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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Shutdown Hike #2 – Laurel Run – George Washington National Forest

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Hike Summary

So, the government shutdown was still underway when I went on this hike. This didn’tt interrupt my hiking, although the weather came close to doing so. I am glad that I stayed on my toes and paid attention to the weather, because had I decided to go on my normal hiking day, I would have ended up not being able to go at all, due to the 4 straight days of rain we’ve had the latter half of this week.

I did, however, make a couple of missteps, but not hazardous ones.

The first was wearing shorts. Summer is over. I was lulled into a false sense of warmth from the previous week, when temperatures came close to the 90s, and things were super warm and cheerful. I am definitely glad I grabbed my jacket before setting out, because I certainly needed it.

I hiked this trail before, back in June, and I really enjoyed it. I wanted to give it another go in the Autumn, to get a good look at the foliage, and because I really did enjoy it before. I’m not sure what was going on with me this day (trying a new allergy medication, I suspect,) but I spent a lot of my time feeling just plain tired.

The other one was not carrying enough batteries. I’m usually really good about keeping enough batteries with me, but I also have an issue when I go hiking that I inevitably forget something. It’s like some stupid mental block that I have that I have to purposely forget something, and I find it really frustrating sometimes.

Anyhow, this oversight/error caused me to not take as many pictures as I would like, as I only had one good set of batteries and I had to pick between my camera and my GPS. I did, however, manage to take some photos with my phone later on, so I still got to preserve some of the color that was in the mountains at this time of the year.

I know that this week was just around what’s referred to as peak color for the area, so there was quite a bit to see, and the weather was mostly cooperative.

The first part of the hike, up Laurel Run, is steep. It’s steep enough that if you’re not used to strenuous hikes, you’ll get some soreness for sure going up this trail. I saw quite some pretty sights along the way, and I was able to identify some new trees with a little help.

I am not a native to the Eastern forests, so I don’t know the trees all that well. My mom had heard me complaining about this, and decided to send me some help. There’s a series of nice little pocket-sized guidebooks to help identify plants and trees and such, and she’s long had one for the Pacific coast trees, and I remember it. She sent me the one for Eastern Trees, the simple and straightforward titled Tree Finder by May Theilgaard Watts. This book is great. It’s laid out in a flowchart format, where you go by distinguishing characteristics of the leaves (or needles if you’re doing conifers) and eventually through a process of elimination you reach the correct tree. This allowed me to correctly identify Striped Maple and Bear Oak during this hike.

There are a couple of wildlife clearings along the way, and they made for lovely settings for autumn foliage.

I should mention that, even though this hike was during the shutdown, you couldn’t even tell any difference in GWNF. I know (or rather, I heard,) that the major lots, such as Elizabeth Furnace and Wolf Gap were locked, but there were no signs admonishing people at any trailheads. I think that’s probably due to the differences in how the National Forests and the National Parks are handled. The National Forests seem much more hands off to me, and the areas are usually a bit more rustic feeling.

Once up on the ridge of Long Mountain, the hike became a little easier, but there’s still a bit of up and down as you go along the trail. There was a great spot for pictures , and I stopped to take a few, enjoying the ripple of red throughout the mountains, off into the distance. It was still chilly and cold, but the sun was out somewhat, and the clouds made a beautiful pattern overlaying the sky above.

After going through a bald that looked like it was a grazing area in a previous life, I lost my batteries. I also decided to take a different route down the mountain than I had previously. Last time I was here, in June, I’d taken the Stack Rock trail, but I decided to take the Falls Ridge trail instead. It was only about a mile further than the other trail, and I wanted to do something different.

The Falls Ridge Trail had a lot more pine trees than elsewhere on my hike, the trail was lined on both sides with them, as well as other trees. It was a little bit steeper than the other trail, and a bit overgrown and less traveled looking as well. The one drawback was there was a lot more hiking along the Laurel Run Spur, which is a nice gravel road, but I am not a huge fan of hiking on gravel roads, so I was very glad to get back to the car.

Another disadvantage to the colder weather: Ice cream makes me super cold! I stopped at my favorite place, Spelunkers, on the way home, and I sit outside so my dog can join me in eating. I had to move to the car for the ice cream because the wind was biting by that point and I was shivering. I’ll have to find some good bakeries with warm pastries as the weather gets colder.

2013-10-10 Laurel Run

Shutdown Hike #1 – Bear Church Rock – Shenandoah NP

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Hike Summary

So, the government is shut down, and that means that the National Parks and National Forests are … technically closed.

This isn’t exactly stopping anyone from going out and hiking, myself included. I consider this an act of civil disobedience, and if caught I’ll comply with the authorities and remove myself. I understand the risks. I just want to go out there and hike, and I’m not going to let some jerks in our legislative branch keep me from doing so.

So, that’s that. I’d planned on doing some hikes that start from Skyline Drive, in order to take advantage of the beautiful foliage changes at this time of the year, peak season for Shenandoah, but alas, that’s proving somewhat difficult.

So, alternatives must be found. There are plenty of places where the trailheads are outside of the park, and so I drove out to almost the limit of my distance from home (within 90 minutes) to check out this hike, in the central section, down below Madison.

It was quite warm as I set out on my hike, no need for a jacket this time. It was a little hazy and overcast, but pleasant. I followed the trail along the Rapidan River, and caught some pretty reflections of the water in the morning light. The Rapidan is a cheerful little river at this point, full of trout waiting to be fished.

Soon, there was an intersection ahead, and I followed the Staunton River trail uphill, which unsurprisingly, follows the Staunton River, another pleasant little cascade. There are lots of rocks and things for it to fall over, making a very musical sound as it winds its way downhill. There’s supposed to be a swimming hole along the river at some point, but I wasn’t quite sure where it was.

The trail was lined with pretty purple asters, and some other late season wildflowers. I saw blue lobelia and even some blue phlox, which is a flower I haven’t seen much since April.

Along the way, I saw a strange sight. I’ve seen plenty of rock walls and remnants of foundations and such during my hikes, but these were different. They almost seemed like retaining walls, or fortifications or something like that. I did a little research, but I couldn’t find anything in particular anywhere on the internet about these rock piles, so they’ll remain a mystery.

The trail came to an intersection, and a very steep uphill climb. As I was making my way up, I saw a little toad making his way along, and I held out my hand. He hopped right up on my hand like it was no big thing, and stared at me for a while, allowing me to catch my breath some. I set him back down and he made his way into the drift of leaves, never to be seen again.

I decided to make a side trip for a good lunch eating spot at the Jones Mountain Cabin, which is owned by the PATC. It’s situated about 2/3 of the way up to the top, on a little side trail that’s about 1/3 of a mile. It would make a great afternoon hike and basecamp for exploring the other trails in the area. There’s a privy and a spring nearby, and some lovely trees that were changing color. There’s also a spicebush right next to the cabin, which lent a nice, fragrant smell to the immediate area.

After eating my snack, I set back out. The hike up to the top has a lot of switchbacks, and it seems forever with the steepness of the trail. There was one section lined with Mountain Laurels that had a slightly creepy look with the way their twisty trunks outlined the trail. If it hadn’t been such a nice day, it would have felt almost menacing.

Finally, after what seemed like the hundredth turn, I reached the top. It was a remarkable view. It wasn’t quite peak color yet, but the views were still glorious. So glorious, that I forgot to take pictures with my normal camera, and only took two with my phone! I am still kinda kicking myself over that one.

The only drawback was there were a large number of stink bugs up there, and although they’re pretty harmless, they’re also annoying, and they kept bumping into me, and attracting attention from my dog, who wanted to snack on them.

As I made my way back down, I encountered a couple of hikers. They were government workers who were on furlough, and decided to take advantage of their unexpected vacation by going for a hike. This was one of the first of several encounters on the way back. I ran across more hikers this day that I think I had in the previous month of hiking.

I decided to take an alternate path back instead of back down the Staunton River Trail. I had been tempted to extend my hike even further by hiking past Bear Church and heading up to the connection with the Rapidan River Trail, but I decided that that would have been a little too much hike.

All in all, this was a great day, and I think that Bear Church Rock, although somewhat far, is probably one of my favorite hikes in Shenandoah.

2013-10-04 Bear Church Rock

Halfmoon Mountain – GWNF

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Hike Summary

So, I had a little shopping adventure prior to this hike. An appointment I had made was canceled, leaving me with some time planned for and nothing to do. I really wanted to get some new hiking boots. I know, I’ve been complaining about my feet in almost every blog post for the past month at least. My old Timberlands, purchased in early 2012, were finally falling apart. They were decent boots, but what I really needed were Serious Hiker Boots.

So I’d been doing a little research. I’d checked out the useful post on women’s hiking boots over at Outdoor Gear Lab, and the slightly less helpful guide at Backpacker Magazine (the boot they awarded their editor’s choice to was one I couldn’t find in any retail store, and if I’m going to buy a pair of hiking boots, I sure as heck am going to try them on first!)

So, I went to an unnamed national retailer that happened to carry all of the boots and gave them a try. I instantly decided that the Vasque Breeze GTX boots were the ones that were the most comfortable. I felt a little guilty about using the store as a try-on place without purchasing, but not that guilty, as they didn’t have a price matching policy.

Anyway, my dilemma was that I needed a specific size: 8.5W. I have strange feet, due probably to the fact that I was born with a clubfoot (corrected so early that I can’t even remember wearing leg braces) and that I spent almost my entire life up until high school barefoot. I still kick off my shoes first thing when I get home, and while I’ll wear heels, I don’t exactly love them.

So I was checking around for prices, as Outdoor Gear Lab has links to places that sell the boots. I stumbled across Eastern Mountain Sports, whom I had never heard of before (likely because I grew up in California.) I didn’t even know they had a store near me! So I gave them a call. They had the boots I was looking for, and for an incredibly low price ($40, vs the full price of $160) but there was a catch: They were returned merchandise, that someone had worn once.

I decided to think it over, and wait until the next day, when I drove over there. I figured I needed at the very least to look at them, try them on and everything else. The boots had dirt on the soles, but otherwise looked (and smelled) brand new. I knew it was such a good deal, I couldn’t in my right mind pass it up.

So thanks, Eastern Mountain Sports. You guys have earned a customer for life.

And these boots. They are the best. I’ve been nervous because I’ve been slipping a lot when I go on hikes, and the soles are wonderful.

Anyway – on to the hike!

Halfmoon Mountain is adjacent to a place I hiked a few weeks ago, that stop and start hike on Signal Knob. I am unsure if this is my last hike out to the area for a while, I am having a difficult time determining when hunting season actually starts in GWNF … and with the whole government shutdown now, I am not sure at all what’s going on.

The hike starts from a nice, wide parking area with a circular road. I parked right next to the gate and set out. The first part of the hike was on forestry road, but this forestry road was a lot more picturesque than my previous hike. There’s just something about the National Forests vs the National Parks that I enjoy much more. They’re more rustic, but have better parking as well, which feels like an odd juxtaposition.

This was another chilly morning, and this time I really was seeing the autumn colors starting to come to the forest. It’s still pretty subtle from a distance, and you don’t really see it as much yet in my panoramas, but there’s plenty of fall color close up already, mostly reds.

So, the trail wound around and then split off up a steep, uphill section. This section was described as a “scramble” in the hiking guide, and it really wasn’t, just steep. As I was making my way up, I heard the baying of a hound. I leashed my dog up and continued with my hike. Eventually, I came upon a couple of men who looked straight out of central casting for “Appalachian Hillbilly.” One was older and chunky, with long hair and overalls. The other was younger and wiry, with a trucker hat and with the hound, who was lunging a little to get at us. I smiled and made some hellos, and continued along the trail. Part of me wondered if they were checking on their still, but I decided that was an uncharitable thought on my part. They weren’t unfriendly at all.

A little further on and the steep section came to a sudden end. I was almost disappointed, it seemed to me like it should have gone on further. There was a lookout to get to the top of, and on the way there, I saw a gorgeous display of fall color from the trees lining the path.

Once up at the top of the lookout, I shrugged my pack off and took a break. There *was* a tiny bit of a rock scramble up to the foundation of the old tower, and it was a great place to take a break, eat a snack, and drink some tea.

I was able to get some nice pictures of North Mountain and the surrounding area, spotting some farms down the valley.

There were annoying hornets buzzing around, and so after some time enjoying the view, it was time to depart. My new boots really proved themselves to me heading down the steep summit, I almost felt as nimble as a mountain goat.

The rest of the hike was fairly uneventful, there were fewer fall colors on this side of the mountain, and I made good time back around and to my car.

On the way home I made a stop at Woodbine Farm Market, and this time I actually remembered to take a picture of one of their excellent cookies before shoving it into my mouth. Hiking makes me hungry!

2013-09-27 Halfmoon Mountain

Stony Mountain – Shenandoah NP

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Hike Summary

Stony Mountain is a section of Shenandoah NP that is pretty off the beaten path as far as hiking goes. It’s out behind Syria, Virginia, which is a great little town that is home to Graves Mountain Lodge. You can get apples, a place to stay, and a nice breakfast or dinner. I’ve been there a few times for Mother’s Day, and the food is quite excellent!

So, up past the lodge, at the end of VA670, the road terminates at a locked gate. The hike continues as a fire road, winding its way up. Unfortunately, this first part of the hike really wasn’t all the picturesque. It was chilly in the morning, enough so that I had to wear my jacket again, something that will be happening pretty often I imagine, as the summer transitions to the fall and we get lots of cold nights and warm days.

I somewhat regret not extending the hike up to Dark Hollow Falls, and I’ll probably make a return trip here soon to do it as an out-and-back perhaps.

So, as I said, the beginning portion was mostly fire road, and then up near the highest elevation point of the hike, the trail goes off towards the Rapidan Road. At the intersection where the trail met the road, there was a nice little meadow clearing, and I decided to lay my blanket out and relax.

The ground was dotted with red clover, and I could hear the bees buzzing. It was nice to be able to just relax in the sun on this last week of summertime. The sky was a deep, clear blue with only a few fluffy clouds drifting overhead. The bees and butterflies busily attended the flowers.

After munching on a snack and drinking most of my tea, I headed back down. Again, it was a good chunk of mostly fire road, which was pleasantly in the sun after the chilly forest ascent of the Rose River fire road.

There was one spot which was supposed to be a decent view, but was blocked by leafy trees. I’m sure it’s much more clear in the wintertime.

The oddly named Upper Dark Hollow trail (to me, the name made no sense, it was below the falls) turned off from the Rapidan road, and I was finally on what felt like a “real” trail again. It was pretty steep on the way down, and I think it might have been recently maintained to help with water runoff, as there were a lot of dug up sections of trail, forming channels for water to go off of the trail itself. The shade was pleasant this time.

Upon rejoining the Rose River fire road, I noticed that there’s a nice swimming hole. I think that would make for an excellent stop during the hotter summer months, but it was a little too cold and I kinda wanted to get home by this point.

After heading out, I decided to make a stop at the Graves Mountain apple packing storefront, where you can buy apples that are in season. I decided that since there were plenty of Winesaps there, I couldn’t help but get a big bag of them! I still have them, 2 weeks later, although I’ve baked 3 cakes with them so far. My favorite of these cakes has been the Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze.

2013-09-20 Stony Mountain