Monday, March 22, 2010

Double Top Mountain and Old Rag - Waterfalls, Bushwhacking, and Wildflowers

Warning:  This is a long post.  The weather this weekend was too good to pass up.  We got two hikes in, putting off the laundry and groceries in favor of walking through the woods.  On Saturday, we joined the Northern Virginia Hiking Club for a hike of Double Top Mountain.  On Sunday, two friends joined us for a hike up Old Rag. 

Double Top Mountain
By 9 a.m., when we met the rest of the group of about 20 hikers, it was warm enough to hike in a tank top.  The hike started at Graves Mountain Resort and wound its way around the east and south side of Double Top Mountain, following horse trails and old roads.  An hour into the hike, we saw the first showy wildflowers of the year:  Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  It is one of the first flowers to emerge after skunk cabbage, blooming before anything else has turned green, and I think it is one of the prettiest spring flowers.  S. canadensis is named for the color of its roots, which are bright red and were once used for paint by Native Americans.

We crossed a creek and worked our way up to a waterfall, where we had lunch.  The waterfall, while not the largest in the Shenandoah/Rapidan area, was spectacular in the number of different cascades on the same fall.  One part of the falls was just a small rivulet falling over bright green moss.  Another poured over a section of the cliff before splitting again into more cascades.

After lunch, we hiked down the valley a little ways before making our way up the Hunter Trail, which follows  an old road, towards the top of Double Top.  I have hiked a lot of places and this stretch of trail was one of the steepest sections I have ever hiked.  It rises over 1600 feet in 1.4 miles.  Every time I turned a corner, thinking I was near the top, the trail would stretch further up the mountain in front of me.  The heat of the afternoon made it more of a challenge.  In July, I would be grateful for a day in the high 70s, but after the cold rain of last weekend, it was an abrupt change.  All in all, though, the climb was manageable. 

The group took a break where the trail ended, after which we bushwhacked to the top of the mountain.  At the top of the ridge, we were treated to a few remaining snowbanks.  The cold snow felt great after the climb up there.  The descent off of the ridge was nearly as steep as the climb.  We got a nice view of Old Rag to the north on our way down.

More on Old Rag below the Double Top pictures

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Bear painted on a rock at the base of Double Top

Waterfall where we had lunch.

Another shot of the waterfall

A small cascade through moss.

Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot)

Another S. canadensis

Boot shot in the snow

Old Rag from Double Top

Sunday - Old Rag...More after the Jump

The day started sunny and a little windy.  The lower parking lot was only about a third full when we arrived around 11 a.m.  It was great to catch up with the rangers working the fee station; we had not seen them since last fall when their season ended for the year.  Two friends joined us for the hike and we started up the road at about 11:15 a.m.  There are bright yellow signs along the road describing the biggest change this year affecting those hiking Old Rag:  The upper parking lot will be closed permanently in mid-April. 

Spring is just coming to the valley below Old Rag.  S. canadensis was blooming along the roadside above the fee station.  Daffodils are blooming below the Nicholson Hollow trailhead.  Above the trailhead, however, there is little evidence of spring yet, beyond a few shoots of grass here and there. The recent snowmelt has all of the streams and creeks running high.  Dry washes are full of water.  The Hughes River, which runs just below the upper lot, is running fast and furious.  At the upper lot, we turned up the Ridge Trail, passing several new blowdowns that the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) has already cleared.

I just want to take a moment to recognize the work that the PATC trail maintainers do.  It is hard, dirty work and all volunteer.  Everyone who hikes in the Mid-Atlantic benefits from the hours of labor required to keep trails clear and in good condition.  If you ever want to give back, look up their work trips and spend a day with them. 

We had lunch at the high campsite on the Ridge Trail.  This is a beautiful spot that I am hoping to spend a night at this summer.  After lunch, we headed up towards the rock scramble, encountering the first snowbank at the No Camping sign.  We paused briefly at the first big overlook and then moved on so that we would be ahead of a large group.  In spite of the good weather, there weren't nearly as many people on the mountain as we expected and no one was waiting in line at the Chute.  We have waited in line for an hour on busy fall weekends. 

The summit was windy and cool.  By the time we arrived, it was overcast, an indication of the rain that was coming later in the evening.  All in all, another great day in the woods.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
A tiny cascade in what is normally a dry creek about a half mile above the upper parking lot.

A raven soaring above the rock scramble.

Looking down towards the gumball drop (the narrow slot near the beginning of the rock scramble that you have to lower down into).

Bootshot from airplane rock over Weakley Hollow.

The S-Curve in the trail I always photograph.

Looking south towards Fork Mountain from the summit.

The summit from the Saddle Trail.

1 comment:

  1. I have always had a fondness for that section of the trail with the S curve. The way the trail curves among the boulders feels very serene. Great picture of the Blood Root, I am still waiting to see my first bloom this spring.