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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Little Devils Stairs – Shenandoah National Park

Hike Summary

This was probably the most challenging hike I’ve done since I started hiking, with the exception of Sky Meadows (which I made before I started tracking things, and before I was really prepared.)

Getting to the hike itself was a little bit of an adventure, as it doesn’t start from Skyline Drive, but at the end of Keyser Run Road in the back of random neighborhoods near Washington, VA. Part of the hike itself consists of what used to be the continuation of that road before the area was turned into a park.

So, the hike. It starts out more or less gently for about the first quarter mile, but then becomes increasingly difficult up until around the 2 mile mark. The hike parallels Keyser Run up a narrow gorge, so even though the trail is mostly well marked, it’s almost impossible to miss the trail because there’s nowhere else to go.

There were points where I had to do hand-over-hand climbing, and at least one spot that I had to boost the dog to help him up a ledge that was too high for him. He’s a medium, 50 pound dog, so most things don’t bother him, but this particular part was a little challenging.

The challenge was worth it, though. Although I suspect it’s nicer in the springtime when more water is flowing, almost every few feet there was a little cascade, waterfall, rill or some other vista of falling water. There was a constant gurgling, trickling sound. I almost got tired of taking pictures.

It was rough going for a bit, I had to take constant breaks so that I could catch my breath. Even though the temperature was in the 70s F, it felt as warm as some of the hotter summer hikes due to the exertion. I was definitely glad when I hit the junction called Fourway.

From Fourway, it was pretty much smooth sailing and downhill all the way to the end, down fire roads. I did encounter an equestrian doing laps on the road, for which she apologized. I told her I was perfectly fine with her riding up and down the road, although my dog had never seen a horse before. I think he thought it was some sort of large dog, and he wanted to make friends.

I am doubly glad she was there because she mentioned that there was a group of four bears along the trail ahead of me, but her horse had scared them off. I am a little nervous about bear encounters, as though where I grew up was next to and surrounded by National parks, there haven’t been any bears repopulating them.

I passed by a cemetery along the way as well, it was very well maintained. It made me a little sad to think about all the people who used to live within the bounds of the park that had their land seized and were basically kicked out, but on the other hand it was for a very good cause, and most of the time you can’t really tell that anyone ever lived in Shenandoah.

The leaves are just starting to barely turn up here. Hopefully soon, I will be seeing spectacular colors on my hikes.

More Pictures of Little Devils Stairs
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Bull Run-Occoquan Trail – Bull Run to Rt. 28 (Plus Bluebell Loop)

Hike Summary

This is the last hike of Summer for me, a summer that has been long and unbelievably hot. I am actually very happy that Fall is almost here, because (in my opinion) it is probably the best time of the year in Northern Virginia. It isn’t quite freezing yet, but the energy-draining humidity is finally gone. That means plenty of great hikes are in store, especially when the leaves start turning.

I grew up in a small Northern California town, so I am not so used to the dramatic changes of the seasons. There, the changes are much more subtle — one season almost blends into the other, with mainly the amount of rain really being the sign whereby you can tell the difference.

I’ve been wanting to hike the entirety of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail, but I want to hike it in segments first. That way, I have an idea if I am even ready to be able to do the whole thing.

So this first section was pretty easy compared to the section I had hiked a few weeks ago. There’s almost no elevation change, and the trail more or less sticks to the route of Bull Run the entire way, passing through broadleaf forest. I was able to go at a pretty quick pace as well, almost as fast as I walk when I go on my morning walks. It is mostly well-maintained, although there was one river crossing on a very rickety bridge that scared me quite a bit. I am not a fan of narrow bridges without railings, and especially ones that are tilting at an angle. The bridge was sound however, and it was a little less scary on the way back.

This also seems to be a pretty heavily used section of the trail, there are a lot of spots to go fishing along the way, and numerous side trails leading over to the spots. I saw a group of people fishing, as well as a trail runner. One thing that angered me a little was the numerous tire tracks of mountain bikes. This is supposed to be a conservation area, and bicycles aren’t allowed on the trail, but of course this doesn’t prevent them from going  anyhow. Of course, this use by bicycles has caused the trail to become rutted and very muddy in spots.

I have a fairly long history of dislike of mountain bikers, both as a pedestrian and as a driver. I grew up next to Mount Tamalpais, which is where a lot of mountain biking got its start, and unfortunately, I have met a lot of very rude bikers, both on the trail and on the road. I know that there are plenty of responsible bikers out there, but I do very much wish that they would follow the rules. I follow the rules with respect to dog use on trails, even though there are 2 parks close by that I would love to go hiking in, but since they don’t allow dogs even on leashes, they are closed to me.

On the way back, I decided to take a side tour and go on the Bluebell Loop, which is supposed to have spectacular views of bluebells in the springtime. I will definitely have to come back to check them out in the spring. It’s much the same as the rest of the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail, passing through the same forest.

Big Devils Stairs, Shenandoah National Park

Hike Summary
Finally, I was able to head into Shenandoah National Park after being stuck at home for two weeks. It was an almost giddy sense of freedom for me.

The weather was beautiful, with highs forecast in the 70s, it seems as if finally the hot sweltery  summer may actually be behind us. There was a crispness in the air, finally.

This was my first actual hike in Shenandoah NP. I’ve driven through it before, with my parents and with my SO, although he is not a fan, not liking heights all that much. I still haven’t managed to actually drive through it when the leaves have turned, so I am looking forward to actually doing that when the seasons really start changing.

Wild Grapes

So, the hike. It was billed as being able to see some unusual overlooks that one doesn’t normally get to see in Shenandoah, so I figured I’d give it a go. I am still building up my strength with regards to elevation changes, so a 5 mile hike with 1000 ft of elevation change seemed to be a good fit.

It started out easily, down a fire road that paralleled the Appalachian Trail, which was a nice easy walk. Then, it veered off into a narrower trail that was more rough, alternating between dirt and a lot of rocky scree, which made for some rough footing. I did lose my balance at one point and fell into a patch of stinging nettle, which was rather entertaining. My canine companion came back to investigate why we weren’t moving at all, but was otherwise entirely unhelpful.

The woods were alive with the sound of birds, but no longer cicadas. It was very shady throughout most of the hike, until the junction with the actual Big Devils Stairs trail itself. The landscape changed a bit from broadleaf trees to more evergreens, with big stands of mountain laurel lining the trail. There was a permanant campsite along the way, it looked like a pleasant place to stay.

Then, the trail came out to the edge of a gorge, on a big rock outcropping. There was a nice sheer edge and I did get a little nervous. It both helped and didn’t help that my dog didn’t seem to care one bit and walked right over to the edge and sniffed the side.

First Overlook

I clenched my teeth and stuffed down my nervousness and went down the steepish path to the second overlook. The view was pretty spectacular. The pictures don’t really do it justice, especially since it’s hard to really see that it’s a bare edge into space.

Second Overlook

The second overlook made a good place to stop and have a little bit of lunch. As I sat there, I could hear the wind sigh over through the gorge. It was very peaceful and isolated feeling, as I looked out over the mountains. One can almost imagine that the forest just keeps going, undisturbed to the edge of the continent. Then, I heard an airplane, and was broken out of my reverie. Time to turn back and head home.

The way back

I have actually recovered pretty quickly from the soreness of this hike, only really getting some major soreness in my hips. I am getting more fit, it seems.

More pictures of Big Devils Stairs

Another Week, Another Lack of Hike

It kinda bummed me out — a second week of no hiking, so another week of no articles on the blog.  I need to think about doing some sort of other content for when I am unable to do hiking, as happened for a lengthy stretch this time.

It isn’t that I didn’t want to hike — I really did want to. The weather and my body conspired against me, preventing me. It was either raining, or 90 degrees out, or sometimes both. I also managed to pinch a nerve in my pelvis, and I had a flareup of gout, which I haven’t had in years, so I wasn’t even able to sit at my desk for more than an hour at a time.

This more or less put me in a funk for the week. I was hoping things would clear up, but alas.

I did manage to at least do all my daily walks, and thus far I am continuing to lose weight, so in least that respect things are going well.

I just want to get out there!