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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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Woodstock Equestrian Park – Montgomery County, MD

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Hike Summary

Since I have been logging some pretty long and hard miles during my One Day Hike training hikes, I thought it would be a good idea on my “fun” hiking days to go on some shorter hikes that I might not normally do. I don’t know if it’s something in my slightly warped OCD brain that’s broken a little or what, but I have a hard time considering any hike under 10 miles to be much of a hike these days.

I need to learn to enjoy the short hikes, too.

I picked this hike at the last minute, thinking that this particular day there was going to be some snow or rain, but at mid morning the forecast said it was going to be nice, so I threw all my hiking stuff in my bag, loaded up the dog and headed up there.

Woodstock Equestrian Park is a relatively newish park in the more rural part of Montgomery County, Maryland. It is primarily intended as an equestrian park (duh) but the cross country course is just as usable for a hiker with their dog.

The park goes through rolling hills, mostly fields, with some thickets of trees interspersed here and there. The snow was starting to melt (it would be totally gone by the end of the next day) so at times it ended up being a little bit of a mudpit. Thank goodness for waterproof boots.

One of the nice things was that someone from the maintenance department had driven through with a vehicle of some sort, so there was a flattened strip of snow through the park, making it a little easier to get around.

At one point when I was hiking along, a herd of deer burst through the edge of the field and ran across it. I was so bemused taking in the scene that only at the last minute did I start to fumble for my phone and the camera. By the time I peeled off my gloves, they were gone. There was something enchanting about seeing them run across, they were almost floating over the snow.

There was a rich, tannic smell to the air at some points, hard to tell if it was the fields or just the smell of the thawing earth. At the time it smelled like spring, but now that I’m sitting, writing this with almost a foot of snow on the ground, it must have been a false spring.

I stopped for a snack and a rest at the Seneca Stone Barn. This is an old stone horse barn that was restored by the parks department when they were working on improving the park, and they did a very nice job. There’s a little information station explaining the history of the barn. I do wish there was a bench to sit on here, I had to make do with one of the thresholds instead.  That’s my only complaint though, and really I should be used to not having much to sit on but logs as it is.

Moving on, I exited the field section and made my way downhill and across the busy road. Then there was a section that was a bit more forested and a bit snowy as well. It was nice to have some bits that felt more like “real” hiking, with the enclosure of the forest. There was one section with a bit of a hill and a powerline clearing that was pretty.

At the bottom of the hill was a dirt road and the way back to the car. I had had a good leg stretching. and a place I have wanted to visit was on my route home.

Rocky Point Creamery. The last time I tried to visit this place was possibly around the same time last year when I’d gone to Sugarloaf, and of course it being still wintry, they are on limited hours. This time however, I was there when they were open!

They do have excellent ice cream, as I’ve found to be the case pretty much for all local type ice cream places I’ve visited. They’re a tiny smidge pricier than some of the other places I’ve been to, but that might just be the price difference between Maryland and Virginia. I didn’t mind, it was tasty. I had Banana Pudding and Butter Pecan flavors in a sundae with caramel, and it was an all-round great combination. They’re also part of the Maryland Ice Cream Trail, and I think when that rolls around again this year, I’m going to have to participate.

As I continued on, I was still a little bit hungry. I was back in Virginia, and what should my eyes see but a roadside BBQ stand. If there’s one thing I’ve found in my wanderings, it is that roadside BBQ is some of the best BBQ. This place is run by Catoctin Popcorn, who also have a location in Harper’s Ferry. I had some of their pulled pork with NC sauce, and it was delicious. I thought about suggesting to them that they set up a booth during the One Day Hike (they’re located just across the Potomac from the C&O trail,) but if they did that, I’d be tempted to stop and eat too much.

Woodstock Equestrian Park

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

Sugar Knob – GWNF

Hike Summary

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

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

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

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

So, I went back the next day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugar Knob A
2013-09-07 Sugar Knob

Nicholson Hollow/Corbin Hollow – Shenandoah NP

Hike Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013-08-30 Nicholson Hollow-Corbin Hollow

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

Bull Run Mountain Conservancy

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Hike Summary

It was a rather warm July morning when I set out, and I steeled myself a little in anticipation of a somewhat busy hike. It was a Friday, but it was also the Friday of a 4-day weekend, so I had a feeling that it was going to be rather busy anyhow.

I was very much correct. Bull Run Mountain Conservancy is one of the closer hiking areas to suburban Northern Virginia, and only about 10 minutes from my house. I hadn’t ventured in before now because they had a no dogs policy, but at some point in the past year, they seem to have changed that, and now allow dogs on leashes, which makes me pretty happy.

I like to think I’m a good dog hiker, I make sure he’s leashed and I don’t let him wander too far or be obnoxious. I always get off the trail and let other people pass by. I always pick up after him. It drives me up the wall that there are some dog owners out there that have to ruin it for the rest of us with their bad behavior.

So I set off, and followed the trail, which was very wide and park-like. It goes past the ruins of a house and the Chapman/Beverly Mill, which is a mill that was in operation before the Civil War, and was occupied by both sides during the war and used as a staging area. It burned down, and there’s a group working on restoring it. Hiking in BRMC is one of the ways you can actually see the mill up close, as opposed to seeing a glimpse of it as you zoom past on I66.

The interstate is, unfortunately, an almost constant presence in the park. It takes some time before you get fully away from the sound of the cars. The trail continues on up a nicely graded path towards the overlook. I was sort of but not entirely surprised at the number of people I saw hiking, even at this early hour. I quickly lost count of the people I let pass me or I saw coming down the hill. I also have a feeling that there are some people that have a quick out and back hike up to the overlook and back, and that might be something I add to my workouts to get more hills rather than just walking on a flat surface. It’s something to think about, anyhow.

While I was hiking, I noticed lots of little holes in the trail. These were most likely from the recent brood of cicadas we had this year. They’re gone now, and they honestly seemed not nearly as dire as they were predicting. I heard them quite a few times when I was out hiking, but they weren’t nearly as bad as they were the previous year.

I got up to the overlook and took a break, taking some notes in my notebook (a new habit I’m adopting so I’m better able to remember points about my hikes, so these posts are more interesting,) and eating a snack. I tried to sit away by myself a little, so I had some solitude. Not long after I’d sat down, a group of teenagers came hiking up, talking loudly and generally being a little obnoxious. One of them even stepped on my pen after I’d sat it down to just (try to) enjoy the view. They do say that hell is other people, and that’s one of the reasons I prefer to hike during the week, so there are less people to disturb me.

One of the things I enjoyed about the overlook is it’s something I’ve seen many times from I66 as I’ve been driving out to Front Royal and other parts west. You can see it very clearly from the interstate, a slash of white on a ridge across the way. It was nice to be able to see the interstate and the surrounding countryside from up on high, although it was quite a bit overcast still, with a little wind.

After enjoying the view, I decided to keep on the trail as it went on up a little higher. There were a couple more overlooks, and the trail came to the top of High Point, and then started to descend. I was really quite curious as to where the trail ends up, but I decided that maybe I’ll find out another day, unless someone out there knows the answer. Upon some further investigation with Google Maps, it looks like it may go all the way to Hopewell Road on the other side, at least if Street View is to be believed.

On the way back I started to descend the other side of the mountain, and this way was very steep and poorly graded, and I had to inch along a little bit. The trails in this area are generally fairly poorly signed, with only some numbered signposts at intersections. It is pretty much a requirement to have a map while you’re in this park. In fact, I ran across a very lost group of people that were trying to get to the top, and I gave them directions. They’d lost their map.

I was in a section of the park that was a maze of little side trails. The guide I was using had pointed to a spur trail that didn’t exist anymore, and I slogged through some mud  and decided to head off in a different direction, towards the edge of the park. There was an area, past the railroad crossing, where there were some planted pine trees. It smelled very nice, but it also felt so sterile. The trees were laid out like graph paper, marching away in rows, and it just felt unnatural and kinda spooky. I turned around at the boundary of the park and made my way back, adding in a little side loop in the middle of the park for some added miles.

At this time of the year there aren’t as many wildflowers, at least not in this park, but I did see quite a few interesting mushrooms and fungi. Not all of them were listed in my little Audubon Mid-Atlantic Guide, but one of the more interesting ones that was in there was an Old-Man-Of-The-Woods. It looked almost like it was encrusted with black crystals, very pretty.

My hike completed, I decided to take a little detour on my way home and I drove out to New Baltimore and to Effie’s Frozen Favorites, another roadside ice cream stand. They have a number of sundaes on their menu, and I couldn’t resist getting a brownie one. A great way to finish off the day!

2013-07-05 Bull Run Mountain Conservancy