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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Buck Hollow/Mary’s Rock – Shenandoah National Park

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Hike Summary

This hike.

This hike was something.

What kind of something? I am still trying to figure that out. I feel drained. I’m almost too tired to even write. This hike was tiring, interesting, boring, exhilarating, and ultimately exhausting.

I got up at 6AM on Thursday, knowing that this hike would take a while, so I tried to plan ahead to make sure I had the most of the day to get it done in, preferably in the morning before it go too warm. Even though it’s Autumn, we were having an unusual warm spell, and temperatures were almost in the 80s.

I got to the trailhead, and that’s when some of my troubles started. First, my phone GPS wouldn’t lock on. Then, my heart rate monitor stopped sending data (this is a new toy I’d picked up recently) until I realized that putting my phone in Airplane mode is what turned the Bluetooth part off.

Anyhow, once I got all those things fixed, and all my gear adjusted, I was off.

The woods were sort of still wreathed in fog, but it started to burn off as I hiked. Buck Hollow Trail crosses the Thornton river (more of a creek) and follows another intermittent stream on the way, which was gurgling with water, and had a few lovely cascades. Going up was a pretty tough climb, but the views of the autumn foliage were nice, and when I occasionally had to stop to drink or catch my breath, I could hear plenty of forest sounds, like the rattling of woodpeckers, and the arguing of other birds.

Eventually, the trail comes up to Skyline Drive, at the Meadow Spring parking area. From there, the trail continued via the Meadow Spring Trail. This trail was much more crowded, much more than I expected on a weekday, with plenty of hikers making the same (but shorter) trip up to Mary’s Rock.

This was also the first time I got to hike for any significant portion on the Appalachian trail. Granted, it was only really a mile’s worth, but that’s more than I’ve hiked before. I really would love to hike the whole thing someday. After this hike though, it made me realize I have a lot to go before I can tackle such a challenge. I need a lot more strength and endurance.

So, up to the summit of Mary’s Rock I went, and upon arrival, there was a group of Baby Boomer types perched at the top, chatting. I took a break, taking pictures, relaxing, wolfing down another Clif bar. More people started to trickle up to the top, and it wasn’t long before it was almost a traffic jam. My dog was starting to get a little overstimulated from all the people around, so I decided to head back, stopping to take a picture of the old homestead on the way.

Down we went. At Skyline again, I ran across a group of people from (I am guessing by accents) New Jersey who were lost. They wanted to get to Mary’s Rock, so I gave them directions, giving them the map that I’d printed out, since I was on the way back, I didn’t really need it anymore. Hopefully it helped them get there. They were really pleasant people.

The way back down was pretty easy seeming at first, as downhills tend to be. It wasn’t particularly steep, but it seemed like it was taking forever. And then … I came to the rocks and The Stairs. The last mile or so of Buck Ridge Trail, before it joined back to Buck Hollow Trail, was extremely steep on loose rock and gravel. This rock and gravel was not very kind to my already sore feet. The trail builders tried to compensate for the steepness by building steps. These steps are evil. They were shallow with loose gravel, and they were also covered by tons of leaves, making them slippery and very treacherous. I will have nightmares of those stairs. I didn’t take any pictures of the stairs because I was so exhausted by this point (and thirsty, having run low on water, an error I don’t plan on repeating,) that my world just shrank into focusing on shuffling down these stairs, plus the endless sound of crunching leaves.

Eventually, I made it back to the main trail, and then back to my starting point. I almost hugged my car, I was so happy. I had done it. Nine … nay, almost 10 miles in one day. An altitude gain of over 2000 feet. I was, and still am, tired.

I think it will be a while before I do that length/difficulty again. I wanted to see if I could do it, and I know I can, but that it took all of my reserves to do so. I was running on empty by the time I was done.

More Pictures of Buck Hollow/Mary’s Rock Hike

Hopefully I will be able to go on a hike next week, but I am a little worried about the Frankenstorm, AKA the storm currently known as Hurricane Sandy. It is set to hit my area (if the current projections hold) on Wednesday, and there’s the possibility that it might dump snow on me. If that’s the case, I’ll have to think of something interesting to blog about that isn’t an actual hike I’ve been on recently.


Virginia State Arboretum – Bridle Path

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Hike Summary

This day was an interesting day with a lot of sights, but ultimately a little bit of a frustrating one.

I’ve been to Blandy Farms before, back in the spring, before I started this blog, when I was trying to get an idea of whether or not I wanted to keep hiking. I’ve driven past the place a couple of times, and didn’t realize there was so much there to explore. So, explore it I did, before I had a backpack, when I still had ancient, worn-out hiking shoes.

It was an enjoyable little hike, following an older guide from 60 Hikes Near Washington DC that I have. I saw the Gingko tree grove, and I wanted to come back when they were in fall color.

Fast forward to now, when they were almost at their peak. Many of them had a nice shade of bright yellow, stinky nuts underfoot as I wandered around, taking photos. The wind was really blowing that day, and I was very glad I brought my jacket liner to wear. I was a little disappointed in the photos I got with my Canon camera, this is what comes of trying to relearn how to take photos with Manual camera settings.

I’m also trying to learn how to really take good photos, and not just with my phone’s camera plus an Instagram filter.  I’d like this blog to be more informative, and not necessarily just my ramblings about my hikes, although that in itself can be cathartic. That’s why I started this thing in the first place, after all.

So, the hike. As I said, in the spring I followed a guide from a book, this time I wanted to try to hike further (since I’ve built up more fitness) and so I opted to use the bridle path trail that wanders around the grounds.

This proved interesting, and frustrating. The signs for the path often point more than one way, and I found myself going around in circles almost, and had to backtrack a couple of times. There was also a detour, and then another section along a cornfield which hadn’t been mowed, so I had to bushwhack my way down a hedgerow to get back to the main trail, as I didn’t want to walk along a road shoulder. I saw shrubs with colorful berries, both red and black, and many different trees that exist at the arboretum, many of them either starting or ending their fall color. The fall color season in these parts can be a tricky thing. It all depends on the weather (when it starts getting cold,) how much it rains, and other assorted variables. It seems like the true peak of color for the upper reaches will be this upcoming week, and I’ve been thinking and planning my destination.

The arboretum wanders around past the corn fields to some random fields where they have left things to kinda grow on their own to see what will happen. This is where I ran into more mazelike wandering, through these fields plus some tree areas. I was completely turned around by this point and decided to cut over to a picnic area to eat a snack.

After the snack it was back along more well-kept fields near the entrance to the park, and then a walk along a wall bordering a neighboring farm. For some reason, I have always been fascinated by the way that they roll cut hay into round bales here in the East. I guess it’s because I’m used to square bales or something, but I just love seeing the roly poly things sitting in the field. I think this is where I took my favorite photo of the day.

After that, it was continuing more or less back to the beginning, with a wander through the Lebanese Cedar Grove, which has an ethereal, almost otherworldly look compared to the rest of the area. It’s sad to know that although these trees have a cultural and religious significance, they’re very rare in Lebanon themselves.

After I finished the hike, which seemed far too short at only 4 miles or so, I wanted to explore a little bit. I knew there was the little town of Millwood close by, and I was a little hungry. I stopped at the Locke Country Store, and naughtily indulged myself by getting a slice of pumpkin pie. It was delicious, and the dog enjoyed a taste of the whipped cream. There’s an art gallery in the town and some other things, but by that time my social anxiety kicked in, and I wanted to just go home.

Perhaps next time.

More Pictures of Virginia State Arboretum

Bull Run-Occoquan Trail – Hemlock Overlook to Bull Run Marina

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Hike Summary

It was a rather chilly day when I set out, but the sky was clear, so I wasn’t too worried about the weather. I really wanted to push myself this hike, and try to see how my fitness level was. The first time I hiked a section of this trail, I bit off more than I could chew, and was pretty exhausted by the end of it, which was no fun at all.

So, my goal was to get from Hemlock Overlook park to the Bull Run Marina and back, or 5 miles out before turning around, whichever happened first.

Hemlock Overlook Park is a park operated by a private company in conjunction with the NVRPA, which is kind of a shame, because unless you’re part of a group outing there, the park is more or less closed off. I am never a fan of limiting park access to anyone, but I understand the need for money, so I suppose it’s acceptable. It’s located near the town of Clifton, VA, which is a tiny and charming little place that looks like it’s getting gentrified a little bit, with wineries moving in.

The hike started off on a spur trail to get to the main trail, that went gently downhill amongst the trees. I don’t know if it has an official name, but it’s yellow blazed, and there’s a pretty prominent sign when it joins the main trail. Seeing the Bull Run again was a welcome and friendly sight, and the water was more or less on my right for the majority of the hike.

Each section of the BROT that I’ve hiked has a slightly different character. This one felt more parklike and less wild than some of the previous sections, and was mostly gently graded, with many footbridge crossings over the creeks, and not a lot of meandering over hills. The river widens here, becoming the Occoquan Reservoir, so at time you get a sense of being lakeshore rather than riverside.

The Fairfax Rod and Gun Club have a shooting range on the other side of the water from the trail, so there was an almost constant sound of gunfire. It was a little bit disconcerting at first, as I knew that hunting season was set to begin soon, but once I realized where it was I stopped worrying. I pretended in my head that it was the sound of battles from the past, echoing down time. Since there were a lot of battles in this area during the Civil War, this is probably somewhat accurate.

I also found the halfway point of the trail, mile marker 9. It felt like a tiny bit of achievement to get there, as I’ve been trying to cover the whole thing. At some point (maybe before it snows, if not, then after,) I would like to hike the entire length of the trail, all 18 miles, in one day. I think it is definitely doable, but I don’t want to get lost along the way, like what happened this day.

I reached the Kincheloe Soccer Complex, and the blazes directed me towards the right. I went right a little ways, but I didn’t see any further blazes. I tried backtracking, definitely right. I walked a ways again, around the fields, still nothing. I was starting to get a little frustrated, so I backtracked again, and tried going to the left to follow a gravel road through the fields. Eventually I started seeing some blazes again, and then the trail.

I was a bit frazzled by this point, so I stopped to eat some lunch. I realized that I had a pretty near viewpoint for seeing planes approaching Dulles for landing. I snapped a couple of pictures while I ate, and pondered my situation:

  • I had hiked 4 miles by now, but I wasn’t sure how much of that was extra from aimlessly wandering around the fields.
  • It was either a mile and a half or two miles from here to Bull Run Marina, and none of the maps I had were particularly accurate on that count.
  • My phone battery was getting low (something I really need to work on managing!)

So, should I turn back now, or keep going? I decided to press on.

It ended up being about a mile and three quarters.

All in all, I felt pretty satisfied with my progress. All told, I hiked 9.8 miles (close enough to 10 for me!) and I ended up being not too terribly exhausted by the end. The feeling of accomplishment was great. I really like knowing that my endurance is increasing.

More Pictures of Bull Run Occoquan Trail

Buzzard Rocks (North) – George Washington National Forest

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Hike Summary

This was a very short hike with a very pretty view. I am a little disappointed in myself, I should have extended the hike out further, walked all the way to the Shawl Gap junction, but for some reason I’ve been feeling pretty tired lately, so I only spent as many hours hiking this day as I did driving. That almost seems like a waste, but I still consider it time well spent.

It’s possible it was also because I was a little stressed out from getting there in the first place. For some reason there was a partial road closure on the way, and because I wasn’t all that familiar with the area, it made me uncomfortable. I ended up having to take a 10 mile detour, and eventually found the trailhead, which has ample parking for at least 5 or 6 vehicles.

The morning was grey and overcast, I had been a little worried it might rain, and I had almost canceled the hike altogether.

The trail starts out winding up and down and around several little stream gorges, through plenty of tree cover. My footsteps felt muffled, but on the other hand the falling of acorns from the trees made me almost feel like I was being followed as we hiked up. The trail surface quickly changed from sandy soil to rocks. Lots and lots of rocks, almost fields of small boulders that made footing rough at times. The trail quickly got steeper, as it started making switchbacks up the hill. I was very glad that it was well blazed, as sometimes it seemed pretty faint.

There are a couple of campsites along the way, and at least one unblazed trail that wasn’t mentioned on my trail description. I really should pick up some paper USGS maps of the area so I can see where some of these other trails go, and start making my own trail loops instead of relying on other guides. Perhaps when I’ve gotten more experience under my belt.

Eventually, I rounded a corner and got a great view north, towards Winchester. in the foreground was a funny shape that I’d seen on the map, that almost looked like a sailboat made out of ponds. I realized, from signs in the area, that it is a Virginia State Fish Hatchery, right next to a fork of the Shenandoah River. It made for an interesting vista in the foreground.

The trees are just starting to change color, but they’re not quite there yet. The rain has held this off somewhat, but I expect in about 2 weeks things will be lovely. I plan on making a hiking trip around the Virginia State Arboretum then, so there will be a lot of photos then.

On we went, up the spine of the rocks. There was a lot of slippery, rough footing, but nothing like the previous week with much hand-over-hand climbing. My dog had little to no problems getting around, as usual he was in doggy heaven at all the smells.

Eventually we got to the other side of the rocks, where there were views of the hills to the south. As if on cue, there were buzzards circling above on the thermals. It was a very tranquil spot for lunch. The wind started to pick up, and the clouds scudded away, giving the hike down a warmer, sunny feeling.

More Pictures of Buzzard Rocks North