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):

The photo above is the possible bobcat track.  I have brought up the contrast on the photo to show the track better.  The line of tracks showed the animal walked in its own tracks, meaning its hind legs stepped in the tracks made with its front legs.  It is on the small side, the long axis (including the impressing behind the pads) is about 3.5 - 4 inches; the pads all together were about 1.5-2 inches on the wide axis.

The lower part of Little Devil's Staircase Trail.
Likely a bird track in the snow.
A tuft of deer hear surrounded by tracks.
A small waterfall.
A snow "jelly roll."  Snow had tumbled down a steep snow, picking up layers as it rolled.  This one was about 10 inches in diameter.
The upper staircase.
One of the steepest parts of the climb.
Floating on the snow.
Corkscrews of ice.  These were about a foot tall and at the base of a large ice formation.
Looking east over Gid Brown Hollow from the fire road.
Keyser Run Fire Road with just ski tracks ahead of us.


  1. Great post. I really enjoyed all the examples of sign cutting and the great picture of the jelly roll.

    What a great thing to be able to know that the ski tracks you are looking at from a friends presence a week earlier.

  2. Yeah...about those ski tracks.. I bet the deer carcass was Chad's too!