2580’ Carson Mountain in Shenandoah National Park is an unremarkable peak for all of its long, wooded self except for one section along its eastern end: the Fort Windham Rocks, which also are the summit of the peak.
The Fort Windham Rocks are just a few minutes off the Appalachian Trail in the North District of the park. They consist of ancient lava that is very solid for climbing. They do not soar above the forest and provide sweeping views above the Blue Ridge, but they make an interesting destination for people interested in a little rock fun without dealing with the trail traffic (and effort) of popular scrambling sites like Old Rag and Bearfence Mountain. Also of interest is a narrow gap between two of the larger rocks; with a little imagination, one can walk through this tight squeeze and imagine he or she is in a slot canyon somewhere in southern Utah.
The guidebook Rock Climbing Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland says that there are easy-to-moderate topropes of 15-30’ here, and they are easy to find once you’re on the rocks, but I can’t imagine that too many people are going to go through the hassle of carrying and setting up gear for such short, easy climbs. The Fort Windham Rocks are, therefore, much better for bouldering and scrambling, with plenty to do from Class 3 on up, and it is in those interests that I submit this page.
Do be aware that although the climbs are short, most of them are exposed and could be very nasty or fatal if a fall occurs. This is not an outcrop for your young children to play on.
The top is open enough to make a pleasant spot to sit around and be lazy on a nice afternoon.
Getting ThereEnter Skyline Drive at one of the park’s four entrance stations and drive to a parking area just east of MP 10 (drive south from the Front Royal entrance and north from all others). Hike 0.3 miles north on the Appalachian Trail; at a signed junction, hike 0.2 miles to the rocks. That’s it. Then just have fun. Since the climbs are so short, you can do several during one outing.
Another way to reach the rocks is via the Appalachian Trail from SR 610, which is off U.S. 522 about 5 miles east of Front Royal. Follow Compton Gap Trail for 0.5 miles to the AT, where you head left (south) for 1.5 miles to the turnoff for the Fort Windham Rocks.
Red TapeIt costs $15 to enter the park, and that provides access for a week. Annual passes cost $30. The interagency pass, good for yearlong entry to areas managed by NPS, USDA Forest Service, USFWS, BLM, and the Bureau of Reclamation, costs $80.
It’s common sense to wear a helmet when climbing, anyway, but it’s especially important here since people at the top might toss rocks over the edge.
The park is open all year, but Skyline Drive does sometimes close after snow or ice storms. The park site does not give current road conditions, so call ahead (540-999-3500).
To reduce poaching, Skyline Drive is subject to closures during hunting season. The information below, copied and pasted from the park site, illustrates the 2006 restrictions—
From November 13, 2006, through January 6, 2007
• between Front Royal (Mile 0 at U.S. Highway 340) and Thornton Gap (Mile 31 at U.S. Highway 211), and
• between Swift Run Gap (Mile 65 at U.S. Highway 33) and Rockfish Gap (Mile 105 at U.S. Highway 250),
will be closed daily between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.
The central portion of the Drive, between Thornton Gap and Swift Run Gap, will remain open for overnight access to Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Campground until those facilities close on November 26.
Then, beginning November 27, 2006, through January 6, 2007, the entire length of the Skyline Drive will be closed daily from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m.
CampingThe closest campground is Mathews Arm at MP 22. It has showers, water, flush toilets, and a store. The campground is open from mid-May through October, and you can make reservations to stay there, though only 10% of the sites are reservable (see park link for more details). It will usually fill on holiday and October weekends. The fee for a campsite is $15 per night (as of 2007, higher if you reserve).
External LinksOfficial park site