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Little Passage Creek – George Washington National Forest

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Hike Summary

It has been far too long since I was updating, and for that I apologize. I got caught up with preparing for and then failing to complete the One Day Hike, and then I had a visitor, and then I went on several hikes and just didn’t have the energy or organization to actually sit down and do actual descriptions.

I am back though, and there will probably be a flurry of updates over the next few days while I get my backlog of hikes up. I still took pictures and such, I just didn’t get any thoughts down on paper, so to speak.

This hike is a hike I’ve been trying to go on since the middle of March or so, but unfortunately, the Forestry Service Road that this trail starts on is locked until mid-April. I was finally able to get out on it, and it was pretty worthwhile.

The first section of the trail follows the forestry road past another locked gate, and goes along for a couple of miles. It wasn’t incredibly interesting, being mostly long and straightish, with an occasional intermittent stream to jump across. The day was kinda muggy and sorta rainy, something that I have a feeling I’m going to get used to as summer progresses.

The trail breaks off from the Forestry Road and heads around the west side of Strasburg Reservoir. It’s a pretty small little lake, only a few acres, but the rains have it nice and full, and there’s the sound of water going out the overspill, as well as lots of frogs and other nature sounds. There are a couple of excellent camping sides on both sides. It struck me as a great place to hike to and sit around the campfire, drinking beer and roasting marshmallows.

There were quite a few pretty wildflowers along the hike, and I got my first look at a newt, all fiery red, just hanging out in the middle of the trail. Of course when I started taking pictures of him he decided that it was time to move, so most of my pictures were blurry or obscured.

By this time, there was finally a break in the drizzle, and I made my way to the top of Meneka Peak, the highest point of the hike. There were nice views off to the East towards Buzzard Rock and other places. I made my way back down towards Signal Knob, the sorta halfway point of the hike. Along the way I came across a large cell tower and transmission facility. I’m told that a lot of people actually think this is the actual signal knob, but it’s only part of it. Signal Knob itself is off to the west.

As I looked around from the top of Signal Knob towards Strasburg to the west and Winchester to the north, I can definitely understand how this place was an important place to hold during the Civil War. It was taken and retaken by both sides several times, and used as a signaling location during the Shenandoah Valley campaigns.

The way back was mostly the Forestry Road, which runs all the way to the transmission facility, but I had a fun time as a thunderstorm decided to roll in at this point. Luckily I managed to get back to my car the moment the rain really started coming down in sheets. It was quite an exciting drive home.

2013-05-29 Little Passage Creek

Appalachian Trail – Ashby Gap to Rod Hollow Shelter

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Hike Summary

There are times when hikes are dreary and brown and grey, and I wonder sometimes why I’m out there. Things seem so bland, but I push myself because I’m getting some pretty vistas, or at the very least I am getting out of the house and getting exercise. Those endorphins are what seem to keep my depression at bay.

Then, there are times and hikes that are all worth it. They’re worth the rain and the mud. They’re worth the drive.

I was a little bit worried this particular morning when I went out. The sky was grey and threatening to rain, but it was also pretty warm. In the past, I probably would have made an excuse to stay inside instead of going out. This time, I just took my rain jacket with me and figured that if it rained, it would rain.

The trailhead for this particular trail is very well hidden, and I drove past it the first time, forcing myself to have to turn around and then negotiate a very steep turn to get there. Some of the reviews of this hike on Hiking Upward said that it wasn’t really that memorable of a trail and there wasn’t much to see.

In springtime, that couldn’t be more wrong. Sure, there are no sweeping vistas, no steep gullies. But I found myself stopping almost every 5-10 feet as I saw something new to take a picture of.

It started out small, just a couple of small white flowers by the path, and the everpresent Eastern Redbud. Soon though, there were flowers everywhere. The paths would be lined with Blue Violets, and then that would give way to Yellow Violets. There would be more Wild Geranium, and a patch of Virginia Bluebells off to the side. Everywhere I looked, the forest was coming alive.

Rain fell, soaking myself and my dog. It didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, although it wasn’t a driving rain. As I continued along the trail, I came upon a section that was lined with bluebells. It was like something out of a fairy tale or a fantasy game. Around the curve was a sea of blue and green dotted with white. It was sublime, and almost overwhelming. Just that subtle presence of nature around everything, the world waking up from winter.

I continued on and made my way to my destination, the Rod Hollow Shelter along the Appalachian trail. This is one of many such shelters that exist for people making long (or short) treks along the trail. For many thru and section hikers, it comes at the end of a section referred to lovingly as the roller coaster, for the many ups and downs that one has to hike along it. I’ve hiked a couple of sections of it now and can see that it’s a pretty challenging section.

It’s a very well maintained shelter and campground, and I can imagine it’s pretty busy as the year goes along. Today, it was deserted, except for some beer cans and other ephemera of hikers. I put my own little blurb in the logbook, and left behind an unopened Clif Bar as an offering to the next person along.

On the return trip, I made my way up a side trail to a ridge. Here, there were far fewer wildflowers, and no views to speak of. The trail itself was pretty difficult to follow, there being a lot of down trees. I’m sure the PATC will be along at some point to fix those problems.

I also took another side trip and stopped at the Myron Glaser cabin, also owned by the PATC. It was locked (you have to be a member to rent it,) but the porch was accessible, and I rested a while and sat on the porch swing and listened to the wind.

On my way home after the hike, I thought to make a side trip to a bakery, but it was unfortunately closed. Instead, I went to my old reliable backup, Cupcake Heaven, for a salted caramel-chocolate cupcake. It was a sweet ending to a wonderful day.

AT Ashby Gap

Buzzard Rock from Elizabeth Furnace (In Spring)

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Hike Summary

Those of you who are familiar with my blog probably think that this trail sounds familiar. It is. I had intended to go hiking on a much different trail, but I ran into difficulty:

Always check road conditions before heading out. The place I wanted to go was on a Forestry road. I didn’t check to see if the gate was locked. It was locked. So, rather than call it quits and head home, I thought I’d revisit this trail, since it was in the area and I knew the route more or less.

This time, there was no snow, so it was a lot easier going. Winter is still holding on stubbornly (although Spring is quite definitely here now as of this writing) so it was still quite chilly when I first started out, although I could tell that this would probably be the last hike I’d need my long johns for quite some time.

The trail follows a lot of switchbacks on the way up, and it is very steep, probably doing about 1500 feet of elevation within a few miles. Once you get up to the intersection at Shawl Gap, it is pretty easy hiking along the ridge to Buzzard Rocks themselves. There are pretty views all around and plenty of interesting rock formations.

This time, I was actually able to use the (steep and somewhat unmaintained) shortcut trails on the way back. I’d been entirely alone up until the very end, when I did finally see a couple of hikers making their way up, and I helped them out with directions. They complimented me on my hiking staff.

2013-04-09 Buzzard Rock