ridge Mountains and forests in Shenandoah National Park. We stop at the visitor center at Big Meadows to fill the water bottles. The view from the visitor center looks great. The low clouds have followed us north.

Low Clouds Over Big MeadowsLow Clouds Over Big MeadowsFog and low clouds pass through Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. We might as well walk on down into the meadow while we're here!

When we get down into the meadow, the clouds are starting to lift and the light is a little harsh, but it's still very pretty.

Summer in Big MeadowsSummer in Big MeadowsLow clouds at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park.

And then the clouds have lifted.

Blue Skies Over Big MeadowsBlue Skies Over Big MeadowsA sunny summer day at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. Well, I'd say that was a productive morning! We had a fun hike, got to see something new, and have a few great photos for our efforts. Let's head on home!

 


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