RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: July 2013

White Oak Canyon & Cedar Run – Shenandoah National Park

Posted on

Hike Summary

With the previous week having been so hot, I had been worried. Would it be another sweltering day? Would the weather just not cooperate?

The weather exceeded my expectations. It was so mild that I actually thought I might need a sweater when I awoke, and tossed one in the car, “just in case.”

It was just such a fantastic day, it was as if someone had smiled upon me and gave me beautiful weather because it was my birthday, and they knew it was a special hike.

White Oak Canyon trail is probably one of the most popular trails in Shenandoah National Park. You get to see one of the prettier waterfalls, and it has multiple cascades. If you’re a fan of water falling vertically downhill, this is the best trail to go on.

I started out from the bottom, at Berry Hollow. The trail winds through forests before starting an ascent ever upward. There were quite a few hikers, even during a weekday. I wasn’t totally surprised, because it was the first gorgeous day in a couple of weeks, and it is the most popular trail in the park.

Even though it’s midsummer, I saw plenty of wildflowers, and was stopping pretty often to take pictures. I leapfrogged along with a pair of hikers up to the lower falls, which were quite pretty.  There was another group of hikers, a family, behind me, but they turned around before the upper falls, which surprised me.

The upper falls were quite beautiful as well, although I don’t like going near cliff edges too much, I was able to take some pretty shots. It’s a testament to how popular this place is, that there are paved steps along parts of this upper trail. There are also signs warning people that the hike is strenuous (which it is) and to not overdo it. One of the things I did enjoy was for me, how much easier it seemed to get uphill compared to the other hikers. This was a change from Big Schloss, where I felt like I was the slowpoke.

I passed a couple more hikers and pointed out the nice vista to them as I went along. Once I got to the big junction of trails, I decided to take a route that was longer than normal, and continued up White Oak Canyon trail, until it intersected with the Limberlost trail.

The Limberlost trail was quite pleasant, gravel with a lot of benches along the way. I stopped at one of the benches to eat a snack, and I watched an Eastern Comma butterfly flitting around the sunny area. At this point I really didn’t see any other foot traffic at all, and in continued along the way, turning on the Crescent Rock Trail.

One thing I had done with this hike, because I wanted to go on a longer track than most of the hiking sites around, was modified the route to include these extra trails. I was a little bit nervous about doing this, because it seemed like there were slightly complicated intersections, but it seemed that I got it really almost perfectly. All the turns that I put in there were at the right places, and my GPS unit beeped it’s reassuring chime, alerting me that the trail I was on seemed to be on the right path.

I reached Skyline and started to cross, and about 500 feet away, a pair of black bears decided to do so as well. I pulled out my camera, but unfortunately all I got was a brownish blur in the distance. The traffic along the road got a much better look, and I think I’m pretty happy I wasn’t any closer, to be honest. I’ve had the good luck to have had all my encounters to be at a safe distance.

I crossed and took a connector down to the AT. As I ventured down below the Crescent Rock overlook, I saw quite a few pretty wildflowers, including a Purple Flowering Raspberry, which has one of the prettier flowers out there.

The trail wound out of the sun and into the gloom, and the footing was rather rocky but overall pretty even. I wasn’t on the AT for very long, cutting over at Hawksbill and heading down Cedar Run Trail.

Cedar Run Trail is pretty similar to White Oak Canyon trail, although to me it felt much steeper. This might also have been because by this time I was starting to get a little tired, and sometimes it feels like going downhill when tired is actually more difficult than going uphill.

The one major difference is Cedar Run’s falls are more swimmer friendly. There are quite a few swimming holes along the way, and I saw swimmers both leaving and heading to the falls. Since it was later in the day, and I had no swimming suit with me, plus a dog who isn’t enamored of the water, decided not to partake.

However, there was at least one crossing of Cedar Run that made me decide to take my boots off and wade across. The water was ice cold! It did feel good though, and I took my time and enjoyed the feeling of cooled off feet before I put my boots back on. There’s even one swimming hole that has a natural waterslide, hence the nickname “the slide.”

Finally, the trail leveled off and I was back to the parking area, where I saw a stand of wineberries which I ate a few of. It was a long hike, and I think the next time I will pare it down from 10 miles to the shorter 7 miles, but it definitely deserves its reputation as being one of the best hikes in the park.

2013-07-25 White Oak Canyon & Cedar Run

New Obsession – iNaturalist

Posted on

So, I was flipping through a magazine, and saw a recommendation for a website and app: iNaturalist. Seemed pretty neat, so I decided to check out the app and the website.

They have an app for both iPhones and Android phones, the Android one is slightly primitive but it seems to work alright. You take a picture, or attach one from your gallery, and upload it. If you’re not sure what it is, the helpful people (many of whom are botanists and other types of researchers) can help you identify it.

Their site is also easy to use, and you can keep lists of flora and fauna that you’ve seen or that you’d like to see. There are also research projects that you can join to help naturalists; I joined a project on the Redbud (Cercis) genus of trees.

It seems like another fun thing I can add to my hikes and a way to feel more useful.

And if you do join, follow my observations there!

Tibbet’s Knob and Big Schloss – George Washington National Forest

Posted on

Tibbet’s Knob Summary

Big Schloss Summary

Both of these hikes originate from Wolf Gap Recreation Area out in the Western part of GWNF, so I combined the two for one longer hike.

My first stop on this nice, very warm day was at the Lee District Ranger’s Office for GWNF, to pick up a more detailed map of the area. I get a little bit paranoid about getting lost out in these places, particularly in the George Washington National Forest, as it’s very wild.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I visited their location, which is just off of I-81 in Edinburg, VA. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. It’s a very new looking building, and they have a little bookstore in the reception area with a lot of merchandise. I picked up a PATC map, and a guidebook for North Mountain trails, since I’ve been spending some time in this area lately. The staff were very friendly and nice, and there’s even a bathroom handy, which is always something nice when one’s on the road.

I got back on the road to my destination. It’s a really nice part of the Shenandoah Valley, with a lot of farms and old houses. Once you get away from the commercial parts of the interstate, the area seems almost from another time.

It was an extremely hot day, and I was hiking in the afternoon because I was meeting a friend for the Big Schloss hike. I had decided that I would add in the Tibbet’s Knob hike, since it was only 3 miles, as something to get some extra exercise in.

The Tibbet’s knob trail goes South from the campground, through some wooded areas that also have picnic tables. It quickly gains elevation and there’s a pretty vista relatively quickly in the first part of the trail, with views out towards the Massanutten ridge on the other side of the valley. I stopped and took a few pictures, and actually encountered quite a few other hikers, which surprised me, as most of the trail guides mention that this is a fairly difficult trail despite the short distance.

The humidity was pretty oppressive, but I pressed on. I eventually got to the first of the two rock scrambles mentioned, and I began to get a little bit worried. I as usual had my dog with me, and I was a little bit worried as to how he would get back down. I was almost to the summit of Tibbet’s Knob when there was another, steeper one, and I decided that it was time to turn around. I was already feeling pretty drained, and I didn’t want to risk injury to myself or my dog from a questionable descent.

I may try revisiting it by doing the approach from the north side, which is supposed to be a little easier (but I was unaware existed at the time.)

I turned around and made my way back. I needn’t have worried quite so much about my dog, he didn’t have nearly as hard a time getting back down as I did, he was like a mountain goat. I, on the other hand, had to scoot on my behind with my hiking staff as support to get back down those scrambles. They’re pretty eroded and treacherous.

I got back to Wolf Gap just as my friend pulled into the parking lot. This is the first time I had hiked with someone who had another dog, and her dog was a little standoffish, but then again so is mine. They grumbled at each other at first, but then seemed to come to an agreement that if they just ignored each other, that things would go smoothly, and for the most part that was the case.

Off we set from the parking area, and after wandering around the campsites for a moment, we found the trailhead and set out.

The first section of the trail was a fairly steep incline up to the ridge, and I was a little tapped out from my hike up (most of) Tibbet’s Knob, so I was a little slow, needing to stop a few times to catch my breath. My hiking partner is in a little better shape than I am I think, and I felt a little bad not being able to keep her pace.

However, once that part was out of the way, it was a pretty easy hike along the ridgeline. There were some fantastic views to the east, and we realized at one point that we were basically walking along the border between Virginia and West Virginia, which is fairly amusing to think about. One footfall in one state, the other in the other. It reminded me of the time when I was a kid and visited Four Corners. There, you can stand on the borders of four states at once, and it’s a silly feeling yet thrilling at the same time.

The ridgeline trail was overgrown with grasses, which is not uncommon at this time of the year. The blackberries are just starting to get ripe, and we nibbled some as we hiked along, they’re pretty tart, though. We chatted about hiking and other things and having a good time. We saw some really beautiful Indian Pipe, a strange plant that is waxy and white, and grows from decaying leaves in the forest.

Eventually we got out to the Schloss itself, and I experienced a little bit of shock as there was a very well built bridge out there, in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t see a plaque or anything on it, but I’m guessing it was for an Eagle Scout project. It seemed like it would be a pretty big production to get that much lumber out there, and on a fairly narrow trail. The bridge goes over the gap between two nubs of the Schloss, and then there’s a little scramble up to the top. There were some great views of WV and VA from the top.

Schloss is the German word for castle, and the place definitely fit that description. The white rocks reminded me of crenelations on a castle wall, and the whole spot felt like a little fortress rising out of the ridges. We spent some time wandering around on the top, taking pictures and catching our breath, and then we made our way back to the trailhead.

I really enjoyed hiking with another person. It’s not something I’ve done that often in the past, and having someone else to talk to, was quite nice. My dog is a good listener, but he doesn’t really have much to add to the conversation. We determined that we’ll probably make a recurring habit of hiking, so that will be a fun change of pace.

After we parted ways, I decided to take a different route than the interstate, I turned on SR623, Back Road, and followed it down the valley. It was a very nice drive, much more interesting than the interstate, as it wound through little tiny places that barely had more than a general store. It was beautiful to have the mountain on one side and rolling fields on the other, with houses here and there.

I rolled into Front Royal in time for dinner, and stopped at what is fast becoming one of my favorite places, Spelunker’s. I know I’ve mentioned their frozen custard before, but they also have fantastic burgers. I am not sure if it was because I was famished, but I swear that their Cavern Burger with cheese was one of the best burgers I’ve had in my entire life. It was juicy but not greasy, with a toasted bun and a generous but not overwhelming side of fries that my dog helped me consume. That’s one of the things I enjoy about the place, they have an outdoor patio area that I can tie my dog up at and eat, which is very nice, especially on a super hot day where there’s no way I’m going to leave him in the car for more than a couple of minutes.

I finished the day off with a Maple Bacon sundae, which was a little bit on the sweet side, but was still delicious.

2013-07-20 Tibbet’s Knob & Big Schloss

Bull Run Mountain Conservancy

Posted on

Hike Summary

It was a rather warm July morning when I set out, and I steeled myself a little in anticipation of a somewhat busy hike. It was a Friday, but it was also the Friday of a 4-day weekend, so I had a feeling that it was going to be rather busy anyhow.

I was very much correct. Bull Run Mountain Conservancy is one of the closer hiking areas to suburban Northern Virginia, and only about 10 minutes from my house. I hadn’t ventured in before now because they had a no dogs policy, but at some point in the past year, they seem to have changed that, and now allow dogs on leashes, which makes me pretty happy.

I like to think I’m a good dog hiker, I make sure he’s leashed and I don’t let him wander too far or be obnoxious. I always get off the trail and let other people pass by. I always pick up after him. It drives me up the wall that there are some dog owners out there that have to ruin it for the rest of us with their bad behavior.

So I set off, and followed the trail, which was very wide and park-like. It goes past the ruins of a house and the Chapman/Beverly Mill, which is a mill that was in operation before the Civil War, and was occupied by both sides during the war and used as a staging area. It burned down, and there’s a group working on restoring it. Hiking in BRMC is one of the ways you can actually see the mill up close, as opposed to seeing a glimpse of it as you zoom past on I66.

The interstate is, unfortunately, an almost constant presence in the park. It takes some time before you get fully away from the sound of the cars. The trail continues on up a nicely graded path towards the overlook. I was sort of but not entirely surprised at the number of people I saw hiking, even at this early hour. I quickly lost count of the people I let pass me or I saw coming down the hill. I also have a feeling that there are some people that have a quick out and back hike up to the overlook and back, and that might be something I add to my workouts to get more hills rather than just walking on a flat surface. It’s something to think about, anyhow.

While I was hiking, I noticed lots of little holes in the trail. These were most likely from the recent brood of cicadas we had this year. They’re gone now, and they honestly seemed not nearly as dire as they were predicting. I heard them quite a few times when I was out hiking, but they weren’t nearly as bad as they were the previous year.

I got up to the overlook and took a break, taking some notes in my notebook (a new habit I’m adopting so I’m better able to remember points about my hikes, so these posts are more interesting,) and eating a snack. I tried to sit away by myself a little, so I had some solitude. Not long after I’d sat down, a group of teenagers came hiking up, talking loudly and generally being a little obnoxious. One of them even stepped on my pen after I’d sat it down to just (try to) enjoy the view. They do say that hell is other people, and that’s one of the reasons I prefer to hike during the week, so there are less people to disturb me.

One of the things I enjoyed about the overlook is it’s something I’ve seen many times from I66 as I’ve been driving out to Front Royal and other parts west. You can see it very clearly from the interstate, a slash of white on a ridge across the way. It was nice to be able to see the interstate and the surrounding countryside from up on high, although it was quite a bit overcast still, with a little wind.

After enjoying the view, I decided to keep on the trail as it went on up a little higher. There were a couple more overlooks, and the trail came to the top of High Point, and then started to descend. I was really quite curious as to where the trail ends up, but I decided that maybe I’ll find out another day, unless someone out there knows the answer. Upon some further investigation with Google Maps, it looks like it may go all the way to Hopewell Road on the other side, at least if Street View is to be believed.

On the way back I started to descend the other side of the mountain, and this way was very steep and poorly graded, and I had to inch along a little bit. The trails in this area are generally fairly poorly signed, with only some numbered signposts at intersections. It is pretty much a requirement to have a map while you’re in this park. In fact, I ran across a very lost group of people that were trying to get to the top, and I gave them directions. They’d lost their map.

I was in a section of the park that was a maze of little side trails. The guide I was using had pointed to a spur trail that didn’t exist anymore, and I slogged through some mud  and decided to head off in a different direction, towards the edge of the park. There was an area, past the railroad crossing, where there were some planted pine trees. It smelled very nice, but it also felt so sterile. The trees were laid out like graph paper, marching away in rows, and it just felt unnatural and kinda spooky. I turned around at the boundary of the park and made my way back, adding in a little side loop in the middle of the park for some added miles.

At this time of the year there aren’t as many wildflowers, at least not in this park, but I did see quite a few interesting mushrooms and fungi. Not all of them were listed in my little Audubon Mid-Atlantic Guide, but one of the more interesting ones that was in there was an Old-Man-Of-The-Woods. It looked almost like it was encrusted with black crystals, very pretty.

My hike completed, I decided to take a little detour on my way home and I drove out to New Baltimore and to Effie’s Frozen Favorites, another roadside ice cream stand. They have a number of sundaes on their menu, and I couldn’t resist getting a brownie one. A great way to finish off the day!

2013-07-05 Bull Run Mountain Conservancy