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Elizabeth Furnace to Buzzard Rock (mostly) – GWNF

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Hike Summary

The first hike of the new year was an interesting one, and one I took away several lessons from.

  • When in doubt, don’t.
  • In the winter, warm temperatures can be more dangerous than cold ones.
  • Listen to your dog.

Nothing bad happened on my hike, but if I hadn’t been careful, and possibly if I hadn’t turned around early, it could have.

This hike is one of at least five different ways up to Buzzard Rock, I hiked a much shorter route from the north side earlier in the autumn.

The beginning of the hike was a little confusing for me, as I had to park outside of the closed Elizabeth Furnace picnic area and hike a little ways in. The directions from the site I was using were a little vague, but the hike begins at the Northeast side of the main parking lot, and follows an interpretative trail (The Pig Iron trail,) north to Elizabeth Furnace itself, which was a furnace that was used to smelt pig iron before and during the Civil War. It looks like a big fireplace, which is more or less basically what it was.

The trail takes a meandering route along Passage creek before slowly climbing up the hill. There are a couple of little spots where it crosses creeks and such, and there are some junctions with the shortcut trail that canĀ  be used on the way back. The blazes are Orange and Blue to indicate that it’s the Massanutten/Tuscarora trail most of the way.

I found that hiking uphill in the snow wasn’t too difficult, particularly because the way had been broken before me by some hikers as well as a mountain biker. Usually I am one to shake my fist and curse the name of mountain bikers, but in this case I was thankful for the extra traction (and, as far as I can tell, they’re allowed on these trails, so it’s all good as long as they don’t run me over.)

I even ran across a few people that had the gumption to be out camping in the snow. I know, even me hiking is somewhat ill advised, but camping in the middle of winter with snow on the ground is not something I expected to see.

The trail eventually wound up to Shawl Gap, and the four-way intersection there. There are signs pointing the way towards Buzzard Rock, and the trail blaze changes to white. I took some time to stop and try out one of my Christmas presents, which was one of those steel thermoses. My tea was nice and piping hot, and it was a welcome thing to be drinking in the cold.

The sun was higher in the sky by this time, so as I set out towards Buzzard Rock, the air became warmer. I didn’t give this much thought at first, until I realized that my footing was getting less sure, especially as the elevation dropped towards the rock. My dog was less surefooted as well.

I started to be a little unsure as I went, and when at one point I took a sudden slip and tumble into the snow, I decided that the intelligent decision was to turn back. I took some time to stop and eat some lunch and admire some of the views towards Front Royal, and then turned around, encountering (and warning) some fellow hikers/campers (they may have been the same ones I saw before, even) that were headed towards Buzzard Rock as well.

The hiking directions I had been using mentioned that there was a shortcut trail on the way back, but warned that it was much steeper than the other trail. I decided to give it a try, but the trail was far too icy and steep, so I had to backtrack. This happened twice on the way back, and it tired me out quite a bit. My dog was also getting pretty tired as well. I kinda wished that I had a sled that I could use to make the way back quicker, but we soldiered on. I was finally able to make one last cut over to the Charcoal interpretative trail.

I think, that if I am going to hike any more in the George Washington National Forest in the winter, I need some crampons for my boots. I think I am going to try to stick to lower elevations for now, where there isn’t snow and dangerous footing. Still, it was a fun hike in the snow, and I’m glad I did it.

More Pictures of Elizabeth Furnace