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Tuscarora Trail to Kepler Overlook – George Washington National Forest

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Hike Summary

This particular day for this hike was forecast to be such a nice day that I felt it was criminal to not go for a hike. So, despite a little bit of ankle pain (from ODH training) I picked a region I hadn’t been in a while.

Good old George Washington National Forest. You are my old and I think bestest friend, followed closely by Shenandoah and the AT.

GWNF, with your obscure trailheads, your barely visible blazes, your rules allowing me to let my dog off the leash. Your rustic sensibilities, your frequent campsites, your dirtiness. Who knows what manner of moonshiner or pot grower lives within you, as long as they don’t decide that I’m an intruder.

Finding the trailhead was an adventure, as trailheads usually are here. There are some really nice cabins and houses back in these obscure folds of land in Virginia. I assume that a lot of them are seasonal hunting lodges, or just people who like living somewhere that there aren’t people out to bother them. The first part of the drive up from Woodstock, up Zepp road, was pretty, with nice views. Then at some point it devolved into almost single-lane gravelly road, which is totally fine with me (although probably not so much my car’s alignment.) Finally, we end up at a pretty decent parking area with campsites, and a little connector trail/gate gravel road out to the Tuscarora Trail.

I really do want to backpack the Tuscarora Trail someday. It is a trail with a lot of character, the way it goes over the various ridges and makes a big western arc to and from the AT. It took over the path of several other trail names, so it retains those names in its own name as it makes its way through VA and WVA before turning east into PA. There are a few shelters like for the AT, but it’s mostly pretty much on your own for finding places. I’ve noticed quite a lot of camping spots though, so that seems pretty easy.

The day started out pretty grey and overcast, but warmed up as I went along. The first part of the hike is pretty easy, and there’s a nice campsite along Cedar Creek where I cross it. The trail follows an old ore road up the mountain, and then there’s another extremely … creative bridge over the creek again.

My dog has more sense than I and just fords the water. I hold onto the railing and make my way across the rickety thing, worrying all the while that it’s going to fail on me and I’m going to fall in.

This is not to be. I am safe and sound as we continue up the trail. Things look like they’re all thawed, but then I encounter an area that is pretty much all still snow covered. It’s a little slow going, as things are icy and even with my nice boots things are either slippery, or like hiking through sand dunes. Eventually though, I make my way through the winter wonderland and up to the top of the ridge.

There’s an excellent view of the Shenandoah Valley from here, along a ridge/cliff of rock. There are several campsites along the area, and someone has helpfully nailed a thermometer to a tree, allowing me to check out the current conditions.

58F. Not bad.

It was still pretty hazy up there, but the sun was coming out here and there through the clouds, so I spent at least an hour relaxing up at the top, enjoying the view. I scribbled in my journal, taking notes on the hike so I don’t forget when it comes time to sit down and write. There’s a really nice fire ring with seating there, so it made it extra easy to linger.

I thought about adding some extra miles to the hike, but my ankle was still a little sore from the hike (plus the next day I foolishly went for another hour long walk instead of doing nothing,) so I figured it was a bad idea to push things. It was time to head back.

On the way out of the area, I decided to try to find Van Buren Furnace, which is another one of those pig iron furnaces that dot this region. I found it, but oddly there was a “No Trespassing, Private Property” sign. It struck me as odd, because it’s supposed to be on an acre of forestry land. I suppose the locals were just trying to keep people like me away.

Kepler Overlook
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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

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

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

Kennedy Peak – George Washington National Forest

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Hike Summary

There was a narrow window of good weather this week when I checked, only a Tuesday would be good for hiking. I dithered quite a bit making a decision on where to go.

I seem to have this problem lately, I have a terrible time choosing between options. It’s called analysis paralysis, and it’s something that comes and goes in waves with me. It just is a simple struggle to make a decision, and I often find myself asking others to make that decision for me. It makes me feel childish and childlike. I suspect it has some deeper roots in my overall life situation, and is something I hesitate to go into deeper at the moment.

Eventually, I just declared as I was walking upstairs that I would go to Kennedy Peak, partially because I wanted a hike that took me through Front Royal on the way home, because I wanted to test my hypothesis on whether the burgers at Spelunkers are really as good as my starving self said they were the last time I was there. More on that later.

Kennedy Peak is in the Southeastern section of the ridges and folds that make up Massanutten Mountain. The ridge runs along the boundary between Shenandoah and Page counties.

Once I got to the trailhead, I set out on the Stephens Trail, which leaves from one end of the parking lot. The trail winds gradually through Redbud and Maple and other broadleaf trees that I’m still learning to identify. I do now know what Sassafras looks like, and saw quite a few of those as I made my way along the trail. The trail was fairly rocky and definitely seems to be a favorite of horseback riders, as I saw quite a few piles of horse droppings along the way.

Then, I started encountering the blackberry bushes. It’s starting to become the season where berries are ripe, but the canes are everywhere, and they were growing closely along the trail. By the time the hike was over, my left leg was scored all over (my right being more shielded because of my walking stick) and I still have scratches all over, a week later.

As I said, the blackberries were starting to ripen, and I picked a few as I went along. I wished that I had a basket or bag or something to carry them with me, as I have a very nice recipe for Blackberry Blondies that I made a couple of weeks ago, and I’d like to try with some wild berries this time.

Stephens trail makes a turn up the ridge and eventually intersects with the everpresent Massanutten Trail, which of course goes along the ridge. As I was hiking along, I encountered a rider with the most gorgeous horse. She said it was a Tennessee Walker, which is one of my favorite breeds of horse. It was a fantastic color, with a black and silver mane and tail. I only later realized I never took a picture, and I wished I had. I often still have problems asking strangers for things like pictures when I’m out, it’s that social anxiety kicking in. I’ve gotten better but still have miles and miles to go in that department.

So, the trail went on up to the top of the peak, where there’s a wooden observation tower that is need of some serious repairs up top. The bench section of the tower has split apart somewhat and is hard to get a comfortable seat on, and the railings were starting to crumble. There also seemed to be a hornet’s nest somewhere around, but I managed to luck out, and the hornets weren’t being particularly aggressive. (It was actually only later, when I was home, that I realized that they were hornets that were occasionally buzzing around me.)

I stopped to have a snack and to look out at the views. There really is a great view of the valley to the East, with the south fork of the Shenandoah River, and pasturelands out towards Luray. Birds wheeled in the sky, gliding on the thermals. The sky was blue and streaked with clouds, so that the day passed from bright to dark, heralding the storm that would pass through later that week.

I sat and jotted notes in my journal, and then we headed back. At the junction to go more downhill, I saw wild grapes growing, which are always an enjoyable sight.

As the trail started to descend, it became wider, and probable was following an old road. I saw a lot of what I believe are woodland sunflowers, but I have discovered that there’s quite a bit of fiddly identification associated with these flowers. When I later posted some of my pictures on iNaturalist, one of the botanists there shared the difficulty in their identification, something she’s written a helpful blog post about. I love learning about this sort of thing, so the next time I’m out, I’m definitely going to have to do some work!

I noticed along this part of the Massanutten trail, there are a lot of excellent campsites, and it seems like it would be a great place overall to camp. Hopefully one of these days I’ll actually be able to do that.

The trail eventually runs out to Fort Valley Road, and there’s a great viewpoint right at the border of Page county, looking out towards Luray. It took me a moment of looking around before I figured out where the trail went, in the opposite direction, downhill. It wanders down switchbacks, going back and forth across a power line clearing, before winding up back at the opposite end of the parking area.

I was pretty glad to be back, my hip had actually started to get sore going downhill, so my steps were starting to become painful.

After, it was a little drive up some back roads to get to US 340. As I was going along one of the back roads, I looked up to the west and saw Kennedy peak poking up out of the landscape. It was a nice framing moment for the day.

Once back in Front Royal, I did indeed stop at Spelunkers again, and it was no fluke. Their burgers really are that good. If I hadn’t been so hungry, I’d actually be a more responsible blogger and post a picture of these delicious items, but they are just so good that I don’t want to stop to snap a photo.

Next time, I promise I will!

2013-07-30 Kennedy Peak

 

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

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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