Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hazel River and Sam's Ridge Trails - Still Lots of Snow

It really didn't look like we needed snowshoes from the road.  Even on the quarter-mile walk up the road to the park boundary, it still didn't look like we needed them.  About 50 feet after we entered the park, the trail was covered in snow and all five of us were too stubborn to go back to the cars for the snowshoes.  All of us had some type of traction device, however, so we were still in pretty good shape.

We started out on the Hazel River Trail and quickly passed Sam's Ridge Trail.  I had hiked Sam's Ridge as part of a loop in 2006 and was interested to see if it was as horribly steep as I remembered when we climbed up it.  This time, we were going to come down it in the snow at the end of our hike.  When we drove to the trailhead, we were not sure if we would even be able to cross the Hazel River due to the warmer temperatures and rain last week.  It turned out that the river wasn't that high at the road.  Still, crossings are serious in winter, so we were not completely sure we'd be able to hike until we arrived at the first of six crossings.  We were able to rockhop across with little difficulty.  The Hazel River is one of the prettier streams in Shenandoah, with lots of waterfalls and interesting rock formations.

We took a short break for lunch at the intersection of Hazel Mountain Trail and Hazel River Trail.  The 1.5 miles from the cars took us about an hour.  Given the snow was about a foot deep by this point, that was not terribly surprising.  Most of the time, we didn't sink too far into it.  Given that the snow was only going to get deeper as we climbed higher, we opted for the shorter loop:  continuing up Hazel River Trail directly to Sam's Ridge.  The Hazel River Trail turns south and climbs away from the river, following an old road bed 1.6 miles to the top of the ridge.  The trail is pretty steep and the snow added to the challenge.  We were the first group to hike that trail since the last snowfall.  At the top of the ridge, we turned east and walked the 0.3 cold and windy miles to Sam's Ridge Trail. For the rest of the afternoon, it was cloudy and snow flurries fell on us, even though we could see sun on the valley to the east.  It was a cool demonstration that even the low mountains of Shenandoah can have very different weather than nearby areas. 

Sam's Ridge is one of the steepest sections of trail I've hiked in Shenandoah.  I remember it as two miles of brushy, steep pain.  This time, even though we were going downhill, it lived up to my memories of it from a few years ago.   In several places, it was steep enough to glissade - with my microspikes still on.  It is much more fun to descend Sam's Ridge than it is to climb it.

In spite of the chill and lack of snowshoes, it was a great day.  Typical of hiking in the snow, we were really slow.  We covered 5.3 miles in about four hours, but at that pace, you get to enjoy the scenery.  

Tomorrow is March 1 and spring seems very far away. 

Pictures (click to enlarge):
A waterfall on the Hazel River near the park boundary.
Looking east down the Hazel River
Small falls just above the first crossing of the Hazel River
Snow covered rocks on the Hazel River.
The Hazel River Trail climbing towards Sam'sRidge.
Ice on a pool on a small stream.
A large blowdown, likely from the windstorm a couple of days ago, blocking Sam's Ridge Trail.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gambrill State Park - a couple of hours of snowshoeing

Last Sunday, a friend and I went snowshoeing in Gambrill State Park, near Frederick, MD. After the long day on Little Devils Staircase the day before, we wanted to go somewhere close.  It was a nice warm day and it promised to be the last good snow day, at least for a little while,since we were forecast to get rain on Monday. In spite of the good weather, we only saw one other snowshoer and a couple of snowboarders.

Some photos:
Looking west from an overlook.
Windblown drifts of snow, hardened by melting and re-freezing.
Ripple marks in the snowdrifts from the wind.
Tiny dried flowers on a downed tree.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Little Devil's Staircase - Sometimes Slow is Good

We didn't set any land speed records today.  It took us almost four hours to hike the 2.3 mile Little Devil's Staircase Trail.  It took us two more hours to descend 3.3 miles on Keyser Run Fire Road.  Sometimes slow is good, though.  We introduced a friend to snowshoeing and saw all kinds of wonders in the snow. 

We started out just after ten this morning.  The trail was covered in deep snow and it was bright and sunny - perfect winter snowshoeing.  Right away, we saw Shenandoah Mountain Guide's ski tracks from a few days ago.  After hiking for half an hour or so, we came across a deer carcass.  It was an amazing scene:  the bones were mostly clean, but spread over a large area.  Clearly, based on the number and variety of tracks in the area, this deer provided food for many animals including a number of birds, raccoons, and mice.  We had no way to tell if it was killed by something or simply died there.

Soon, we started up the staircase.  The creek was running full, but fortunately, not too full to cross.  A foot of snow covered most of the rocks above the water.  This was where we really slowed down.  There were so many things to look at and photograph.  One of the special things about this hike is the canyon that you hike up into.  If you hike in the summer, after the leaves are on the trees, the canyon walls are almost hard to see, but in the winter, it is possible to see how narrow and steep it is.  The walls shoot straight up out of the creek for 100 feet on the north side of it.  Today, some of those walls were covered in beautiful blue-gray ice formations.  There are a couple of places that are pretty steep when the ground is dry.  The snow made each of those spots extra challenging. 

After the last creek crossing, we made our way up the switchbacks towards the Keyser Run Fire Road.  Along the way, we crossed many rabbit, mice, and bird tracks.  Just before the road, we saw a set of tracks that just might be a bobcat.  It is hard to be sure if we are that lucky, but the tracks are consistent with what I've looked up.  I'd be interested to know what people think of the picture below.

The only tracks on the fire road were Shenandoah Mountain Guide's.  We realized that he had actually not only skied down the staircase, but had skied up the 3.3.mile fire road.  He was not, as far as we could tell, using cross-country skis.  We were all pretty impressed by that.  We made better time on the fire road, pausing at an overlook that is usually blocked by leaves and undergrowth and then again at the cemetery at the junction with the Hull School Trail. The snow on the fire road below the junction was soft, making a little bit of glissading possible.

Lots of photos below the jump (click on the pictures to enlarge):

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dinosaur Ridge and Seneca Creek State Park

I spent most of the weekend in Colorado with good friends.  On Saturday, we took a short walk at Dinosaur Ridge outside of Denver.  It was a little windy, but not very cold. Since their kids are aged four and two, they set the pace and the distance.  Their four-year-old was quite the little hiker, taking us nearly to the top of a ridge with a great view of the foothills to the west and east over the plains.

The real attraction of Dinosaur Ridge is, of course, the dinosaurs.  We saw an impressive slab of dinosaur tracks along with preserved ripple marks and animal burrows. 

Dinosaur Ridge pictures (click on the picture to see a larger version):
Dinosaur track.  All of the dark spots are dinosaur tracks.  The large one in the middle is about 2 feet across.

A tree on the trail up to the top of the ridge.

Looking southwest from the ridge towards the foothills of the Rockies.
Dried flowers.

Since today was President's Day, a friend and I decided to get another day of snowshoeing in.  Little of the snow that fell last week has melted.  With bad weather predicted, we needed to stay close to home in case driving conditions deteriorated.  Neither of us had been to Seneca State Park near Gaithersburg, Maryland, and being close to both of us, it fit the bill.

We snowshoed about five miles on the Great Seneca and Lake Shore Trails.  The entire morning, we saw just one other skiier.  In most places, we were following ski tracks or other snowshoers tracks, but in a few places, we were the first to break trail.  The snow was still fairly light where the sun hasn't warmed it a lot.  Areas that get more sun were crusted over.  It was a great way to see a park that is probably quite crowded when the conditions are better.

Pictures of Seneca Creek State Park:
Starting out on Great Seneca Trail in the sun.
Clopper Lake
Bridge on Lake Shore Trail.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snowmageddon - or why does it only snow on weekends here?

It started snowing Friday afternoon and, before we were done yesterday afternoon, we had more than two feet of the fluffy white stuff.  Unlike the big storm in December, this time the snow was wet and heavy, sticking to tree branches, signs, and utility lines.  Saturday morning, I woke up around 5:30 a.m. to a crash outside.  In my sleepy state, I figured a snowplow had hit a car.  Later, when I went to take the dog for her morning walk, I discovered the 30 foot tall holly tree that stood outside our bedroom window was no more.  It split in two about six feet off the ground.  I am sure many other trees will fall victim to the weight of the snow on their branches.

Yesterday afternoon, as the storm was ending, I ventured in to Rock Creek Park for several hours of snowshoeing.  At first, I was following the tracks someone else had laid with skis.  Then, as I climbed the hill on the Valley Trail past the school, the ski tracks stopped and there was just one set of posthole tracks ahead of me.  At the junction with the Holly Trail, the tracks turned left to follow it out to 16th Street.  I turned right, laying fresh tracks in unbroken snow on the Valley Trail.  It was hard work; even with snowshoes, I would sink two feet with each step.  In some places, I sank to my knees.  It was beautiful and I saw no one else until I turned up Sherril Drive to return to 16th Street.  I walked in the street for a while, moving out of the way for the rare car, before turning up floral and heading for 14th street.  Fourteenth hadn't been plowed for several hours, so there was enough snow in the street to comfortably snowshoe.  A great afternoon.

Lots of pictures:

A pine tree covered in snow at the height of the storm Friday night.
Snowy street on Saturday morning.  About six more inches fell after this was taken.

The holly tree that fell.
Holly leaves covered in snow.
Colesville Road on Saturday morning.
A tributary to Rock Creek.
Fresh, untracked snow on the Valley Trail in Rock Creek Park.
My tracks.
Looking down on Rock Creek from a bluff.
Sinking to mid-calf even with snowshoes.
Bridge over Rock Creek.
Someone had scraped small windows into the snow on the bridge above.
Rock Creek from the bridge.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Snowed In

There was a plan to spend the weekend with friends in the mountains in Virginia and do a long hike in the George Washington National Forest on Sunday, but the snowstorm had other ideas.  It started falling Saturday morning around 10 a.m. and we had four inches by early afternoon, which was just enough to snowshoe in Rock Creek Park.  After the big storm in December we were able to snowshoe twice in the park, the first two times we've had enough snow to do that in the five years we've been in Silver Spring.  It is quite a treat to be able to do that and I was happy to get another chance this year. 

On Sunday, I was able to try out my microspikes running in Rock Creek Park.  They worked quite well.  As I ran by, I did get some strange looks from people who were carefully picking their way down the trail, trying not to slip. 

Hopefully, next week, we'll be back on trail.