Thursday, January 3, 2019

End of the Year

It has been a while. 2018 wasn't the easiest year, but we ended it on a lovely note with a weekend spent with another couple in Jones Mountain Cabin in Shenandoah National Park. We hiked the four miles to the cabin under gray skies after yet another in a long series of downpours in the wettest year on record in the mid-Atlantic. I was glad that we didn't have to cross the two rivers we hiked along - the Rapidan, which was running bank to bank, and the Staunton, which was also running high. We made it to the cabin in time to see the skies clear at dusk. Jones Mountain Cabin doesn't have any electricity or running water. Heat is from the wood stove and water is from the spring outside. We spent a lovely weekend eating good food, hiking a little and relaxing on a lovely porch. It was a great way to send off 2018 and welcome the new year.
 A tributary of the Staunton River.
 Club moss carpeting the forest floor.
 Near sunset, the valleys filled with clouds, which can seen through the trees. This is from the porch of the cabin.
 Sunrise from the cabin.
 Jones Mountain Cabin at sunrise.
 The overlook near Bear Church Rock. We hiked up here on Saturday morning.
 Ferns and moss.
 Bear Church Rock.
 Bright green moss.
 Taking a break at Bear Church Rock.
 Michael and I took a walk up the hill near the cabin near sunset.
 Turkey Fan fungus on a tree on our hike out.
 One of the many waterfalls on the Staunton River on the hike back to the car.
Orchid leaves. This species of orchid sends up its leaves in the winter when there is less undergrowth to compete with. They die off in the spring and the plant blooms in mid-late summer.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Catching Up Part 2: June Rain and Heat

The weather in early June was pretty terrible. It rained several weekends in a row and then it rained some more. Michael's brother and his family visited us for a week, which was wonderful. And we got a few hikes in.

Pass Mountain: We hiked from Thornton Gap in Shenandoah National Park on the Appalachian Trail to the junction with the Thornton River Trail. It was a 13 mile out and back that covered some short sections of trail that we hadn't done before. On the way back, we picked up a few short side loops just to make it interesting. The hike was nice, the weather wasn't spectacular. It was overcast most of the day and about halfway back to the car, a thunderstorm caught us and we got drenched. It was still better than staying home, but it did mean I didn't take as many pictures as usual.
 Amianthium muscaetoxicum (Fly Poison) - a member of the lily family.
 A butterfly on some thistle flowers.
 Rosa virginiana (Virginia Rose)
Byrd's Nest Shelter No. 4. This is a day use shelter. There are four Byrd's Nests in Shenandoah National Park and this one is, by far, the least used. Even the trails to it are somewhat overgrown. We spend a lot of time in and around Byrd's Nest No. 2, which is on Old Rag.

We spent the last weekend in June working on Old Rag. It was hot - well above 90 degrees. We spent a lot of time explaining to people that, no, two 20 ounce bottles of water was not sufficient. I realized something while we were listening to the park respond to a number of reports of heat-related illness among hikers in other parts of the park that weekend: We are very fortunate that people have to hike up first on Old Rag. In most of the rest of the park, people hike down the mountain first and can quickly hike beyond their ability to walk back up. Especially when it is 98 degrees out. On Old Rag, people who start feeling bad because of the heat can sit in the shade for a bit and then just walk back down to their car.

In spite of the heat, it was a really nice weekend spent outside. Lots of flowers were blooming. We camped out. The temperature even dropped to something fairly comfortable overnight.
 The hazy, steamy view from the summit.
 Lysimachia quadrifolia (Whorled Loosestrife)
 Minuartia groenlandica (Mountain Sandwort)
Looking north from the summit on Sunday, which was slightly clearer and cooler.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Catching Up Part 1: May Swimming and Hiking

It has been a while, so I'm going to do a couple of posts to catch up. This one will cover May. The first weekend in May, I went to the Bahamas for the wedding of friends. It was a great time and a lovely wedding and I got some snorkeling in. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it because it had been so long. I borrowed Michael's waterproof point and shoot for the trip.
 The Atlantic side of Long Island near the resort where we stayed.
 Snorkeling! Yep, I'm wearing long sleeves. I really didn't want a terrible snorkeling sunburn.
 A ray partially buried in the sand.
 Coral and fish on the Caribbean side of the island.
The Caribbean side of the island.

The following week, we managed to get a dry hike in on Buck Hollow, Buck Ridge and Marys Rock in Shenandoah National Park. May was rainy, seriously, record-setting levels of wet. The day we hiked this, we just accepted that we were going to be in the clouds and wet the whole time. It actually didn't turn out that way. We could see the clouds just north of us, but it was sunny and a bit above 80 where we hiked. Ten miles north of us it was 60 degrees.
 We climbed Buck Ridge first. This is the bottom of the staircase on that notorious climb. Although it has been several years, I hadn't actually hiked it since they put the steps in. It used to be a steep, gravel mess.
 Rhododendron canescens (Hoary Azalea)
 Cypripedium acaule (Pink Lady Slipper)
 A little Box Turtle on the trail.
 Michael at an overlook near Marys Rock.
Looking back towards Thornton Gap.

For Memorial Day, we decided to pick up a gap in the Appalachian Trail that we hadn't hiked: Rockfish Gap to Reeds Gap. A friend came with us. We started at Reeds Gap and hiked north. The forecast wasn't great, but we decided to go anyway. We got some sun, but it was pretty wet at times, too. There were lots of northbound AT thru-hikers on this section at the end of May.
 The view from the Blue Ridge Parkway where the Appalachian Trail crosses it just north of Reeds Gap.
 Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon's Seal)
 Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel)
 It poured on us before we got to this overlook, but we got a break in time for a view.
 Our first campsite. We got in and managed to pitch our tents just before a thunderstorm hit us. We spent the evening in a damp cloud. It cleared by morning, though.
 Michael on some cliffs north of where we camped.
 Rhododendron catawbiense (Catawba Rhododendron)
 The view from Humpback Rocks. This place was pretty crowded.
 The AT symbol on a log near where we ate lunch.
 The creek near the Paul Wolfe Shelter. We camped near the shelter our second night.
Our last day was spent in the fog. This is the W.J. Mayo Homeplace right along the AT.
We hiked north to Rockfish Gap and then into the park to McCormick Gap, where we had left the car. It was nice to get out for a few days. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Old Rag: Two Crazy Spring Weekends

We spent two weekends in April on Old Rag with Old Rag Mountain Stewards. They were both crazy in their own way. The first weekend (April 21) was a fee-free weekend. We arrived at the parking lot at 9:30 a.m. to find a line to get in to the lot, the main parking lot full, and people already parking in the neighbor's pasture.
If you click to enlarge, you can see the cars lined up behind us.

Then, once we checked in and drove up the upper parking lot, we found this: 
Friends don't let friends blindly follow their GPS. This might have been more entertaining had we not unlocked the gate and let them turn around in the upper parking lot.

From there, the day settled down. It was really crowded, but largely uneventful. The first signs of spring were beginning to appear with wildflowers blooming on the lower part of the mountain and it was a pretty nice day.
 Houstonia cerulea (Bluets)
 Geranium maculatum (Wild Geranium)
 From the summit. Not much green up high yet.
 Obolaria virginica (Pennywort)
 The spot where I always take a picture. Very little sign of spring here at 3000 feet.
 There was a noreaster in March that produced incredibly strong winds. The east side of Shenandoah National Park took a lot of damage, which we saw on the way down the Ridge Trail.
 Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot)
 Trillium grandiflorum (Giant Trillium)
Fern fiddleheads near the parking lot.

The second weekend (April 28) was less crowded, but more insane. Our day started with six guys hiking bare-chested down the fire road, wearing American flag shorts, and carrying a yellow flag. No idea what the story was, but that isn't remotely the craziest thing I've seen on that mountain. One our way down for the day, we ran into a group that just defies explanation. They were almost to the rock scramble. They had a puppy off leash (dogs aren't allowed on Old Rag), a radio blasting music, and one guy on crutches. You could smell the party before you could see it. Normally, we would talk to people hiking with a dog, but I looked up and the whole scene and decided there wasn't any point. As we walked by, they invited us to "come party, man!" It was a good introduction to the mountain for our new volunteers. Spring progressed over the course of the week. More wildflowers bloomed and the mountain was starting to green up.

 Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger)
 One of the newer volunteers with us spotted a morel right beside the road. We only found one more. Since she spotted the first one, we sent both of them home with her.
 Another pretty T. grandiflorum.
 A barefoot hiker.
 Much greener compared to the previous week.
 Looking south from the summit.
 Slightly more green at 3000 feet.
 Storms rolling in as we finished the day.
Dentaria laciniata (Cut-Leaf Toothwort)