This was a fun hike, sitting north of Buzzard rock, which I had hiked a few weeks prior. I had read up on this loop hike, and what I was able to determine was it was a mix of conditions from river crossings, rock gardens, and steep and obscured views from the summit. I found all but the steepness to be accurate.
The parking area for Meneka Peak and or Signal Knob is quite large. When I arrived, there was a handful of vehicles already in the parking lot; all but one was covered in frost. I had anticipated this would be a popular hike, and for the most part, it was as the lot was full upon my return, although I wouldn't see another person until I crossed paths with two young women who were upbound as I was on my return to the trailhead.
It was a crisp morning, about 30 degrees; I could see my breath in the air; perfect hiking weather and the high was expected to be in the low 40s. I had packed everything the night before, and this allowed me to throw my pack on my back, grab my hiking poles, and get on the trail quickly. I left the car at 7:51 am; I was hoping for a little earlier start as I wasn't quite sure what the actual trail would be like, yes I had reviewed other trip reports on this loop hike, but I have also found most trip reports to be informative, but also subjective.
There are two directions to hike this, clockwise or counterclockwise. I had read counterclockwise was the best way as it was the steepest and rockiest first and a more gradual descent on the way out. This, to me, was the preferred direction as I would rather go up steep inclines with fresh legs than down with tired wonky legs. I opted for counterclockwise and found the beginning of the trail to be a nice narrow trail, skirting the side of a hill above a drainage creek coming down from the mountain.
The trail continued up gradually along the side of the hill, passing a tent site and a cabin on the left. I continued until I came to a creek crossing. I found this area not well marked as it looks like the trail continues up to the left of the creek, but in fact, it crosses here. During the summer months, or when the leaves are still on the trees, this might be obvious, but with the leaves all off the trees, it was a little obscure. After crossing the creek, the trail continues its gradual incline providing some unobscured views of Buzzard Rock and to the north. The views became plentiful the further up I went, and I soon found myself at another tent site with a more open view of Buzzard Rock and Richardsons Knob. At this point, the trail begins to skirt the boundary line for Warren and Shenandoah counties on and off until passing Meneka Peak proper.
Continuing up, I crossed over a small rock garden, providing limited views to the southwest, and I then eventually arrived at my next viewpoint (Fort Valley overlook), looking down the valley towards Fort Valley. From here, the trail turns north, passing through the bigger of the three rock fields I would pass through. I found none of them steep or overly technical but merely watching where I stepped. Each rock garden provided interesting scenery, from lichen-covered rocks to dens that could house critters. The last of the three I would pass through was more of a rocky mound, and although I had never seen anything, I felt I was being watched by something above me to my right. I soon found myself back on solid ground, passing through some soft loamy ground surrounded by pines; I remember thinking this would be a perfect spot for a tent if only there were room between the trees. I would not pass another official tent site until I was on the ridge.
I was again straddling the Warren/Shenandoah county line as the trail returned and followed the boundary until just past the summit. The trail continued up until I found myself on the ridge, passing by 2 or 3 campsites that would be pretty awesome to spend the night at. I passed over a few rocky outcroppings and soon found myself at the trail junction to Signal Knob. In hindsight, I wished I had taken the trip over and back to Signal Knob as the elevation gain would be minimal, but alas, I did not.
From the trail junction to the summit of Meneka Peak, it is just a mere .5 miles passing up through one small rocky outcrop. I arrived at the summit at 1020 am. I expected to see others on the summit, but as luck would have it, I was alone; I had it all to myself. Once again, I could not find any sign that designated the summit of Meneka Peak, not even a surveyor pin. in any event, I did the traditional selfie picture, had a snack, took a few more pictures, and soon continued my way down the trail. I did notice on the west side of the peak, the further down the ridge I went, due to the leaf cover, the trail was harder to follow; at a few points, I had to stop and look ahead for the next trail marker. Once I reached the next trail junction, which led down to the reservoir, the trail became easier to follow as it zigzagged down the mountain. I took my time, soaking in the views, and the smells of the forest, all while watching for wildlife; it was peaceful. I would pass the first two day hikers about halfway down the mountain; they were upbound, unknown of their destination. It wasn't long after passing these hikers that I would have the privilege of seeing four bucks cross the trail in front of me. I got a video of them, but not until after what seemed like forever, as I fumbled for my phone. It was a cool experience.
I was soon passed by four downbound hikers who had been on an overnight backpacking trip to Strasburgh reservoir. This happens when one pokes along and takes time to soak in all the scenery. The five of us would take turns passing each other until we reached the parking area.
Start time: 7:51 am
End time: 1:03 pm
Distance 8.72 miles
Elevation gain 1790'