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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
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White Oak Canyon & Cedar Run – Shenandoah National Park

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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

Laurel Run – George Washington NF

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Hike Summary

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

Sky Meadows State Park

Hike Summary

This was not my first visit to Sky Meadows, but it is the first visit I have made since I started writing about my hikes.

The last time I hiked Sky Meadows, it was my first “serious” hike, after I got new hiking boots and a backpack, but before I got my Garmin etrex 20. It was actually this hike that inspired me to get a hand-held GPS, as using my mobile phone for navigation was something, I discovered, that was hazardous due to the short battery life.

It was also where I realized just how out of shape I was, and now I realize how far I’ve come in my fitness.

The first time I tried to hike this hike, the first hill, up Gap Run trail, absolutely killed me. I was barely able to get through, and ended up cutting my hike short, taking the North Ridge trail around and only hiking about half the distance.

What a difference 7 months makes. The hike up the Gap Run trail was still a bit of a lung burner, but I wasn’t gasping for air every 100 feet. It was a very very chilly day out, windy and cold, with a temperature of 14F with wind chill. I had to keep my jacket zipped up for the entire hike.

The trail winds uphill, past old ruins of a house, and then keeps going, with some nice views off to the west. I also saw a very unusual sight — a bright spot of green in an otherwise grey forest. A pool of water must be warmer than anywhere else, and the lush greenness really stood out to me.

On the trail wound, through some meadows, and then eventually junctioned with the Appalachian Trail. There was a bench where I was able to sit and have a little snack, and I finally saw some other hikers. They continued on up the AT, and I sat for a bit longer, sipping my tea and giving them time to build some distance on me.

I took the Old Appalachian trail side trip, and it was a nifty trail, with some snow still on the ground and nice views of I think Winchester through a clearcut section of forest. The trail wound on and rejoined the AT, and I hiked back up to the ridge.

There, I entered the high meadow sections, which were quite lovely after all the forest. I saw (but didn’t manage to get a photo of, sadly,) a herd of whitetail deer. They just quickly dashed through the meadow in front of me, causing me to pause and watch them run by, completely forgetting my camera in my bemusement.

Now it was time for some downhill bits of trail, and the ground had thawed enough somewhat that it made things a little slippery at times. As I was hiking, I encountered one of the oddest sights I’ve seen while out hiking: Another hiker, an older gentleman, who was so well dressed it completely took me off guard.

He was wearing hiking boots, as one obviously would need to, and I didn’t catch notice of his pants, but he was wearing a nice jacket and … a tie. Hiking while wearing a tie just seemed so strange to me. I was talking about it to my mom later that day and she commented that some people just like to be well dressed, no matter where they go.

I suppose this is true. It was very impressive. I wish that I could be that well dressed when I go hiking, but I end up looking like a mess most of the time, with my grubby jeans and my 3 sizes too many coat (losing 90 pound in a year has that effect, but it seems wasteful to buy a new one when this one is barely a year old.)

I hiked on, and nearer to the end of my hike, managed to accidentally flush a red fox, who quickly bounded away.

I kinda miss these hikes, with all the mileage building hikes I’ve been doing as training. I like to hike for enjoyment, and sometimes the other ones seem like more of a chore. I need to figure out a balance of entertaining and training, so that I can continue to post interesting posts and get the needed miles in.

2013-02-21 Sky Meadows

Manassas/Bull Run – The Grand Tour

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Hike Summary

So I ran into a bit of a conundrum. I was all happy with myself and though I’d hiked 13 miles, but when I pulled up my Garmin data, as you can see it’s only like 9.77.

Needless to say this bummed me out slightly, as I was hoping I was keeping pace with the training hikes for the One Day Hike that I registered for in April. I intend to do the full 100K, but I need to make sure I can actually hike the distance. I don’t want to have to drop out!

So, this hike. I hiked both of these routes separately back in August, but I wanted to do a more challenging hike, as well as see the changes to the trail in the winter. I also wanted to hike it backwards, as another interesting perspective.

I was also low on gas, so something that was close by was a great choice.

The previous day had had some stormy weather go through, so I made sure to check with the rangers to see whether or not any of the trail was washed out. They warned me that part of the section near Stone Bridge was underwater, and advised taking a shortcut to avoid it.

It was very windy, and I somewhat regretted not bringing my gloves with me. I often make this mistake, and really should just keep them in my backpack.

The park was mostly totally deserted, and I only had the haunted feeling of the battlefields (and my dog) to keep me company. There were brown fields and skeletal trees everywhere. The sky was a deep blue with streaky clouds.

The trail was muddy. Muddy is probably a bit of an understatement — the trail was often an open stream, or wet with water. My dog quickly became a mobile mud ball.

Wandering backwards through the park almost felt like wandering backwards in time – I followed back through the trail of events of Second Manassas, and then on to First Manassas. Both of those battles were fought during warmer weather though, so I didn’t quite have the same feeling of what the soldiers went through, but it was still spooky and quiet, particularly around The Deep Cut and the area where the Second Manassas memorial was.

On I went, though forest, where I could hear the wind making the trees rub together, making creaking noises, which were unsettling. Then I got to the part of the trail where it parallels Bull Run, where I was warned it was washed out. I of course had to see for myself, and true to the ranger’s word, the trail had been swallowed up by Bull Run, causing me to have to backtrack.

My misadventures weren’t over, though. After my crossing of Lee Highway, there was another river crossing, and this one was very much overtaken by water. I really didn’t want to have to backtrack more, so I managed to find a way across, albeit with one wet boot.

I’m hoping I can get a longer hike in soon, possibly something in the area of 18 miles!

Bull Run

2nd Manassas/Groveton

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Hike Summary

Today I’ve been restless, trying to find something to occupy me. My routine is unsettled, and I can’t satisfactorily settle on something, so I will write about yesterday’s hike (which I was planning on doing anyway.)


So the weather had been forecast to be hot all this week, but when I woke up, everything was nice and cool, and I figured that if I got going early, I’d beat the worst of the heat of the day. I was mostly right, although I wasn’t 100% prepared for an almost 7 mile hike (despite knowing the length beforehand.) I did pretty well, all things considered.

Although I spent a lot of my youth doing bits of hiking on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais, a lot of that was actually on horseback (naughtily, on trails meant for humans only) or short excursions. I was also a lot more in shape back then.

I’ve lost over 50 pounds since the beginning of the year, but I feel like I have so much more to go, and it frustrates me a little that my body isn’t totally cooperating.

It’s going to be the 150th anniversary of the battle of 2nd Manassas this month, and like last time, I spent time thinking about the battle as I walked. There’s a lot of road traffic through the park, I can only imagine the sounds that could be heard back in the day. Some 10,000 troops died during that 2nd battle.

That fact made me feel a little weird in a way, as I sat on a bench for a lunch break, munching on a trail bar. Was it disrespectful of me to be chewing away, on a spot where people died? Maybe the ghosts of the Union Soldiers were happy that, all this time later, there still is a whole country, and the Union was preserved. I’ll never know.

From a trail notes standpoint, I will note that I was a smidge disappointed in the lack of markers on this trail compared to the First Manassas Loop. I would have thought that with the anniversary coming up, some more care would be paid. I am glad I had my handy GPS unit with me, as the route provided by the HikingUpward guys was really helpful.

Some other things I learned:

Bring more water! I was hurting near the end, and so was my dog. Part of that was gulping down too much water at one point, I need to remember to ration it better.

Jeans are still soggy in hot weather, but I don’t want to spend money on new pants because of the weight I’ve been losing

Clif Builder bars become a sticky mess in the heat.

Pacing!

First Manassas Trail

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Hike Summary

I’ve been on a few hikes before this, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to test out my trusty new hand-held GPS unit, the Garmin eTrex 20. Truth be told, except in maybe one spot, I didn’t really need it all that much, but having the reassuring chime telling me I was on the right track was a nice touch. I also really like the information that the Garmin website has.
This is also the first time in a month that the weather hasn’t been oppressively hot. It was still hot, hot enough to make me feel as if I were melting at parts, but not hot enough that I thought I was going to die. It was a clear, sunny day.

Smell was one of the things that hit me as I hiked along. There was the smell of baking pine trees in the heat, a resiny, brown smell that reminded me of summers spent up in Calaveras County. There was that straw-like, yellow smell of the dry grass. There were also damp smells of water and decaying vegetation near Bull Run itself.

It wasn’t too challenging of a hike for me, it felt almost just the right length — about 5.5 miles, mostly level, with a couple of hills to climb up. The dog enjoyed the hike, too. I didn’t let him wander off too far on his leash, so this time he didn’t accumulate any ticks, which is nice, because one of my least favorite things is to pull them off of him.

One of the things I discovered on this particular hike is that I really need to get a shirt that is for hiking. These hot days turn me into a big, soggy mess, even after having lost 50lbs (so far.) The other thing is that carrying my GPS in my pocket caused it to wiggle the joystick around, and the unit would get confused. That’s a pretty simple fix, as I was already waiting for an accessory to come in the mail.

When I reached the crest of Matthew’s Hill, I thought about the soldiers that had fought the battle here, 151 years ago. My feet were sore, but compared to them I was in pretty good shape, as I wasn’t having any cannon or guns fired at me.

I’m going to re-visit the park this upcoming week (weather permitting) to walk the other loop trail, which is for the battle of Second Manassas.