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)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Waiting for Spring: Two sections of the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail

This post will be a double hike bonus post: We have managed to hike both of the past two weekends, but I started a new job last week, so I didn't get a post up about the first one.

Two weekends ago, we went out with two friends and hiked a new (to us) section of the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail (AT) from Shippensburg Pike to Pine Grove Furnace, with a side trip to Sunset Rocks. We were very lucky with the weather, considering how cold it has been. It was bright and sunny and probably in the 50s with little wind. This winter, that qualifies as a super warm day.

 Tom's Run Shelter. This was near the halfway point of our hike and it was where we had lunch. Pro tip: Make sure you put the memory card in the camera. I took some pictures on the first half of the hike, but the camera didn't have a card in it. Oh well. Anyway, it turns out that there used to be two shelters here, which we've seen elsewhere in Pennsylvania (sometimes one is labeled "snoring" and the other "non-snoring"). One of them was apparently burned down in 2013 by a careless hiker.
 Daffodils popping up near the shelter.
 An old chimney at the shelter.
 Just north of the shelter is the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail.
 We took a side trip up to Sunset rocks. It was a steep climb followed by a really pretty little scramble through some rocks and pine trees.
 Michael out on Sunset Rocks.
 Fold lines on a boulder
 Ferns on the rocks.
At the end of our trip, we visited the Appalachian Trail Museum. The building is an old grist mill in Pine Grove Furnace State Park. The museum opened just a few years ago, but it has a nice little exhibit on the AT. One kind of cool thing: They have a sign from the summit of Katahdin in Maine, which is the end of the trail. It turns out that it is the sign that was on the summit when we hiked it in 2009. It was replaced in 2010.

This was a really nice, interesting hike and was about 11 miles, total. We saw a few people near Sunset Rocks, but not very many and the weather was just great.

Sunday, we returned to Pine Grove Furnace State Park with two friends and hiked the next section of the AT north to the parking area just north of highway 94 for a total of 11 miles. The hike started with a short walk on a gravel bike path along a really pretty spring. The weather was much colder than last week. The highs only reached the low 40s and it was pretty windy, which made it feel colder.
 Rocks along one section of the trail. This is as close as we got to any views on this hike.
 Lichens on rocks.
 One of our friends standing near a coal pit. There were a number of these of varying depths along the trail.
 A pretty stream near James Frye Shelter.
 This was a really interesting tree: a Winged Elm (Ulmus alata). If you click to enlarge, you can see way the bark stands out away from the branches in wings. I have no idea what kind of tree it is. Michael figured out what kind of tree it is.
 Our first true wildflower of the season: Simplocarpus foetidus (Skunk Cabbage).
 The trail along an old railroad grade.
Right at the end of the hike, near a road, we found another wildflower: Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty).

This wasn't a bad hike at all, but it is probably one I don't need to repeat unless it is part of a longer trip. It is a fairly unremarkable walk through the woods.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dolly Sods: Snowshoeing to Bear Rocks

It snowed here last week. It snowed a lot up in the mountains. Given that we hadn't seen enough snow in the last two years to use our snowshoes, we couldn't resist a day trip up to Dolly Sods. Usually, when we go up there, we hike in from the west side, near Timberline Ski Area. This time, I wanted to try something different: hiking to Bear Rocks on the east side of Dolly Sods. It is an extremely popular area in the summer, but winter is a different matter. Access to the east side of the wilderness in winter is challenging: the US Forest Service gates the road three miles below the boundary of Dolly Sods. You can park at the gate as long as you don't block the gate.

The drive up to the gate got interesting once we passed the last driveway. It isn't plowed. All wheel drive or four-while drive is definitely advised. Once parked, we headed up the hill. At first, there wasn't much snow and I was worried we had driven all this way only to get skunked. But, I needn't have worried. Soon enough, the snow was deep enough for snowshoes. We passed one party on their way down. They had spent a long, cold night out and hadn't made it to Bear Rocks. Once we passed their campsite, we were breaking fresh trail. The hike up the road was uneventful. It is just three miles of steady climbing, none of it terrible. We made it to the boundary of Dolly Sods in time for lunch.

After lunch, we set off exploring Bear Rocks and snowshoeing down the road. It was spectacularly beautiful up there and amazingly quiet. I never realize how much background noise we all live with every day until it is absent. The only sound was the wind, which was mercifully light by Dolly Sods standards. The sun was warm and it was a perfect winter day.

 The road up to Dolly Sods
 The boundary of Dolly Sods
 Rabbit tracks in the snow
 A turkey track
 Snowshoes!
 A bobcat track.
 Michael at Bear Rocks
 Looking east from Bear Rocks towards North Fork Mountain. By the time we reached this point, the sky had become a bit hazy.
 Another view from Bear Rocks.
 Icicles on a conifer
 Remnants of snow on a conifer
 Looking west into the wilderness area.
Michael snowshoeing down the road.