Hike: Hanging Rock State Park, Moore’s Knob Loop trail (first time for me doing the full loop!) on Mother’s Day, 5/10/2020. Also, I say “hike” here but really this was meant as a trail run… so much of it was difficult to run, it ended up being a run/hike.
Goal: Wanted to make this an “epic trail adventure” as I told Gabe the night before… which meant doing the 5 peaks route (~9+ miles). However, I knew if I was feeling tired (or going slow), I’d have plenty of chances to cut it short and head home. I didn’t want to spend the entire day away, so I told myself I’d run for 2 hours at most.
Gear: We’ve had cold temps this May (what else can 2020 throw at us?) so I wore my Smartwool tights and base layer top, with North Face running jacket, gloves, and Oiselle T-shirt + headband. I packed my Camelbak backpack with 1 liter of water, 2 bottles of water (1 for Luna, 1 for me with Nuun electrolytes), a few snacks just in case, my first aid kit, self protection, and a space blanket. The whole thing weighed at least 10 lbs so I kinda wish I would’ve gone a bit lighter. I definitely did not need all that water since it was so cold.
Gut: I ate a chocolate Clif Z-bar and drank coffee on the 45 minute drive there, plus sipped on some Nuun.
Weather: Pretty darn cold. The van had frost on it when I left the house. I think it was 34* when I got to Hanging Rock but the sun was out so it warmed up nicely.
Pre-Hike: I had made plans to do this hike with my friend MM, but she needed to reschedule, so I figured I’d go solo, but bring Luna so I’d have company. I woke at 5:45 and was out the door by my planned time of 6:15. I wanted to get there at 7 so I could beat the crowds! I had a somewhat peaceful 45 minute drive up… Luna was whining in the back. I knew she needed to poo so I pulled over and let her out, but she wouldn’t go. So I ignored the whining.
As I drove the windy roads, I thought back to previous trips to Hanging Rock to climb up Moore’s Knob trail. My very first time was in 2015 with my dear friend JL, and we did the same route I planned to do today, Moore’s Knob. Then I took Javi there a month later to celebrate his birthday, because I felt the view was so amazing, it must be shared (he wasn’t a fan of the huge elevation gain, but we did have a nice picnic at the end). Three years passed…
I didn’t go again until November 2018, when I took my stepdaughter Katelyn. I couldn’t help but think, this is a place that you LOVE, that makes you feel so ALIVE, and yet you’ve only been there 4 times in 5 years?? I knew we had been to Hanging Rock State Park on other occasions, to do other/easier trails, but as I wracked my memory bank, I realized that yes, several years passed in between these hikes. I’m so glad I rediscovered trail running and hiking in the past two years, because it’s made such a difference in my life. My mental state is vastly improved when I spend time in nature… I can find the calm, and let go of all the little things that just don’t matter.
I arrived a little before 7, happy to see the gate was open, but sad to see the lake parking area, where I wanted to park, was closed. I parked in the main parking lot and not a car or soul in sight. Just me & you, Luna girl. We jogged the few minutes down to the lake area to warm up.
I needed to use the restroom but the ones at the lake appeared closed (had red caution tape) so I just went in the woods (per usual…ha!) We started out by the info/map sign just behind the lake, and next to the picnic area.
Hike/Run: I felt so excited to do this trail run (fresh air! views! peace & quiet!), I had little waves of euphoria as I started out. That ended abruptly as Luna stopped to poop right in the middle of the trail, 2 minutes into our run. I used a big stick to scrape it off the trail, and we continued on. One minute later, there she goes again! I was feeling very bad that she held it for so long, but I did give her plenty of opportunities, so… We continued up towards the campground, where I saw a camper and truck in the “Camp Host” spot, but otherwise, no one. It has been 1.5 years since I’ve been here, but still found the trail fairly easily.
This is when Luna turned on her “wheels”… the trail dips down to a creek before shooting straight up the mountain, and she wanted to SPRINT. I definitely did not, with all the rocks and roots. Thus, a very long and painful dog run (rather, being pulled by my dog) ensued.
My former co-worker said he once counted the steps up to Moore’s Knob, and there are over 600 of them. I was out of breath but my legs weren’t at muscle failure, which I quickly realized was because Luna did most of the work! I tried to get her to slow down, but she wouldn’t. I was afraid to let her off the leash, because I’d sure hate to lose her or have her run up to someone who’s afraid of dogs. I vowed to find a better leash/harness so that she couldn’t pull me so hard.
Up and up we climbed. I had forgotten how the stone steps seem never-ending. I wanted to take off my jacket badly, but figured I’d then get too cold at the top, so I left it on. My watch vibrated every few minutes, letting me know I had reached my stair goal (10 flights/day) again, and again, and again. Finally after I had reached the goal 7 times, I told myself to just ignore the watch. My legs screamed for mercy near the top, and once I saw Balanced Rock, I knew we were so close.
Just one last little section of trail, a rock face, and we reached the observation tower. I was relieved to at last reach it, after 19 minutes of climbing (creek to top of observation post) and 824 feet in elevation gain over just one mile. WHEW! A quick, nerdy calculation revealed that 840 vertical feet = a 70 story building (assuming a floor to ceiling height of 12 feet)… no wonder I’m tired!
One more flashback: Ironically, the photo of me & Luna above is in the same spot where Jen & I sat in 2015…
I had a quick look around and enjoy the scenery moment, gave Luna some water, had some Nuun and half a rice krispie treat to stave off the hunger, and took a few photos.
Back down… on the other side of the loop trail where I’d never ventured before. Turns out: hella (to use Jen’s word!) rocky and rooty, with long difficult downhill stretches. I wished for some trekking poles, and I wished that Luna wasn’t pulling me so darn hard. I should have just let her off the leash, in hindsight, because I was getting so upset at how much she was pulling me. It pulled so hard on my waist and back that I was using my hand/arm to pull on the leash, but even that didn’t slow her down, and I quickly had muscle/grip failure! (Side note: I finally ordered a Joyride Harness, which I’m hoping lives up to the hype and teaches her NOT to pull so hard!)
I was cussing
a bit a lot and wishing the trail had easier footing, and I saw the one and only other person we’d pass that morning. I told him the dog was pulling me up and now back down (because I’m pretty sure he heard me swearing at Luna and I felt a tad embarrassed!) He just laughed.
I looked down at my watch, and was sad to see how long it took to go such a short distance… normally a tenth of mile would take me a minute or so, but when trail running, it might take 1.5 minutes. This steep, rocky, rooty–in a word: arduous–descent was taking 2 minutes per 0.1 mile. In other words, a 20-minute-mile. Ughhhhh. I knew I wouldn’t have the time, energy, nor inclination to do any more trails other than the Moore’s Knob Loop. Oh well… save it for another day, when you’re not being dragged by your dog!
Finally, some sweet relief came when the trail leveled out, and the rocks and roots all but disappeared. I noted the big sign for the Magnolia Springs side trail (but at this point, was too tired to even take a picture). We had about a mile left, and it was blessedly flat with very few rocks and roots.
I made it back to the trail just south of the lake, and smiled to myself, knowing I was about to be done, and made it in one piece, without getting injured or lost. I did it–I ran the full Moore’s Knob loop!
Then, the way life does, not 5 seconds later, I received a stark reminder not to get too confident or celebrate too early: I tripped on a big stick, which stubbed my left toe, and broke against my right leg. Ouchhhhh… Goodness!
After we passed the info/map signage (our start point), we continued onto the MST (Mountains to Sea trail) past the lake, where I saw one person fishing from the little pier. I took a quick potty break in the woods, then headed over to where we parked.
About 20 cars were parked by this time, with plenty of people walking around. I wanted to add a bit more distance, and have a chance to walk to cool down, so we ran all the way to the end of the parking lot (by the Window Falls trail), made a U-turn, and headed back. We walked a few minutes, as I was trying to give the people parked next to me time to leave. They were a bit slow getting out of there, so I stood a little ways away and gave Luna water. One of the people wanted to pet her, so I chatted with him for 1 minute before they headed out. He said he’s got a weimaraner too, but his has ear problems (which made me very thankful that Luna’s in such good health).
‘Twas an excellent trail run/hike! 🙂 I chomped down a chocolate chunk Clif bar on the way home, finished my coffee, and called my dear Mom to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day.
Route (from my Strava account):
Recommend: For sure, this is a wonderful hike–the views make it very worthwhile. However, this is not for the faint of heart, as the 1 mile with 1,000 feet elevation gain is VERY strenuous. I don’t know that my kids (ages 9 and nearly 6) could handle it without taking many, many breaks, though I have seen a few kids on this trail before. I’d recommend trekking poles and going early or late in the day, as this would not be fun in the heat or with lots of people on the trail (just my 2 cents). Definitely bring water and snacks, as this will probably take most people several hours.
Have you hiked at Hanging Rock State Park? Which trail is your fave? Share below 🙂