The Buck Hollow to Mary's Rock hike is a great hike, until the last 1/2 mile. But I'll get to that in a minute.
Starting from a roadside parking area on Hwy 211 near Sperryville, VA, the bottom part of this hike takes you through a micro-climate that is almost a rain forest. It is very humid, damp, and stifling on a hot humid day with no breeze. You stay within earshot of running water most of the 3.2 miles up to Skyline drive.
About half-way up we ran into a young couple hiking down the trail. As we chatted for a moment they mentioned that the trail didn't seem to fit the description they expected. It turned out they had hiked 1.5 miles down the wrong trail without a map. I, of course, had a topographic map with me. They intended to go out for a pleasant stroll just off Skyline Drive and instead now found themselves well into a strenuous hike. I reviewed their options with them and they decided to continue to the bottom and come back up Buck Ridge trail for a six-mile circuit hike.
One you cross Skyline Drive the trail heads up again towards the Appalachian Trail. Along the way there is this old homestead, about 1/3 mile off of Skyline Drive, which was roughly the old road through the mountains. It seems like access to and from home would have been a challenge for the inhabitants of this house.
Once near our turnaround point we stopped for lunch on an overlook a few minutes before Mary's Rock. We knew Mary's Rock would be crowded so this quiet spot was a much better place to take a break.
At Mary's Rock.
The hike back down was uneventful. Buck's Ridge Trail, which wraps around the other side of the mountain is fairly easy for the first two miles. The last mile makes up for it. We ran into the lost couple again on this side. They didn't look too good, but since they were only 1 mile from the end and that mile is fairly flat I think they were ok.
After two miles the trail gets steep. The final 1/2 mile is all stairs. I don't know who built the stairs. It must have been a monumental effort. I knew the stairs were there from researching the hike. In fact, we chose the counter-clockwise route to avoid walking up a half-mile of stairs. Hiking down 1/2 mile of uneven stairs that are covered in gravel and loose rocks is not much easier. My knees and ankles were in a full revolt at the bottom.
As we hit the bottom there was thunder rumbling and it was 4 PM. We passed another young couple with no backpack and 1 water bottle each. They looked way too clean to have just hiked down the 3.2 miles from the top parking area, so they must have been just starting up. Doing that with the weather turning, totally unprepared seemed like a stupid idea to me. I commented as I passed them to have fun walking up the 1/2 mile staircase. Their reaction made it obvious that they had no idea when they were getting into.
From the bottom of the stairs it was a short 5 minute walk back to the car and the air conditioning. It was a fun hike but the stairs at the end kicked my butt. Also, when I got home last night I discovered that my pictures are all at 640 X 480. I have no idea how my phone ended up in that mode.