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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

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

Going For a Drive – Skyline Central Section in Shenandoah

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The wind howls, shaking the branches in the trees in the neighborhood. This, combined with the temperature, kills any hopes I had of doing any hiking.

I sigh. There’s been too many weeks of this. I’m tired of winter. I’m tired of snow, and bitter cold. I’m tired of my knuckles bleeding from dry skin. I’m tired of having to wear my hiking boots everywhere.

There’s no use complaining. Complaining isn’t going to make the wind die down. I load up the dog and my pack into the car. I suspected that this was going to happen, so I was prepared to go for a drive.

So, into the car, and out 66 towards Front Royal, and Shenandoah National Park.

I’ve been having pretty back luck with the park as well. Every time I think of coming out here for a drive, Skyline has been closed. Sometimes this has resulted in more interesting drives, sometimes it just annoys. Some of my attempts to go down Skyline have come from times when I couldn’t hike as it was, doubling the frustration. It’s not the fault of the NPS. They’re just trying to keep people safe. Seasonal closures are to be expected.

Still.

This day is of course, no different. I roll up to the booth and the ranger informs me that they have someone checking the conditions, it might be a while. I’m welcome to pull over and wait and see.

15 minutes later … The North District is closed for now, but the central part is open. Time is ticking, and I really want to go drive in Shenandoah, so I do the next best thing and I get on US 340, which goes from Front Royal to Luray.

It’s quite a nice drive, actually. It cleaves closely to the course of the Shenandoah River, so you do get some nice views as you go, as well as access to Shenandoah River State Park, which I’ve mentioned before.

I spotted a historical marker on my left, and decided to stop and take a look. It’s a set of markers describing the historical bridge here, as well as the nearby town of Overall, which used to be called Milford, where a number of battles took place during the Civil War, the Valley Campaign of 1864. The battlefield itself is on private property, so other than the markers, there’s no point in me lingering.

Finally, I make it to the central entrance for Skyline, and of course, the North District is open again. I briefly consider heading north, but I’ve driven it before, and even though I’d like to see it again, I’ll settle for the central district.

After getting my passport stamped, I head in and stop at the first rest stop, which is also the trailhead for a short jaunt up to Mary’s Rock if one is so inclined. For about 30 seconds I entertain the notion of going for a quick hike up there, but as my hands start to go numb and my nose gets cold from the biting 20mph wind, I change my mind.

Sadly, this is a theme that repeats itself throughout the drive. I knew it was going to be too cold because of the forecast, but you know, if the opportunity presented itself I’d at least try. It was way too cold to try.

So, I had to be satisfied with seeing the park from the comfort of my warm car, with occasional jaunts outside to take some pictures.

It is fun to drive along and see some of the parts of Skyline that I’ve only seen a few times from crossing it on foot. It showed me a different perspective, and it brought a smile to my face every time I recognized a crossing. Same thing with the overlooks. It was great to see Old Rag again from high up.

It was also nice to finally see Big Meadow, even though the visitors center and campgrounds were all closed, and the wind was still much too cold and bitter. I was able to get out of my car for a little bit, and I ventured out and looked around some. It looked lonely, but I’d love to take a weekend and stay at the lodge, and be able to wander the meadow.

Back in the car and driving along, seeing the snow scudding along the road, swirling and making little snow devils. I see a few deer occasionally and slow down. They have no fear of me or my car whatsoever. They’re almost tame.

I can’t wait for spring to finally get here. I’m tired of the winter.

Eventually I hit the southern entrance of the central district. Part of me wants to keep going, to head a little further. But I was advised that not all of the southern district is open anyway, there were some road hazards. So, homeward I head.

Skyline 02/27/14

ODH Training Hike #3 – Northwest Branch and Sligo Creek

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Hike Summary

This was an extraordinarily long hike, but it was very enjoyable. It started out extremely cold, but as the day wore on it became very nice. I’m glad my backpack was mostly empty, because I had several layers that needed to be shoved into it.

On the first section of the hike I wished that I had my hiking boots and walking stick, as it was pretty much cross country type terrain, but the latter 2/3 of the hike I was glad I didn’t have them, as it was mostly paved. This has caused me a little bit of discomfort today, I seem to have strained a tendon on the front of my ankle and am trying to take things easy.

I’m very glad I was able to keep with the group, as I would have been lost without people that knew where they were going. There’s a lot of turns and detours on this route.

I met quite a few great people that I hope to see again at the upcoming training hikes. It also motivated me to join the Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group, as a couple of the hikers are hike leaders for that group and invited me to join them on their full hike of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail.

I wish I had time to stop and take more pictures, that’s the one disadvantage of these training hikes. One is so focused on getting the pace and miles in, it’s hard to really stop and take time to look around.

ODH Training Hike #2 – C&O Canal at Pennyfield Lock

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Hike Summary

It was very cold. So cold that the friends I made at the previous hike didn’t go.

I kinda don’t blame them, in retrospect.

Still, there was a pretty good handful of people there, and I managed to get 19.12 miles under my belt.

Lessons learned:

  • Either the new socks I got worked great, or the dirt/gravel surface was kinder. Possibly both!
  • Make sure, when it is cold, to keep one’s chin covered. I got frost nip or wind burn on my chin and a lot of peeling a couple of days later.
  • I was in this odd nowhere zone of being too slow compared to one group, and too fast compared to another, so I spent a majority of my hike on my own, which was a little bit lonely. I am glad I packed my headset though, and listened to a good chunk of audiobook. At the end of the time my headset was on low, so if I need to use it on the ODH, I’ll have to keep that in mind.
  • I drank almost all of my water, even though it was cold.
  • There’s always pretty things to see on the C&O. It’s much harder to stop and take pictures when you’re trying to get miles, though.

I hope the snow that we had all melts by next Saturday!

ODH Training Hike #1 – W&OD from Vienna to Reston

Hike Summary

There’s no corresponding photos to go with this, but I’ll just give a few notes.

17.5 miles. I didn’t intend to go that far. I really had only planned on the 12 mile option, but I met some nice people and made some friends, so we ended up going a little further!

Lessons learned:

  • Sports Bra works great, I’ll post a review of that soon.
  • Shoes seem to be good, but this was all asphalt for the most part, and since I was breaking in new shoes (and haven’t really been on a long walk in a while,) I have terrible shin splints.
  • Socks: I need to do some research. I ended up with one pretty large blister on one heel, so I need to get something better. I was using an older pair of mid weight hiking socks, and I think perhaps they’re just too worn for this kind of punishment.
  • Losing Weight: not my body (although that needs a little work) but in my pack. Ditch anything nonessential and/or get a smaller pack just for this purpose, that can carry a 3L water bladder.
  • I really should have gone on these hikes last year, and I would have learned more of these lessons! But I was (and always am) working on my social anxiety issues, and it can be rough to be in a group of strangers. I had a bit of anxiety at the beginning but it went away as I made some trail friends.

Hopefully the weather holds up this next weekend and I can get out there again.

Antietam National Battlefield Park

Hike Summary

Finally, the weather and my body have cooperated enough to allow me to go on a hike for the first time since the beginning of December. Since then, as I may have mentioned, I have either been sick or it has been snowing/too cold. This is a big contrast to last year, where I had few if any interrupted weeks of hiking.

All this being trapped indoors has made me a little nervous about my conditioning for the One Day Hike in April, but we’ll see how it goes.

Antietam is, almost surprisingly, not really all that far away from Northern Virginia. It’s about an hour and 20 minutes, give or take, from my place, and it’s a pretty pleasant drive up some scenic byways in Virginia, West Virginia, and then into Maryland. I’ve been using Waze lately as my navigation program, and it took me on some back roads on the way there.

This whole region is kind of the heart of classic Civil War Battles. I live right next to Manassas Battlefield, and as I am fond of sometimes saying, you really can’t swing a dead cat around here without hitting a place that took part in the war. I saved some of these places for winter exploration, because I figured with them being fairly flat, hiking would be less treacherous than somewhere like Shenandoah or out in GWNF.

And this theory seems to have borne out, at least on this occasion. I got there to the visitor’s center shortly after it opened, and had a little look around the gift shop before I headed out. It’s a pretty large shop, with a lot of the usual tchotchkes that one would find: T-shirts, mugs, pint glasses (which I almost bought one of but decided it seemed inappropriate somehow,) and pins and books. I was a little disappointed by their sticker selection – what I’d like to do with my Chromebook is to cover it with stickers of places I’ve visited – but the only sticker they had was a generic ANT circular one. Perhaps I should have stuck with my old plan of collecting patches, but I never quite know what to do with them. So, I bought a little pewter pin and headed out to the parking area.

There was little to no breeze, but it was cold. I had brought 2 hats and a couple of layers of clothes to wear. This was the first chance I’d get to try out the silk insulating layer that I got for Christmas. I spent so much time fumbling around with equipment initially that my fingers started to go numb. I actually went and sat in the front seat of my car and turned the engine back on, thawing my hands back out. One of the things I really should look into are liner gloves. I hate the way my hands feel when I am trying to use my camera or even doing simple things like pulling a map out of my pocket. I am always wanting to pull my gloves off for better dexterity.

Anyhow, off we set. The first portion of the hike was paved road, leading over to the observation tower, which was supposed to be closed, according to park rangers. The rolling fields were cold and empty, with very few people or even cars around. A little bit of a breeze was kicking up, making my face feel cold. I got to the observation tower and paused for a moment, examining the Irish Brigade Monument and getting my bearings to head down Bloody Lane.

Bloody Lane is a name that brings up a lot of imagery for anyone who has more than a passing interest in the Civil War. It’s one of the bloodiest spots on the bloodiest battlefield in US history. Over 5000 men were killed on this short stretch of road in a matter of only 3 1/2 hours. I am not sure exactly what I expected to feel. Maybe my mind was numbed a bit by the cold, or I was concentrating on keeping my footing in the icy setting, but the place was terribly banal. Snow smooths over everything, giving it a sort of sameness.  At this moment of time, to me, struggling with keeping my face warm and my legs moving, it was just a sunken country road.

I made my way down it, and then across the fields and up to the back side of the visitor’s center again, where I stopped to eat a snack and drink some tea. I got a view of hills off in the distance, framing the horizon.

I headed down the field towards Mumma Farm, where some of the real hiking started. At the Mumma Farm, there was a little spring house from which a spring (naturally) came forth. I found I spent quite a bit of time following this little stream as it wound its way around, eventually joining Antietam Creek.

I came down to the Roulette Farm, where I encountered one of the only other people on my hike, another person with their dog. I also saw some pretty blue skies to the northwest, in contrast to the gloomy clouds in the opposite direction. It made for some nice contrasting pictures.

As I made my way along, I’d been noticing these parallel furrows on the trail. I thought at first that they might be bicycle tracks, but they were too close together for that. Once I got into the wooded section of the Three Farms Trail, it finally struck me what they were.

Cross country ski tracks. Of course, silly me. It didn’t quite occur to me at first that a place like this would be a wonderful place for skiing. The same characteristics that made me pick it as a hiking location in the winter would be just as good for someone wanting to ski.

I ended up being a little too focused on those ski tracks I think, because it caused me to miss my turn at once point and I had to retrace my path and find my way. The forests opened up to the rolling battlefield hills again as I went past some of the other farms.

I went down and under the turnpike, and that’s when we really started to hike parallel to Antietam Creek. When I hear the word creek, I expect more of a trickle, but this body of water is pretty impressive, although it is likely swollen by snowmelt. It’s a pretty unforgiving looking creek, something about it made me nervous. Perhaps it was finally the events of what transpired here finally getting to me, but I really didn’t enjoy hiking next to it like I usually do with creeks and rivers. There were parts where it had eroded the banks and I got the superstitious feeling that it was grasping at the banks.

Another road crossing and my dog and I were closing in on Burnside Bridge. There were a couple of different approaches to the bridge, I decided to take the higher trail so I could see it from above.

It’s a very pretty bridge for so much blood that was shed over it. I stopped to take a look from above, and noticed something unexpected: the bridge was closed!

I was faced with a dilemma. Should I cross the closed bridge (which the visitor center rangers had assured me was open) or should I double back and retrace my path back to a turnoff where I could get back to my car?

I decided that if I didn’t tarry and went across quickly, it would be OK. The part of the bridge that had been damaged was barricaded off in addition to the barriers barring entry (which were easy to walk around,) and I didn’t mess with anything, not even taking my camera out, until I made it to the other side. There, I took some pictures of the damage, and set off on the last loop, around Snaveleys Ford Trail.

This was another nice little hike through the woods, a contrast to the earlier part of the hike which was mostly fields (except the one shorter section.) There are a lot of benches along the trail, mostly facing Antietam Creek, and I took an opportunity to take a break at one and eat another snack and jot down some notes. Stopping for any amount of time made me get a little chilled, so I wasn’t able to make as many notes as I usually do when hiking.

The very last section mainly consisted of following the road back to my car, which I was happy to see.

Before I’d set out to go hiking, I had scouted out a few places to check out food wise, somewhere that would be good to stop afterwards. One of these was an ice cream shop. My usual motto is “it’s never too cold for ice cream,” but today I just was way too cold. So instead, I went to the other place: Burkholder’s Baked Goods.

Burkholder’s Baked Goods is a Mennonite Bakery located just off of the downtown core of Sharpsburg (which is adjacent to the battlefield.) I drove up to the address, and at first I was taken off guard. This was a mostly residential neighborhood, and this place looked much like the other mid century ranch houses. There was a sign for the business out front, and there was parking, so I pulled in.

Inside, there’s a tiny storefront area with coolers filled with local milk and some chocolates, a couple racks of pastries, and a counter holding more. Since it was in the afternoon, pickings were a teensy bit thin, but they were bringing out more. The whole interior looked to be converted over to a bakery, with modest Mennonite women hard at work. I saw some cookies and I figured I’d take some home to my boyfriend, plus I got a couple of doughnuts for myself. Everything was incredibly inexpensive, doughnuts were only 50 cents a piece.

I brought my prizes out to the car and wolfed down the doughnuts. I almost went back inside to buy some more, they were that good, but I resisted. If you’re near the battlefield, this is definitely a good place to stop. I kinda wish they had some seating or coffee or something, but the quality of the goods made up for that lack.

2014-02-06 Antietam Battlefield

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

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