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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Signal Knob – GWNF

Hike Summary

It was cold, rainy and foggy as I pulled into the parking lot for the Signal Knob trail. I was a little upset at myself, because I probably should have brought a jacket and didn’t.

I lucked out though, because the rain stopped shortly after I set out, as the weather had forecast. The first part of the hike, which crisscrossed through some river gullies while slowly ascending, is fairly heavily forested.

There are definitely more and more signs of autumn on the way. Some of the trees are turning already, and I saw a few of these as I ascended.

About halfway up, the sun decided to make an appearance, and the rest of the day had lovely, sunny weather. There’s nothing like that contrast between the coolness of the shade and the warmth of the sun as it comes out.

I hit a nice point on the switchbacks, and there were some great views towards Buzzard Rock across the way. I stopped here for a small break and snapped some pictures of the view. There are some nice camping spots just above the viewpoint. It would be the perfect place to do a late afternoon hike with a camp at the top, to view the morning sunrise.

The trail wound around to another overlook, the Fort Valley Overlook, that was unfortunately obscured too much by trees to give a very good view. After this point, the character of the hike changed a little bit. It became much much more rocky, and pretty uncomfortable. I am increasingly aware that I need new boots soon with every hike, as my feet became very sore climbing over an endless succession of rocks. It seemed like every turn was another rockpile!

Eventually, the trail intersects with the Meneka Peak trail, and we were in territory that I’d last visited in early May. The trail levels off here, and goes through evergreen forests to the transmission tower and Signal Knob, where I got a nice view of Strasburg, I-81, and Great North Mountain off in the distance. I’ve gotten a little more familiar with the area overall since I was last out here, only a few months ago. I’m less afraid to stop and check stores and places like that out. I really enjoy getting to know the whole area, especially after years of cutting myself off from almost everything and staying indoors. It’s not all better yet, and I don’t know whether it will ever be, but I’m trying.

After my stop to admire the views from Signal Knob, I made the descent down the fire road from there. There were a few late-summer wildflowers out and about, mostly asters of various types. I also saw a mature Indian Pipe, which I hadn’t seen before now. It’s easy to miss the brown and pink of the plant, they look like something dead.

Back down to the intersection of the Tuscarora Trail. There’s a section that goes out to Doll Ridge and parallels the fire road that I’d like to get a hike on one of these days, but this day I was going in the other direction. It was another ascent, and I was pretty tired already.  About a mile in, and I’d finally hit the other end of the Meneka Peak trail and it was all downhill (well, mostly) from there.

I got to make a new observation, an Eastern Fence Lizard, as I made my descent. Usually, animals don’t hold still long enough for me to take pictures of them, especially when my dog comes to help investigate. I missed out on a picture of a huge black racer snake the previous hike, for instance. But this lizard was nice and helpful and pretended it was part of the rocks long enough for me to take a picture.

Most of this descent was dry and rocky before finally hitting some forest at the bottom. It was nice to have some shade on the way back to my car.

2013-09-13 signal knob

Sugar Knob – GWNF

Hike Summary

This is a tale of two hikes. The first hike was on a Thursday, and it was a nice, chilly morning when I set out. Autumn is definitely in the air. I took my dog and started to hike up the Pond Run Trail, which winds its way alongside Pond Run, crisscrossing it several times.

I was only about a mile into the hike when my dog started limping after a crossing. Concerned, I mad him sit, and he still favored his paw. I decided to head back to a campsite I’d seen a little bit of the way in, and see if he would get any better.

He didn’t seem to. I kinda hemmed and hawed, and was filled with indecision. Should I keep going and run the risk of him being unable to walk, midway through a 12 mile hike? Or should I just go home?

I decided on the going home. Of course, by the time I got back to my car, he seemed perfectly fine, so I was a little annoyed at myself and him. I decided that it was definitely better to be safe than sorry, however. GWNF is wilderness, and the phone reception is pretty bad all the way out in WV, so I didn’t want to push it.

So, I went back the next day!

One of the nicest things about getting up early to hike, besides avoiding the heat, is the way the sun breaks through the forest. Morning light is some of the best light, it paints everything in a way that makes it look ethereal and otherworldly. It’s soft, and gentle. It caresses the plants and the trees. It’s easy on the eyes as well. Afternoon sun is always so harsh by comparison, until sunset. Afternoon sun is unforgiving and relentless, and paints everything in long shadows, that seem ominous.

I’m trying to spend as much time as possible in GWNF this month, come October I won’t be able to hike around here at all, due to hunting season. I could hike if I wanted to, I have the orange blaze stuff, but the forest will also be pretty crowded, and I like the solitude of the forest for the most part.

So again, Pond Run Trail (full name is Tuscarora Pond Run Trail) winds up  and around and over Pond Run, up to the ridge. The water was traveling merrily down and along the run, with lots of little cascades and eddies. It was a pleasant feeling to be around the water the whole time. My dogs paws seem much recovered from the previous day, and he didn’t seem to mind the easy water crossings. I would imagine things are quite a bit more difficult in the springtime when the water is high.

Eventually, near the top of the ridge, we came across a boardwalk that spanned a boggy area. I read in my guide that it was the work of some Forestry Service rangers and volunteer hikers that build the plank walkway, and I was very thankful for it. I can only imagine the muddy, sticky mess that it was before the boardwalk was there. It was around here that I saw the only other person that day, another hiker who was off towards Mill Mountain, and it looked like he was going to be doing some fishing. After our friendly greeting. I decided to take a break and eat a snack, so as to give him some space ahead of me.

There are a lot of good campsites in the area, and I found a very comfortable place to sit. There was supposed to be a viewpoint near this junction and campsite, but there didn’t seem to be a clear way to get to it, so I didn’t put too much effort into it.

The Tuscarora Trail in this section was mostly fire road/4WD trail, and it was a pretty easy hike up along the ridge, passing by several intersections. At one point the trail veered off to the north from the fire road part, and I took the branching.

I was hiking along, keeping my eyes open but pretty relaxed, when I hear a sudden, thunderous CRASH from  ahead of me on the trail. This large crash was followed by smaller crashes as a pretty large Black Bear shambled away from me. Luckily, my dog didn’t give chase. GWNF is an area where it’s ok to have your dog off leash, and I usually let him have his freedom.

Anyhow, the smell of pine sap was thick in the air from the crushed vegetation, and I didn’t really want to linger in the area, so I hitched my dog up to his lead so I’d have better control of him and we set a quick pace to get out of there. I am still getting used to the idea of sharing the forest with bears, and I prefer to give them a wide berth when I encounter them. I also sing loudly and off key, in the hope that my terrible singing will make them go away.

Eventually, we reached the important intersection where I turned down Racer Camp Hollow Trail. There were also nice campsites here, and I stopped and ate some lunch. I started off in what I thought was the right direction, but realized quickly wasn’t. It’s an example on how, even at a 4 way intersection, it’s easy to go the wrong way. The woods can be very disorienting.

Luckily, it was a mistake soon corrected, and caught because I saw on my GPS that I was veering in the wrong direction from the route I’d put in.

Racer Camp Hollow Trail is a pretty awful trail for the first half. I need to look up and see if it has a PATC maintenance crew, because they need to give it a visit, as there are a lot of blowdowns. It’s more than the blowdowns though. It is eroded and rocky, and made me a little bit cranky, but I think that’s because I was a little fatigued. I need new hiking boots, or new liners for my boots, I get sore big toes about halfway through my hikes nowadays, and I know I’ve complained about the lack of grip. The grip wasn’t much of an issue this time despite all the river crossings.

This late in the summer, there aren’t as many wildflowers as there have been in the past, it’s mostly wood asters, which aren’t all that showy of flowers. I did come across a nice meadow of spotted touch-me-nots, which are always a nice sight. I saw a few wild basil as well.

Eventually, Racer Camp Hollow Trail evened out into more of a fire road, and I was out of the chilly woods. The sun shone and warmed me up, and there were some nice views over the trees and the meadows. Eventually, the trail intersected with the Old Mailpath trail, which descended downhill and started to signal to me the almost end of my hike.

There was still plenty more trail though. Old Mailpath was exactly that at one point, linking West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. It wound down through evergreen forests, and then eventually also started to follow some water. It was much muddier down here, and squishy and slow going. It was also pretty rank.

I was taken by surprise when out of the foliage appeared a set of benches. I was at the trailhead for Old Mailpath, and there was a nice helpful map and some more pretty touch-me-nots growing around. There were also blackflies though, so I didn’t linger, but I did pick up a paper map, as I really like their version of the trail system compared to the National Geographic map that I have. One can never have too many maps on hand is my opinion!

The rest of the way back to my car was gravel roads, but I saw some nice wildflowers. There were some Oxeye daisies lining the path, some poisonous but pretty Pokeberry, and some interesting caterpillars that I liked, they looked like little bundles of ribbons, sitting in the shelter of some leaves.

One the way back home, instead of my usual stop at Spelunker’s, I decided to stop at the Woodbine Farm Market. This is one of those typical farm markets that one sees all over the place in the rural parts of VA and WVA. It had a pretty typical selection of fruit, with some nice peaches, but what caught my eye were the cookies.

Sadly, no pictoral evidence of these cookies exists from me, because I was so hungry that I ate them all. They have a lot of different flavors though, and the next time I stop there (and there will definitely be a next time) I will correct my lack of pictures. The Heath Crunch cookies were the best.

Sugar Knob A
2013-09-07 Sugar Knob

Nicholson Hollow/Corbin Hollow – Shenandoah NP

Hike Summary

I haven’t been up this way since the day I lost my last hiking staff. This was the hike I was supposed to have done that day. It was very wet and foggy. Everything was damp, and as I approached the stepping stones across Hughes River, I realized that a panic was in danger of setting in. Last time I’d been to this spot, my dog had fallen into the icy stream, and I had to wade in and fish him out, putting an end to our misadventure for the day.

I tried not to worry as I crossed the stream, but I could have sworn that the rocks were super slippery. I’ve been having a lot of footing problems as of late, and I really do need to replace my boots soon, hopefully with something that is a bit more surefooted.

I steadied myself with the staff and made my way across. I breathed a sigh of relief, and felt better, but my heart was still racing, still pounding. It put me in a slightly cranky mood for the next couple of miles, but the nervous energy also seemed to give me some extra push, and I made some pretty decent time up the first portion of the trail.

This route on my trail guide was referred to as Corbin Mountain, but it really isn’t so much. Only about half a mile of the hike spends time on Corbin Mountain trail itself. Much more of it is spent on the Nicholson Hollow Trail and other connecting trails. I’ll have to venture out and do a shorter hike on the Corbin Mountain trail itself. It would make for a shorter loop, and perhaps isn’t all that picturesque, but it would be something different. Besides, I need excuses to hike trails down in this area, as Carousel will be closing in October for the season, and I have to get delicious ice cream while they’re still making it.

On the way up, I didn’t see a ton of flowers, I did see quite a few spotted touch-me-knots, and what I have now discovered is New York Ironweed (the same purple flower I couldn’t identify on my last hike.) I came across two girls who were trying to get to Old Rag, but they had a bit of a long hike ahead of them – I think I was about 3/4 of the way to Corbin Cabin when I encountered them. I showed them my map and gave directions on the fastest way to get there from where we were (likely back the way I’d come already.)

I came across another crossing of Hughes River and saw a very fine swimming hole, and stopped to eat a snack. There are a lot of nice swimming holes and campsites along the river, would be a pleasant place for a weekend camp.

Even more pleasant, however, would be Corbin Cabin, one of the PATC cabins that are available for rent that are in Shenandoah and elsewhere in the region. I’ve stopped here before, and although it’s locked, it makes an excellent place to stop and take a lunch break. There’s a nice, wide porch not unlike an AT shelter, so I can put my pack down without worrying about something crawling into it and hitching a ride. Having flat ground is nice as well, and a clean spot to sit down that isn’t a rock or a damp stump.

I am no Chanel camper, or someone who thinks the best idea of camping is a hotel room, but it is nice to have a dry behind when you’re trying to gnaw on a Clif bar.

I sat there, getting a little warmth from the bit of sun, and watching my dog nose around the container holding his treats. He’d come up to it, poke it with his nose, and then look at me, as if to say, “It is time for you to dispense with the treats!” Of course, I had to oblige him. He hikes just as much as I do.

I sat and mused on writing. I think I might have finally gotten a character in my head and a story that is starting to form around him. I’ve jotted some notes down in my notebook as the thoughts have struck me, now I just need to get them onto paper (or into a document I suppose.)

Break time over, I headed out again up Indian Run Trail, where things grew steeper for a while. I thought for sure all this hiking would end up making me sore later on, but even this uphill gave me little soreness the rest of the week. I’m not sure how I’m going to make things harder, short of taking up rock climbing (which is not really something I’m all that interested in in the wild, since my dog can’t come with me on that.)

I hiked on through the gloomy trees, until I spotted some cluster of berries growing close to the ground. I was having trouble holding my camera steady, and I moved my hand over to give myself more support. Stupidly, I stuck my hand right into the middle of a stinging nettle plant. Sharp zings of fire went up my arm immediately, and my fingers swelled up a bit. It seemed I didn’t do too much damage, as the pain went away fairly quickly. I was thankful I didn’t have to go looking for some mud to stick my hand into.

I went on Old Rag Fire Road for a ways, and then turned down Corbin Hollow trail. There, I saw some fields of giant ferns, and I encountered another hiker, who seemed completely flabbergasted to see another hiker. “I’ve been hiking this trail 15 years,” he said, “and this is the first time I’ve ever seen another person on it.” He then advised me that he had spotted no less than 3 copperheads on his way up the trail – something that could be a bit of a danger to my dog. This resulted in some additional anxiety for me as I made my way down, keeping my dog tethered closely. I almost wish he hadn’t told me, but I was definitely better off knowing.

Eventually, I hit Weakley Hollow Fire Road and the most interesting bits were over. Fire roads are pleasant strolls, but they don’t feel all that much like hiking to me, particularly Weakley Hollow, which is a thoroughfare for anyone heading up to Old Rag.

2013-08-30 Nicholson Hollow-Corbin Hollow