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Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Looking west from Skyline DriveContrary to the beautiful clear skies over us at bedtime, the morning brought heavy clouds. The clouds and heavy forest kept it dark enough that we slept until around 9:00. We got up, packed camp and within 20 minutes were back at the car. I cooked breakfast of oatmeal as the sun came out a little. Bidding farewell to the south end of the park, we drove towards the central region. Clouds rolled back in from the east, and whisps of ragged cloud sailed right over our heads at incredible speed when we got out of the car at the pullouts along the road. The wind waxed, and it grew very cold. Rain began to spittle on the windshield, and we prepared for the worst. By the time we reached the South River Falls Trailhead, it looked bleak. Sunshine was long gone. We donned our rain gear, and began walking up into the closed picnic ground at the trailhead. Giant trees lay strewn about the picnic area, wreckage from Hurricane Isabel that passed through 2 weeks before. We had seen no sign of the storm in the south end of the park, but from Swift Run Gap north, downed trees were the norm. The chief advantage of the bad weather and closed picnic area was that we were the only ones on the trail. We strolled down the wide trail, hopping over massive tree trunks when required. The fog was increasing in density, and visibility was dropping, lending an eerie calm to the woods. The wind hummed high above, but down in the thick woods, the air was still. We expected at any moment to see the Headless Horseman galloping up through the fog over the leaf-littered path. 

Dark HollowSouth River Falls is very large. A rock-walled viewing balcony slightly downstream provided a nice all-encompassing perch from which to admire the crashing of water on the rocks below. A branch trail allows one to hike even further downstream. I canít tell you what lay down there since we decided that we should head back. The fog was so thick, and the air so humid, I never did quite decide if it was raining, or if fog was condensing on leaves overhead at such a rate as to make it seem so. At any rate, drops of water were falling on us at a good rate, and it was a tossup whether one would stay drier with a rain jacket (which condensed sweat on the inside) or without. I waffled back and forth. The hot, wet conditions were somewhat unpleasant, I must admit. Nothing like the dry, fresh desert climate from Utah. Nevertheless, I think we were lucky to be able to experience the park in the fog and rain. It seemed very fitting, somehow. 

Dark Hollow FallsBack in the car, we determined that the weather precluded tent-sleeping that night. We drove up the road and stopped at the Lewis Mountain picnic ground to eat lunch. I ate a quick meal of ramen noodles and made the same for Andra. It was raining steadily by that point. We drove up in the rain to Big Meadows Lodge, and begged for a room. They had a cabin left for that night, and we claimed it, although it wouldnít be available until 3:00. We drove down to the convenience store and bought ourselves a soda before heading over to Dark Hollow. Hereís where we really hit paydirt. I canít think of a better time to hike a place called Dark Hollow than during a wet, foggy, cold afternoon. We started off down the apparently very-well used trail, and I stopped at intervals to photograph the incredible combination of mist, fall color and winding stream. The light was so faint I had to resort to calculating shutter speeds up to 30 seconds for some areas, figuring it out by tricking the cameraís exposure meter by dialing in the highest ISO setting available, then multiplying. It was during this trip that the need for an independent light meter became obvious. The trail was short, but it chewed up a lot of time since I felt an unconquerable urge to photograph everything I saw. The long shutter speeds I had to use didnít help. The small creek ran down through dozens of falls, churning in white foam and creating crystal clear pools covered in large part by yellow and red leaves. We reached a wooden bridge below a series of falls, and turned back. The fog came and went on the hike back, clearing enough to allow full views of the trees around us at some points, then hugging in to prohibit views from even 30 feet away at other times. I read later that it is the most visited spot in the entire park. I think thatís justified. It was a very pleasant walk. 

Back at Big Meadows Lodge, we secured the room key and moved our stuff into the cabin. The cabin was a 20 x 20í cedar-sided box that was partitioned into two rooms and two bathrooms. Our money granted us access to one room and one bathroom. It had no tv, no phone, no ironing board and no bathtub. It did have Dark Hollowberber carpet, a fireplace and 4 windows. Just the bare necessities. I found it perhaps the homeiest room Iíd ever rented. We both showered, and then determined to go eat. We strolled down to the Lodge and previewed the menu, where we found that those wishing to find dinner for less than $20 should go elsewhere. Elsewhere is exactly where we went. Down to the camp store on the corner of Skyline Drive and the Big Meadows Road there is a small diner. We sat down and each had a burger, fries and Coke for something like $10, served to us by a very friendly Hungarian fellow with super-thick accent. On our way out, just after closing time, I bought a small container of maple-walnut fudge. Oh boy, do I love fudge. 

Back at the room, I determined a fire was in order. What better way to spend the evening than to sit by the fire reading a book (The Fountainhead) on a stormy night? Being the manly thing to do, I set right to it. The groundskeeper had been so kind as to stack a pile of wood just outside the front door, but had not had the foresight to put it under anything. Since it had been raining for the better part of 10 hours by that point, the wood tenaciously resisted my attempts to ignite it. Even after a good dousing with white gas. Twice. We settled for the small electric heaters mounted in the wall of the room and bathroom. Of course, when the power went out sometime around 2AM, those heaters proved to be somewhat ineffective at keeping my bum from freezing. I later learned the high winds had blown down power lines all over the park. Again, we decided it was a good move for us to have rented the cabin that night. 

Andra at Big Run
 
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