Thursday, March 9, 2017

Maryland Heights and the C&O Towpath

A friend of ours was in town for a couple of weeks of training, so we had the opportunity to spend a day hiking with him last weekend. The Harpers Ferry area was centrally located and the Maryland Heights hike is such a great introduction to the area. It can be really crowded, but we were hoping that the sudden cold snap would keep a few of the crowds away. One way to beat some of the crowds is to park at the Weverton Cliffs lot, three miles down the C&O towpath from the Maryland Heights trailhead. The walk along the towpath is pleasant and quiet and you don't have to club people for a spot in the tiny Maryland Heights lot.

It was just above 20 degrees when we started, which was a bit of a shock after the 80 degree day we had three days before. This is one of my favorite sections of the towpath to walk. The river is pretty and there are good views of Harpers Ferry and Loudon Heights. We didn't see anyone on the towpath until we were almost to Harpers Ferry. We did see a bald eagle, thanks to the sharp eyes of our friend. The hike up to the overlook at Maryland Heights was just as steep as I remembered. We had a nice clear day with a view of the north end of Massanutten in the distance, 40 miles to the southwest. As we took pictures, more and more people kept arriving at the overlook, so we decided to continue with our hike.

Once back at the trail junction, we took a right and headed up the hill towards the Stone Fort, the ruin of a civil war fort overlooking the valley to the east. We ate lunch in the sun at one of the other civil war structures on the mountain, the Powder Magazine. From the top of the ridge, we were actually able to see Sugarloaf Mountain off in the distance as well as the high-rises of Tysons Corner in Virginia. It was definitely a good air quality day. We had a nice walk back down and we took a break across the bridge in Harpers Ferry on the way back. We had a wonderful hike.

 Harpers Ferry from the C&O Towpath.
 Harpers Ferry from the Maryland Heights Overlook. The Shenandoah River flows into the Potomac on the left side of the photo. If you click to enlarge, you can see the line where the waters of the two rivers are different colors.
 Looking up the Potomac River from Maryland Heights.
 The wall of the Stone Fort.
 Looking east down the Potomac. If you click on the picture, the tall buildings of Tysons Corner are visible in the center of the horizon.
 Rodent teeth marks on a sign at the Stone Fort.
 A Downy Woodpecker along the towpath.
Another view of the Downy Woodpecker.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Waterfalls and Wildflowers? Cedar Run and White Oak Canyon

A friend was in town from Oregon last weekend and had a free day, so we took her out Shenandoah National Park and hiked the Cedar Run, Hawskbill, White Oak Canyon loop. It is a nice ten-mile loop that shows off some of the best of the park: big waterfalls, the highest peak in the park, and it has enough climbing to be a good workout. I feel like we've been to White Oak Canyon countless times, but looking back through the blog and my photos, I hadn't been since 2011 and Michael hadn't been since 2009. It was nice to see all of the waterfalls again.

The weather was perfect: sunny and in the high 40s. For much of the climb up Cedar Run, we were protected from the wind, so it felt pretty warm. It had rained earlier in the week, which meant the waterfalls were running well. We ate lunch just before we got to Skyline Drive. That was our first taste of the wind. We all got cold pretty quickly. The walk up to the top of Hawksbill warmed us back up, but it was pretty windy and cold up there. We took a few pictures and headed back down the mountain. We crossed back over Skyline Drive and picked up the fire road that connects to the White Oak Canyon Trail. We had a nice walk down past all of the big waterfalls. Since it was too cold to swim, it wasn't terribly crowded.

 The waterfall at the first crossing of Cedar Run. It was a little bright to try to shoot smooth waterfalls, but this one didn't turn out too badly.
 The pool below the waterslide on Cedar Run. The water was so clear on Saturday that you could see the bottom of the pool
 Old Rag from the top of Hawksbill. It was a little hazy.
 Our party on the summit of Hawksbill.
 A small cascade on White Oak Creek
 One of the larger falls on White Oak Creek.
 Lower White Oak Falls
Anemone americana (Round-Lobed Hepatica) blooming. On February 11th. In the mountains. This is easily a month, possibly more like six or seven weeks, early. This is the clearest indication that we haven't actually had winter this year. According to Capital Weather Gang, in the DC area, we had a 19 day stretch in January where the temperature didn't drop below freezing. I'm sure it was colder in the mountains, but it has clearly still been unusually warm.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Lost River State Park, West Virginia

We have driven by Lost River State Park in West Virginia countless times. We've even biked through it, but, other than stopping for water on that ride, we had never explored the trails there. Since the rest of the country was watching a football game on Sunday and the weather was supposed to be warm for February, we figured it was a good day to check it out.

 The hike began with a pleasant walk along Howard's Lick Run. Sunday morning, the edges of the creek were coated in ice.
 Ice on the edges of the creek.
 After less than half a mile, we turned uphill and began the long, steady climb up to Cranny Crow overlook. After a mile or so, we came to the remnants of a day use shelter. The roof looked like it was in good shape, but the bench was completely rotted out.
 The view from Cranny Crow overlook. As we climbed, we were more an more exposed to the wind. Although the temperatures were in the high 40s, the windchill was probably in the low 30s. At this overlook, we could stand out on the rocks for very long because the wind was blowing so hard.
 A little shelter at Cranny Crow Overlook.
 Further along Big Ridge, there is an old fire tower. The bottom sections of the stairs has been removed, so we couldn't climb it, but it was still a neat tower.
Michael hiking ahead while I took pictures. He was lucky enough to see two bald eagles: an adult and a juvenile. He didn't get any pictures and I wasn't lucky enough to see them.
We finally reached Millers Rocks at the north end of Big Ridge. This is the view of the cloud bank to the west.
Looking north from Millers Rocks
Looking south towards where we started.
On the way back, near a picnic area, a historic cabin sits in the middle of a meadow. This cabin was built in 1840.

Lost River State Park is spectacular. We hiked just under 12 miles and only saw four other people. We will definitely be back.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Wet, Wild, and Wonderful West Virginia: The Annual Getaway

We spent last weekend with a bunch of friends in a cabin (and, by cabin, I mean a house that sleeps 16) in the Canaan Valley in West Virginia. This is the fifth year we've done this in some form and it continues to be a weekend that I look forward to all year. We eat and drink  too much, yell at each other while playing board games, and play outside. What could be better?

This year, the weather did not cooperate. The hope is always for enough snow to go snowshoeing or skiing. Most years, we've had at least a little snow. Not this year. Worse, not only was there no snow, the initial forecast was for 40 degrees and raining all weekend. We did wind up catching a cloudy, but dry break on Sunday, but overall, it was pretty much a washout.

After hanging out and eating most of the day on Saturday, I finally needed to get out for a walk. The great thing about where we stay is that you can walk out the door onto miles of hiking trails without having to drive anywhere. We walked out into Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge in the rain to see what we could find. Since it was raining, I used Michael's waterproof camera, which is a point and shoot. It is a great little camera, but it has a few limitations, particularly in low light conditions.
 All of the creeks were out of their banks, including this one.
 A little bit of club moss.
 Walking up the hill, away from the large creek.
We had to do a short bushwhack to make a loop back to our cabin. It turned out to be the most interesting part of the walk. This cairn was randomly along the way on our walk through the woods.
 A creek on the bushwhack portion of our walk.
The lake outside our cabin. This was pretty much what things looked like the entire weekend.

On Sunday, we walked up into Dolly Sods. It wasn't raining, which was good, but it was a bit colder, especially on the plateau. That being said, for January in Dolly Sods? It was positively balmy. It was also stunningly beautiful, because of the fog and frost, not in spite of it. I used my camera on Sunday.
 Frosty moss on the way up to the plateau.
 Hoar frost on blueberry shrubs up on the plateau.
Michael standing on a wet, muddy trail in the fog. There was so much water up there and, in a normal year, it would have all been frozen.
Hiking in the fog.
Frozen Mountain Laurel branches.
 Wet, muddy walking.
 The rocks on the Rocky Ridge Trail. This is one of my favorite sections of Dolly Sods.
 Hoar frost on cedar trees.
Hiking out through blueberry bushes.

It was a great weekend, in spite of the weather.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Backpacking in the New Year, 2017 version

We ended 2016 the way we started it: with a pack on our backs, walking on the Appalachian Trail. This year, it was just Michael and me. We went to the South District of Shenandoah National Park and parked at Loft Mountain Wayside. We hiked up the Frazier Discovery Trail to the Appalachian Trail, where we turned south. It was clear, a little chilly, and really windy if we were on the wrong side of the ridge. The trail winds around the back side of the Loft Mountain Campground before descending to the Doyles River parking area. We passed that and made our way to Blackrock Summit. By the time we reached Blackrock summit, it was completely overcast and cold. From the summit, it was a quick 3/4 mile to Blackrock Hut, where we spent the night.

Blackrock Hut is tucked down in a valley, which was nice. We could hear the wind roaring above us, but we were spared most of it. When we arrived, there was another couple already in the shelter and they already had a lovely fire going. There were two more parties camped at the hut as well. Everyone was pleasant and relaxed, but no one, as far as I know, managed to stay up until midnight. It was just too chilly to sit outside. We climbed in our sleeping bags around 8 pm and I was probably asleep by 9:30.

The next morning, the wind had died down and it was actually warmer than the night before. One of the guys in the shelter had cell phone service and checked the weather. We lucked out. The system forecast to bring rain on New Year's Day had stayed south. We had a nice breakfast, packed up, and began the long climb back up to Blackrock Summit in good spirits.

The loop that includes Jones Run and Doyles River is one of the more popular hikes in the south district. It has a number of nice waterfalls and it can get pretty crowded (well...nothing like Old Rag). We actually hadn't done it before. It is a long drive from where we live and the loop itself is only 7 miles, which is right on the edge of our rule about driving time vs. time on the mountain (you have to spend more time on the mountain than in the car). We finally checked it off yesterday. It is a very nice hike. The waterfalls on Jones Run are spectacular and the ones on Doyles River aren't too bad, either. We spent some time taking pictures of them. I do wish I had thought to bring my tripod, but I was able to use rocks and trees to get some nice pictures of the falls. We had a pleasant lunch in the sun at Lower Doyles River Falls. I am guessing most people do the loop in the opposite direction than we did because the climb out of Doyles River will remind you that you ate too much over the holidays.

We finished our hike by returning north on the Appalachian Trail and walking out through the Loft Mountain Campground. We had a lovely hike and really enjoyed bringing in the new year on trail.

 Icicles on the Frazier Discovery Trail
 One of the larger icicles.
 The view from the rocks near the junction of the Frazier Discovery Trail and the Appalachian Trail
 Interesting patterns in the ice.
 The Appalachian Trail covered in a dusting of snow.
 An Eastern Bluebird. I saw this little guy on a branch and had time to change my lens and get exactly one shot before it decided to fly off.
 One of the crossings of Skyline Drive
 Gray skies on Blackrock Summit on New Year's Eve
 Bright, sunny skies on New Years morning on Blackrock Summit
 Michael scrambling up the rocks to the actual summit
 Looking northwest towards Massanutten Mountain from Blackrock Summit.
 Jones Run Falls
 Another view of Jones Run Falls
 Michael in front of Jones Run Falls
 Michael's backpack taking a break at the junction of Jones Run Trail and Doyles River Trail (behind his backpack)
 Lower Doyles River Falls.
 A closer shot of Lower Doyles River Falls
 Dried Goldenrod
 A walled-in spring near the top of the Doyle's River Trail
We stopped for pizza on the way home. When we came out of the restaurant, the moon and Venus were bright in the sky (click to enlarge).