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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Appalachian Trail – Ashby Gap to Rod Hollow Shelter

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Hike Summary

There are times when hikes are dreary and brown and grey, and I wonder sometimes why I’m out there. Things seem so bland, but I push myself because I’m getting some pretty vistas, or at the very least I am getting out of the house and getting exercise. Those endorphins are what seem to keep my depression at bay.

Then, there are times and hikes that are all worth it. They’re worth the rain and the mud. They’re worth the drive.

I was a little bit worried this particular morning when I went out. The sky was grey and threatening to rain, but it was also pretty warm. In the past, I probably would have made an excuse to stay inside instead of going out. This time, I just took my rain jacket with me and figured that if it rained, it would rain.

The trailhead for this particular trail is very well hidden, and I drove past it the first time, forcing myself to have to turn around and then negotiate a very steep turn to get there. Some of the reviews of this hike on Hiking Upward said that it wasn’t really that memorable of a trail and there wasn’t much to see.

In springtime, that couldn’t be more wrong. Sure, there are no sweeping vistas, no steep gullies. But I found myself stopping almost every 5-10 feet as I saw something new to take a picture of.

It started out small, just a couple of small white flowers by the path, and the everpresent Eastern Redbud. Soon though, there were flowers everywhere. The paths would be lined with Blue Violets, and then that would give way to Yellow Violets. There would be more Wild Geranium, and a patch of Virginia Bluebells off to the side. Everywhere I looked, the forest was coming alive.

Rain fell, soaking myself and my dog. It didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, although it wasn’t a driving rain. As I continued along the trail, I came upon a section that was lined with bluebells. It was like something out of a fairy tale or a fantasy game. Around the curve was a sea of blue and green dotted with white. It was sublime, and almost overwhelming. Just that subtle presence of nature around everything, the world waking up from winter.

I continued on and made my way to my destination, the Rod Hollow Shelter along the Appalachian trail. This is one of many such shelters that exist for people making long (or short) treks along the trail. For many thru and section hikers, it comes at the end of a section referred to lovingly as the roller coaster, for the many ups and downs that one has to hike along it. I’ve hiked a couple of sections of it now and can see that it’s a pretty challenging section.

It’s a very well maintained shelter and campground, and I can imagine it’s pretty busy as the year goes along. Today, it was deserted, except for some beer cans and other ephemera of hikers. I put my own little blurb in the logbook, and left behind an unopened Clif Bar as an offering to the next person along.

On the return trip, I made my way up a side trail to a ridge. Here, there were far fewer wildflowers, and no views to speak of. The trail itself was pretty difficult to follow, there being a lot of down trees. I’m sure the PATC will be along at some point to fix those problems.

I also took another side trip and stopped at the Myron Glaser cabin, also owned by the PATC. It was locked (you have to be a member to rent it,) but the porch was accessible, and I rested a while and sat on the porch swing and listened to the wind.

On my way home after the hike, I thought to make a side trip to a bakery, but it was unfortunately closed. Instead, I went to my old reliable backup, Cupcake Heaven, for a salted caramel-chocolate cupcake. It was a sweet ending to a wonderful day.

AT Ashby Gap
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Buzzard Rock from Elizabeth Furnace (In Spring)

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Hike Summary

Those of you who are familiar with my blog probably think that this trail sounds familiar. It is. I had intended to go hiking on a much different trail, but I ran into difficulty:

Always check road conditions before heading out. The place I wanted to go was on a Forestry road. I didn’t check to see if the gate was locked. It was locked. So, rather than call it quits and head home, I thought I’d revisit this trail, since it was in the area and I knew the route more or less.

This time, there was no snow, so it was a lot easier going. Winter is still holding on stubbornly (although Spring is quite definitely here now as of this writing) so it was still quite chilly when I first started out, although I could tell that this would probably be the last hike I’d need my long johns for quite some time.

The trail follows a lot of switchbacks on the way up, and it is very steep, probably doing about 1500 feet of elevation within a few miles. Once you get up to the intersection at Shawl Gap, it is pretty easy hiking along the ridge to Buzzard Rocks themselves. There are pretty views all around and plenty of interesting rock formations.

This time, I was actually able to use the (steep and somewhat unmaintained) shortcut trails on the way back. I’d been entirely alone up until the very end, when I did finally see a couple of hikers making their way up, and I helped them out with directions. They complimented me on my hiking staff.

2013-04-09 Buzzard Rock

Riverbend and Great Falls

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Hike Summary

Riverbend and Great Falls Parks are both adjacent to each other, yet their views of the Potomac river could not be more different. Riverbend is a regional park, overlooking a placid section of the river as it rounds the corner, with sandy soil and many wooded sections. Great Falls, on the other hand, is almost alien, with it’s rocky gorges and violence.

This was my second visit to Riverbend, and it was just as quiet and deserted this time as it was in the middle of the winter. I saw a couple of people, but not many, and almost entirely on the Potomac Heritage section of the trail. I set out, walking along sandy soil with a profusion of Virginia Bluebells, just short of blooming, although I did manage to find a couple that had bloomed already. If I had waited perhaps another week the ground would have been carpeted with pale blue and green instead of deep purple and green. It was an beautiful sight, and although a little less flashy than the famed cherry blossoms of the district, it’s something that anyone in the area should try to get a chance to see.

The forests were still pretty stark and barren, often looking still like late autumn rather than early spring, as I hiked along the interior sections of trail. This part of the trail is more scenic, I imagine, later in the spring and on towards the summer, when the grass and wildflowers are out. There were a few bits of stream but not much else.

Things changed a bit as I made the transition over into Great Falls Park. The trail widened to more of a road, and there were more side trails and things to see. I took a side trail and went along a cheerful brook before heading into the main section of the park. I thought about but didn’t stop at the visitor’s center. I had my dog with me (as I always do) and tying him up outside seemed like a bad idea. It was a decent place to stop and eat a snack, however.

I went away from the hubbub of the main part of the park and headed along some other trails, which were pretty quiet, eventually crossing out of the park for a tiny bit to follow along Difficult Run. This section was very scenic, although there was one section that had been washed out, and I had to make a challenging ascent up an almost vertical hill to get around it. Seeing the spot where the run met the Potomac was almost an anticlimax though.

The trail turned north and became more rocky, and also became much more busy. I was a little surprised at just how busy — I was having to stop to let other hikers by about every 5 minutes. I could see a lot of people on the Maryland side as well. The sights of the cataracts are definitely a draw, and I could see why. It was a bit of a relief to get past all the noise and people and back into Riverbend park for the last leg of my journey, to get some peace again.

Riverbend & Great Falls