Kurt and Gail Rheinheimer at the Cascades
Gail and Kurt on the frozen pool below the Cascades falls, 1/30/11.
With temperatures projected to be in the 50s (and actually being there as we got out of the car), it seemed like a safe-enough day from the perspective of weather to go up to the great view from breezy, exposed, 3,250-foot Barney's Wall above the Cascades in Giles County, Va. A nearly fully parking lot verified that lots of people had seen the day the same way.
And while the weather cooperated fully, the trail bed was less friendly. In fact, less than a quarter in on the lower trail – the one that stays along the stream rather than follow the forest road high above – a young couple headed back cautioned that it was "very icy" ahead. They weren't exaggerating. To the extent that as we stubbornly made our way along it anyway, we saw only one other set of hikers – three young men in shorts and carrying nothing but a camera. (And their credibility as wild and crazy guys was fully confirmed a little later at the falls and its frozen pool, where they showed off for an assemblage of maybe 20 Virginia Tech coeds by taking off their shirts and, in at least one case, falling through the ice.)
Our foolishness was confined pretty much to sticking with the trail despite the slippin' and slidin' until your legs sort of get the message and it becomes a little easier.
As mentioned, things were pretty active at the falls, with people sliding around on the ice, squealing, taking pictures and falling in; all part of the data we gathered during the day that among maybe 50 or 60 people seen, we might have been the only ones out over the age of 23. (Well, we did see one other seasoned couple near the end.)
We had Barney's Wall to ourselves for lunch, save a brief visit by a 20-something guy and two head-turning crashes of pieces of the ice formations coming loose from the sheer faces all around, and rumbling down the hillside below.
There was one disappointment to lunch: For the first time ever, we LEF T THE CHOCOLATE IN THE CAR! No big deal for The Day Hiker, who has a nibble at most most weeks. But for me, I realized keenly this day, what the heck good is that salad if there's no chocolate to come afterward?
Actually, I've always known that.
The walk back down, with surer legs, going downhill and taking the easy, less-frozen route, was undertaken at a rate of 20 minutes per mile; we'd done 31-minute miles on the way up.
January 30, 2011 Hike
Cascades Trail, Nature Conservancy Trail to Barney's Wall and back. 8 miles
How to get there: U.S. 460 west from Blacksburg to Va. 623 in Pembroke to the end o' the road.
An earlier Kurt's Hike to Barney's Wall, from 2008.