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).

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sixth Annual Hike Off the Pie: Pinnacle Peak

Friday was the sixth annual post-Thanksgiving Hike Off the Pie. This year's was a bit abbreviated because one member of our party wasn't feeling well, but it was still an interesting, challenging hike. We started in the Old Rag parking lot, which was more than half full when we arrived at 8 a.m. Seriously. We headed up the road along with many other people, but we left the crowds at the Nicholson Hollow trailhead, about halfway between the parking lot and the Old Rag trailhead. 

The Nicholson Hollow trail starts with a couple of potentially nasty creek crossings. Fortunately, we haven't had any rain in quite a while, so they weren't bad. We hiked a mile up Nicholson Hollow and then turn left, crossing the Hughes River, onto the Corbin Mountain Trail. As soon as you cross the river, the climbing begins. We saw a little bear in the distance (too far away to get a picture) at one point. When we reached the right switchback, we left the trail and headed up to the top of Pinnacle Peak. We definitely earned our pie making our way up the steep slope to the top of the mountain. Once on top, we found a nice spot under some pine trees for lunch. 

From Pinnacle Peak, the original plan was to drop down to the west to the Indian Run Trail. We made a slight error in bearing right a little too quickly at the beginning of our descent, which put us descending the north flank of Pinnacle Peak instead of the west side of it. The downside of that is that the mountain is pretty darn steep on its north side. We also got to pick our way across a few boulder fields. The upside is that it was really pretty. Once we started descending, we knew that we were trending too far to the north. We kept trying to work our way around to the west, but we were trying to avoid climbing too far back up and the landscape kept drawing us back north. In retrospect, we should have stayed up on the ridge longer. In the end, we wound up coming out on the upper Nicholson Hollow Trail (much to the surprise of two hikers who were coming up the trail). By this time, given that one person was feeling progressively worse, we decided to head for the car. We did about 7.5 miles and had a great hike. The bushwhack definitely still qualified as epic.

 The first crossing of the Hughes River.
 A fan-shaped fungus on a downed log.
 A single tree holding on to its leaves.
 One of the steeper sections of the bushwhack.
 An assassin bug on a leaf.
 The home site visible from the Nicholson Trail.
 The Nicholson Hollow Trail below Hannah Run Trail.
An inchworm. This little guy had been riding on my bandanna. Not needing an inchworm for a pet, I turn it loose on this tree.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A New State Park and the Last Trip to Old Rag This Year

I'm a bit behind on posting due to work travel. Last weekend was our last on Old Rag for the year. It was cold, but considering it is November, the weather was pretty good. There were a lot, A Lot, of people out hiking. Most people were in pretty good spirits, though, the day passed uneventfully. The leaves had mostly dropped.
Two volunteers hiking up the fire road. I love this stretch of the road, lined with Tulip Poplars
 Robertson Mountain, across Weakley Hollow from Old Rag.
 The view to the south, towards Fork Mountain, from the summit of Old Rag
 Once again, another crowded day. It was pretty late at this point, so we were trying to encourage people without lights to mosey on down the mountain (because...you have an hour of daylight left and at least two hours of walking...).
The spot where I usually take a picture. After a conversation with another volunteer, I went through my photos. I've taken a picture at this spot 48(!) times (I've probably been up Old Rag 60 or so. I didn't take pictures here the first few times I hiked it and there have been other times where I busy with a rescue or only hiked the back side of the mountain).
 Sunset looking towards the southeast
 November 12 was just before the Supermoon the following Monday morning, so the moon was really bright. I took a ridiculous number of pictures of it.
 A nice closeup of the moon.
 Another sunset shot.
The moon over the lights of Etlan to the east.

The first weekend of November, Michael and I had a number of things that we needed to do. We still wanted to do something outside, so we went up to North Point State Park early on Sunday morning. The park is just outside of Baltimore and only about 45 minutes from us. There is a small network of trails winding through wetlands and stands of trees. We were lucky enough to see a fair number of birds.
 A Great Blue Heron in one of the wetlands.
 One of the wetlands we walked along.
 Another wetland.
 Tall grasses at a viewing platform.
 A woodpecker looking for insects.
 The Chesapeake Bay from one of the trails.
Fall colors.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Old Rag: A few pictures from a very crowded mountain

We volunteered on Old Rag both days last weekend. It was a madhouse. The weather was good, though, and other than everyone in the tri-state area deciding to hike there, the weekend passed without incident.

The six of us walking up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road. The fall colors are late and somewhat subdued this year. Still pretty, though.
 The ravens were out, enjoying the sun and the wind.
 Up on the summit on Saturday.
 Looking north from the summit on Saturday.
 Sunset on our way down through the rock scramble
 Sunrise at our campsite on an old roadbed in the forest.
 Hiking up the ridge trail on Sunday.
 Oak leaves.
 The spot where I always take a picture.
 Sunday crowds on the summit. This doesn't capture half of the people up there.
Looking down the rocks scramble from the summit.