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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Laurel Run – George Washington NF

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I decided to range out to a different area this week, and so I went to the section of GWNF that’s west of I-81. It’s a bit of a drive, but it is also a much wilder area of Virginia, straddling the VA/WV border, feeling really out in the middle of nowhere.

At first, I missed the turnoff and parking spot for the hike, as my phone GPS (that I use for driving) seemed to think that the parking was somewhere that it wasn’t. I fired up my handheld, and luckily it was able to more accurately pinpoint where the starting place was, so I turned around on the unmarked forestry road and made my way back.

This little mishap is one of the reasons I don’t like to use my smartphone as a navigation aid whilst out hiking. The GPS isn’t as accurate as a handheld, and the battery life is nowhere near necessary. GPS navigation is a heavy draw on a battery, and you can run it down in a matter of a couple of hours. I usually prefer to keep my battery for taking some photos and for the need to make a phone call if necessary, although even that is not something that can be guaranteed while out in the wilderness.

I went hiking on a Wednesday this week, instead of my usual Thursday. The night before, I decided to check on the weather forecast. There were some hefty thunderstorms and rain forecast for Thursday, so I decided I should move things around and I am glad I did. The weather was fairly tempestuous, but nothing too severe or too hot.

the first part of the hike, up Laurel Run Trail, was pretty steep and frequently rocky. It seems like this trail probably gets frequent rainfall and so there’s a bit of erosion. It’s broken up a couple of times by some gorgeous open meadows.

Up at the top, the trail meets up with the North Mountain trail. This was a great trail that, appropriately enough, skirted along Great North Mountain, along the border between Virginia and West Virginia.

There were quite a few views from up here, but the trail was also incredibly overgrown at times by summer grasses. I had a hard time getting to one of the overlooks because of this; the grass was a few feet high and made footing a little rough.

Despite this, there was still a great variety of terrain and plantlife to walk through. There were forested copses, high ridges, meadowy balds that were full of thistles (and this made me very glad I had my walking stick with me, so I could push them out of the way!) and thorny humps of berries and roses. I saw some wild blueberries and sampled just one; I don’t like to take anything out of the land if I can help it.

The day was growing warmer but also seemed a little unpredictable, as if a thunderstorm could roll in at any moment, so I kept moving for the most part and didn’t really stop as much as I’d like to take in the scenery, or really to eat much more than a Clif bar and some trail mix. This is something I feel I need to work on sometimes. I need to be able to just relax and take things in, and worry less. It’s just part of my slightly anxious nature, I suppose. I do feel overall as if the hikes are still very much helping me. It helps to just get out and not have to be constantly distracted by phones and computer things so much. It helps to just sometimes only think about where the next footstep goes.

After a while along the varied terrain, I came upon the intersection with the Stack Rock Trail. This was a bit of an interesting trail, as it wasn’t blazed incredibly well, and that same issue with overgrowth almost at one point took me off in the wrong direction. I quickly realized my mistake and corrected it. It was a pretty steep descent down a series of switchbacks to the Laurel Run Spur Trail, which is actually also a gravel road. One of the things I noticed is you can tell that there probably was clearcut logging at some point in the past, as there were a lot of open meadows along this trail.

Back to the end I was, and time for another visit to Spelunker’s in Front Royal. A sweet waffle bowl ice cream sundae was the perfect way to end the day.

2013-06-27 Laurel Run
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Robertson Mountain – Shenandoah NP

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I seem to be having this odd luck with Shenandoah National Park. The sun doesn’t want to appear when I head there.

This particular episode wasn’t *quote* as bad as the previous visit, but it was still pretty cloudy and damp.

Robertson Mountain is a 3200 ft peak that is adjacent to the famous Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park. Since Old Rag doesn’t allow dogs (grumble) I hiked Robertson instead, since it’s the next best thing.

Starting out from the Berry Hollow parking, I followed the Berry Hollow Fire Trail up to where the community of Old Rag used to be. You can tell that this is a heavily traveled area, because there are actual information kiosks, which is something you rarely see off of Skyline Drive.

Going straight, Berry Hollow turns into Weakley Hollow, which goes to the other parking area for Old Rag. It was another very broad and park-like trail, and I saw some pretty wildflowers including some columbine. Eventually, the Robertson Mountain trail heads off to the left.

This is one of the steeper sections of trail I’ve been on. It goes 1700ft in about a mile and a half, and it is pretty darn steep. It reminded me a lot of Maryland heights, although much narrower, but also with some switchbacks. As I ascended, it seemed that I went further into the clouds, and visibility was pretty poor, so I had no vistas to speak of. I did see a lot of Mountain Laurels still in bloom, and I saw a pretty spiderweb covered in dew, and these were worthwhile sights. The mist was ethereal and gave a sense of unreality to the hike.

Because of this mist, it was hard to really know if there’s any vista at the top of Roberston Mountain itself. I knew I was there because my GPS said so, but all I could see were trees and mist. I ate a snack and headed back down.

This time, it was kinda worrisome at first because there were no blazes to be seen on the trail, but I consulted my paper map and I saw no other way to get back down the mountain but the way I’d come up, and the GPS route I was using kept helpfully beeping, so it must have been correct. I was pretty happy to end up properly on Old Rag Fire road, though.

Old Rag fire road is very wide and broad (obviously, as fire roads should be) and it was a pretty easy hike back to the intersection. I did see one of the many box turtles I’ve encountered in my travels, and this one was nice enough to hold still for me to get an excellent picture.

After the hike, I noticed the parking area for White Oak. I’ll have to make another visit out this direction soon. Journey’s end was another stop at Carousel Frozen Treats in Warrenton, for some excellent peanut butter and hot fudge flavored ice cream.

And of course, as I was driving home, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out.

2013-06-22 Robertson Mountain

Veach Gap – George Washington National Forest

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Oh the weather, the weather continues with its mercurial behavior! Most of the whole week was a mess, with nothing but rain. This time I was a little better about planning ahead, and switched around my normal hiking day to a Friday instead of a Thursday.

I had intended to go on a different hike than this one, but because of the day change, I was worried that the parking area (near Old Rag) for the other one would be too crowded on a  Friday, so Veach Gap it was.

I managed to get out of the house in a fairly timely fashion and got to the trailhead at about 8AM. It was a little chilly, and I was almost fearful that I needed a jacket, so I packed my rain coat just in case. However, once I got my muscles moving, this fear was pretty minor. It was a nice day, mild and pleasant. I am trying to really appreciate and treasure these days, as I know they won’t last, and soon the swelter of real VA summer will be here.

Veach Gap trail goes for about a mile or so, with Mill Run running alongside it for the way up to the junction. There was one crossing that was very confusing for me, as the trail guide mentioned that the trail crossed Mill Run, but my GPS and the map were kinda vague on where the trail went after that, and Mill Run was pretty swollen from the previous weeks rains. Luckily, I finally spied the yellow blazes going up the left side, and realized that the creek had slightly overtaken the trail. It wasn’t in a dangerous manner that required wading or anything, just a little bit of intermittent stream action. I followed it up, and eventually hit the intersection with the Tuscarora and Massanutten trails, both of which went up to the ridge.

There was a lot of switchbacky trail hiking up the gap by Little Crease Mountain, and then we finally broke out onto the ridge. I could see Massanutten Mountain in the distance, between the trees, and it looked very fine.

I saw lots of signs of a recent forest fire (I later discovered this was last year) as I continued up to the top of the ridge.

There were excellent views of the Shenandoah River from this point of view. It was far down in the distance, but still quite pretty and picturesque. I was feeling pretty energetic, and it still felt pretty early in the day, so I decided to add an additional mile to my hike, and I kept going up along the ridge, following the Massanutten/Tuscarora trail.

The Tuscarora Trail seems like it would be a pretty fun trail to go on a hike on. It is around 250 miles, and both starts and ends on the AT, starting out from Shenandoah Park in VA, winding through VA and WV, and ending up back at the AT in PA. It mostly goes through National Forest, and has many shelters like the AT. Perhaps one day I’ll get to go do some serious backpacking and do something like that.

For now, back to the trail. I had a snack at one of the campsites along the ridgeline, and then headed back down. I wanted to go visit the Veach Gap shelter, but that pesky Old Mill Run was quite swollen at the intersection, and I was feeling too lazy to take my boots off to cross. Back to the car I went, finally seeing other people just pulling in as I was pulling out.

One of the advantages of getting up so early was being able to catch lunch on the way back. I stopped at Spelunker’s in Front Royal, and had a (small) hamburger and some frozen custard. Both were quite excellent, and they were nice enough to give me a pup cup size for my dog, who very much appreciated it. Spelunker’s reminds me of how Five Guys was before they became a big chain, and is probably a place I’ll try to make sure to stop at on future hikes in the area.

2013-06-14 Veach Gap

Broad Hollow – Shenandoah National Park

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Weather is starting to become a factor in hiking again. There’s this window of gloriousness from about mid March to about mid June where the weather is pretty predictable and nice; cool and pleasant, not very rainy.

Then Summer rolls in and things start to get interesting. It could be ninety degrees with 90% humidity, or it could be raining buckets.

This hike was a little bit of the latter. The weather reports said there was a pretty low chance of rain. The weather reports were wrong: the chance of rain was pretty much 100%.

It started out pleasantly enough, although overcast. This is one of those hikes where the trailhead is off in the back of what I often unkindly refer to as “Deliverance Country.” This is a really unfair label for me to make, because I doubt that the people who live in these backwoods hollows are inbred or cannibalistic, but unfortunately pop culture references do die hard.

Once I found the trailhead (and tentatively parked my car in what I thought was an OK parking space,) I set out. That’s when the drizzle started. I passed by some extremely friendly cows and on up into Broad Hollow trail.

It really was a pretty depressing day to go out for a hike. There wasn’t all that much to see, what with visibility pretty low from the clouds. It pretty much constantly rained the entire way. I stopped by a damp log to eat some lunch, when I spied something colorful alongside the trail.

A Lady Slipper orchid. It was beautiful, with its pink shoe shape and low growing foliage. At first I only saw one, but as I hiked along, there were clumps and clumps of them alongside the trail. I’d lucked out, and this was definitely worth the wetness. There was also plenty of Mountain Laurel in bloom, and with the way the clouds were skimming along the trail, it made things look very ethereal.

Eventually though, I kinda just wanted to get back to my car. The latter half of the hike was mostly downhill, and the views were pleasant along the trail, but it was really hard to actually see much. I did enjoy the hike, but I’ll have to do it again on a day when the sun is out.

On the way back from the hike, I decided to stop at Carousel Frozen Treats in Warrenton. There, I was able to enjoy one of the largest ice cream cones I’ve had in a long time, and examine my leather-stained hand. This had kinda freaked me out when I was on my hike: my hand had suddenly turned orange! I quickly realized it was from the water in the leather, but it was still a slightly comical panic for me.

2013-06-06 Broad Hollow

Appalachian Trail – G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Preserve

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(Note: I didn’t get to take any pictures on this hike due to the pace, so you get lots of words!)

So, June 1st was National Trails Day, so what better way to celebrate than to go on a hike?

I often go just with my dog on hikes, as there are very few people with time off during the week, which works both in my favor and against me. It works in my favor in the respect that I don’t often encounter other people on the trail, but it works against me because there aren’t any people to hike with. My SO has an aversion to the outdoors for the most part, as well as being afraid of heights, so he’s mostly unable to go hiking with me. That’s totally fine with me, we have different interests and hobbies.

Still, I have made close to zero friends since I have moved to the East Coast. A good chunk of that is my depression and social anxiety, but it just seems to be hard to meet people. Most of the meetup type organizations in the area seem to be stay at home moms, and since I am only a mom to a dog, I don’t exactly qualify.

Anyhow, I wanted to get out and meet some new people. This is probably something I would have been much more nervous about doing even a year ago, but it seems that shedding the weight that I have has also helped a little with confidence. I’m not there yet by any means, but I’m getting better.

So, to the hike. I arrived fairly early, not wanting to be late, and there were a few cars in the lot, and one guy and his dog. This was Tom Johnson of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, one of the hike guides for the day, and his dog Sam (a girl.) She was an enthusiastically friendly and intense Aussie Shepherd/Border Collie mix. We chatted for a while, waiting for the others. It ended up being a very small turnout, with Alyson Browett of the Front Royal/Warren County Appalachian Trail Community, and another  hiker named Bob.

We set out in one car to the starting point of the hike, at the other end of the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Preserve, which is one of a multitude of Wildlife preserves in the state of Virginia. It is open for fishing and hunting with permit, and is an excellent place to view bird migrations as well as wildflowers. A good chunk of the Appalachian Trail bisects the area before heading into Sky Meadows State Park.

It was a pretty warm day that day, but not overly so. Most of the trillium were long past their season, something I’ll have to remember for next year. I remember seeing them before they bloomed in Sky Meadows in April, so it seems they have a narrow window of blooming.

We did see quite a bit of wildlife though: several toads, squirrels, a box turtle, and even a black racer. Luckily we did not see any Copperheads, which used to live underneath the Manassas Gap Shelter, where we stopped for a snack and to chat. Manassas Gap Shelter is the oldest of the AT shelters between Shenandoah and the WV border, so it has a long history. As we were chatting, we met an AT thru-hiker who went by the trail name of Goose. He’d been on the trail since early March, and was making excellent time, living off mostly Pop-Tarts.

As we hiked on, we chatted about the trail, stopping to check out trees and plants. It was nice to have other people who knew more about the  flora than I did. I can identify any number of California native plants, but I am definitely still learning my Virginia wildflowers.

Near the end of the hike, Bob was kind enough to snap a picture of us for posterity. I had a great time, and really enjoyed hiking with more people. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do so again soon.

Loudoun Heights at Harper’s Ferry

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I recently finished reading an excellent book: John Brown, Abolitionist, by David Reynolds. Since I had been steeped in so much history, and since the guys a HikingUpward had recently posted a new hike from Harpers Ferry up to Loudoun Heights via the AT, I figured it would be a good time to go visit.

Spring has given way to Summer, and this was a scorcher of a day. I managed to completely luck out and get a parking spot at the downtown parking lot (something I can’t imagine will ever happen again,) and I set out.

Harpers Ferry itself is almost entirely National Park, with most of the buildings serving as museums or commercial locations. I’m not sure anyone actually lives in the town, most people live nearby in Bolivar, WV. I followed the AT through down, passing by St. Peter’s church, the ruins of St. John’s church, and Jefferson Rock. You really can throw a rock and hit a historic site in this town.

John Brown himself held the armory for several days in 1859, his fort is still standing and serves as a museum site, and is one of the more popular attractions in town.

The day was really sweltering, and I was drenched in sweat for most of the hike, and I also had the unfortunate luck to forget my bandanna. Most of the hike was shady, but there were a few spots that were under the hot sun, and both I and my dog could feel the effects.

Passing on the AT over the Route 340 bridge was one of these spots. The sun beat down, but the view of the Shenandoah River was quite nice, nice enough to make me want to go down for a swim.

Then came the hill. Obviously, Loudoun Heights implies that it is indeed upon a hill, and so up a hill we went, following the AT on switchbacks, going up some cliffs above route 340, and along through the woods. I met a couple of day hikers, who asked me if I knew where the WV state line was. I confirmed on my GPS unit that it was along the Loudoun Heights trail, which was where I was headed, not far from where we’d met.

At the Loudoun Heights trail, there was a bit of up and down, with a few bits of clover flowers and the ruins of some Civil War Era fort emplacements. It isn’t as well documented with signage as Maryland Heights on the opposite side of the gorge. As with the view from that side, this side was quite impressive, seeing the rivers merging together, and seeing all the buildings below like little toys.

On the way back, I started humming the tune to “John Brown’s Body,” (better known now as the Battle Hymn of the Republic,) and gave in to the tradition of making up new and inventive lyrics:

“When we get to Harpers Ferry we’re going to eat us some ice cream”

“Oh yes, we will indeed!”

I had spied the two frozen custard stands on High Street, and when I made my way back into town, I stopped at The Coffee Mill and got some for myself and my dog. The prices were a little steep there, but it was totally worth it. The dog and I were both incredibly happy at the end.

Harpers Ferry Loudoun Heights

Little Passage Creek – George Washington National Forest

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It has been far too long since I was updating, and for that I apologize. I got caught up with preparing for and then failing to complete the One Day Hike, and then I had a visitor, and then I went on several hikes and just didn’t have the energy or organization to actually sit down and do actual descriptions.

I am back though, and there will probably be a flurry of updates over the next few days while I get my backlog of hikes up. I still took pictures and such, I just didn’t get any thoughts down on paper, so to speak.

This hike is a hike I’ve been trying to go on since the middle of March or so, but unfortunately, the Forestry Service Road that this trail starts on is locked until mid-April. I was finally able to get out on it, and it was pretty worthwhile.

The first section of the trail follows the forestry road past another locked gate, and goes along for a couple of miles. It wasn’t incredibly interesting, being mostly long and straightish, with an occasional intermittent stream to jump across. The day was kinda muggy and sorta rainy, something that I have a feeling I’m going to get used to as summer progresses.

The trail breaks off from the Forestry Road and heads around the west side of Strasburg Reservoir. It’s a pretty small little lake, only a few acres, but the rains have it nice and full, and there’s the sound of water going out the overspill, as well as lots of frogs and other nature sounds. There are a couple of excellent camping sides on both sides. It struck me as a great place to hike to and sit around the campfire, drinking beer and roasting marshmallows.

There were quite a few pretty wildflowers along the hike, and I got my first look at a newt, all fiery red, just hanging out in the middle of the trail. Of course when I started taking pictures of him he decided that it was time to move, so most of my pictures were blurry or obscured.

By this time, there was finally a break in the drizzle, and I made my way to the top of Meneka Peak, the highest point of the hike. There were nice views off to the East towards Buzzard Rock and other places. I made my way back down towards Signal Knob, the sorta halfway point of the hike. Along the way I came across a large cell tower and transmission facility. I’m told that a lot of people actually think this is the actual signal knob, but it’s only part of it. Signal Knob itself is off to the west.

As I looked around from the top of Signal Knob towards Strasburg to the west and Winchester to the north, I can definitely understand how this place was an important place to hold during the Civil War. It was taken and retaken by both sides several times, and used as a signaling location during the Shenandoah Valley campaigns.

The way back was mostly the Forestry Road, which runs all the way to the transmission facility, but I had a fun time as a thunderstorm decided to roll in at this point. Luckily I managed to get back to my car the moment the rain really started coming down in sheets. It was quite an exciting drive home.

2013-05-29 Little Passage Creek