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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
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Buzzard Rocks (North) – George Washington National Forest

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Hike Summary

This was a very short hike with a very pretty view. I am a little disappointed in myself, I should have extended the hike out further, walked all the way to the Shawl Gap junction, but for some reason I’ve been feeling pretty tired lately, so I only spent as many hours hiking this day as I did driving. That almost seems like a waste, but I still consider it time well spent.

It’s possible it was also because I was a little stressed out from getting there in the first place. For some reason there was a partial road closure on the way, and because I wasn’t all that familiar with the area, it made me uncomfortable. I ended up having to take a 10 mile detour, and eventually found the trailhead, which has ample parking for at least 5 or 6 vehicles.

The morning was grey and overcast, I had been a little worried it might rain, and I had almost canceled the hike altogether.

The trail starts out winding up and down and around several little stream gorges, through plenty of tree cover. My footsteps felt muffled, but on the other hand the falling of acorns from the trees made me almost feel like I was being followed as we hiked up. The trail surface quickly changed from sandy soil to rocks. Lots and lots of rocks, almost fields of small boulders that made footing rough at times. The trail quickly got steeper, as it started making switchbacks up the hill. I was very glad that it was well blazed, as sometimes it seemed pretty faint.

There are a couple of campsites along the way, and at least one unblazed trail that wasn’t mentioned on my trail description. I really should pick up some paper USGS maps of the area so I can see where some of these other trails go, and start making my own trail loops instead of relying on other guides. Perhaps when I’ve gotten more experience under my belt.

Eventually, I rounded a corner and got a great view north, towards Winchester. in the foreground was a funny shape that I’d seen on the map, that almost looked like a sailboat made out of ponds. I realized, from signs in the area, that it is a Virginia State Fish Hatchery, right next to a fork of the Shenandoah River. It made for an interesting vista in the foreground.

The trees are just starting to change color, but they’re not quite there yet. The rain has held this off somewhat, but I expect in about 2 weeks things will be lovely. I plan on making a hiking trip around the Virginia State Arboretum then, so there will be a lot of photos then.

On we went, up the spine of the rocks. There was a lot of slippery, rough footing, but nothing like the previous week with much hand-over-hand climbing. My dog had little to no problems getting around, as usual he was in doggy heaven at all the smells.

Eventually we got to the other side of the rocks, where there were views of the hills to the south. As if on cue, there were buzzards circling above on the thermals. It was a very tranquil spot for lunch. The wind started to pick up, and the clouds scudded away, giving the hike down a warmer, sunny feeling.

More Pictures of Buzzard Rocks North