Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weverton Cliffs to Gathland State Park on the Appalachian Trail

Warning:  Lots of pictures on this post.  The weather forecast for today was for rain followed by thunderstorms, so we decided to stay closer to home, but still get a long hike in.  An out-and-back from the Weverton parking area to Gathland State park on the Appalachian Trail, at 12 miles, fit the bill.  If the weather got too bad, we could turn around and head back to the car.  When we arrived at the parking lot, there were low clouds, but it was dry - a hopeful sign.  Four of us and a dog headed north on the Appalachian Trail.  Not 15 feet beyond the trailhead, we encountered our first wildflowers:  Potentilla canadensis (Dwarf Cinquefoil) and Antennaria sp. (Pussytoes).  As we continued, we saw a number of other flowers.

We were soon high enough to be hiking in the cloud.  The mist seemed to make the new leaves appear greener and gave the forest a jungle-like feel.  Luckily, it still wasn't raining.  After hiking up a number of gently sloped switchbacks, we reached the junction with a blue-blazed trail down to the Weverton Cliffs overlook.  The overlook itself was socked in in the fog.  The Potomac River runs right below the cliffs, but we couldn't see it through the clouds.

From the cliffs, there is a moderate, rocky climb up to the top of the ridge.  From there, the trail flattens out for most of the rest of the hike.  There were a few gentle ups and downs, but overall, it was an easy, pleasant walk in the woods.  We saw Rhododendron nudiflorum (Pink Azaleas) and Asimina triloba (Paw Paw), among other things.  We had lunch at the very nice Garvey Shelter. While we were sitting in the shelter, the trees were dripping on the tin roof, which is a sound I really like.

After another easy three miles, we ended up at Gathland State Park.  A small civil war battle occurred there and there is a large arch which is a war correspondents' memorial.  There is also a very small museum that happened to be open.  We took a break, took advantage of the bathrooms, and had a look around before heading back down the trail towards Weverton. 

On the way back, the clouds lifted, so we stopped at the Weverton Cliffs overlook again.  This time, we could see the river and most of the way to Harper's Ferry.  We could also see a thunderstorm that was headed our way.  We managed to get back to the cars before it rolled in.  We stopped at Beans in the Belfry in Brunswick, MD and had a great dinner.

Lots of pictures:
Pontentilla canadensis (Dwarf Cinquefoil) right near the northbound trailhead at Weverton parking area.

Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-Pulpit)

Tradescantia virginiana (Spiderwort) - a member of the Iris family

Weverton Cliffs in the clouds

Silene caroliniana (Wild Pink)

Rhododendron nudiflorum (Pink Azaleas)

Hiking in the clouds

Geranium maculatum (Wild Geranium)

Conopholis americana (Squawroot).  C. americana is a parasitic plant that lives primarily on oak roots.  It does not have chlorophyll and does not perform photosynthesis since it gets its nutrients from other plants.

Vaccinium sp. (Blueberry)

War Correspondents' Memorial at Gathland State Park

Asimina triloba (Paw Paw Tree).  A. triloba is a tree that produces an edible fruit, the paw paw.  The flowers, as is typical of most flowers this color, are carrion flowers.  They attract insects that feed on carrion through a strong smell.

Another view of A. triloba

 Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple)

 Boot shot at Weverton Cliffs overlooking the Potomac River.

Saxifraga virginiensis (Early Saxifrage)

Antennaria sp. (Pussytoes)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Old Rag Mountain Stewards Training

No hiking this weekend, as we spent the entire weekend at the Big Meadows Ranger Station participating in training for Old Rag Mountain Stewards (ORMS).  ORMS is a volunteer program on Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.  Most weekends in the spring and fall, you will see orange-shirted Mountain Stewards working on Old Rag, talking to people, giving directions, educating visitors about Leave No Trace principles, and providing assistance if necessary.  This will be our third year volunteering with ORMS. 

We spent the weekend reviewing wilderness first aid, running practice scenarios, and going over Leave No Trace principles, among other things.  Especially with first aid, practice is so important.  Every time we run scenarios, whether on a training weekend like this or on the mountain, I learn something.  Practicing together also makes the group work better together on the mountain.

The great thing about the training weekend is getting everyone together.  Each weekend on Old Rag, we work with a few other stewards, but the entire group rarely gets together as a whole.  In addition to all of the training for the weekend, I think we all had quite a bit of fun.  Everyone brought something to eat and we had a huge feast Saturday night.  Old Rag Mountain Patrols cooked steaks for everyone and it seemed like there was a contest (which was too close to call) between several of the stewards for Old Rag's best brownies. 

More information about the program is at the Old Rag Mountain Steward blog.

Back to the woods next weekend.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thompson Wildlife Refuge - 6.5 miles of wildflowers

We decided to take it easy this weekend as I came down with a minor cold on Friday.  G. R. Thompson Wildlife Management Area (WMA) northeast of Front Royal, Virginia is not known for its views, challenging terrain, or pretty waterfalls.  What it lacks in those areas, it makes up for in spectacular spring wildflowers.  We were unsure of what we would find blooming because the earliest spring flowers have faded and the big show (the peak of the trilliums, showy orchis, and lady slippers) that Thompson WMA is known for is still a few weeks away. 

We started out at the northeast end of the WMA, at the parking area below the lake.  We hiked across the dam in the bright sun, passing a few people out fishing with their kids.  On the west side of the dam, we turned right to follow the Lake Trail up an old roadbed.  A blooming dogwood marked the junction.  As we climbed, redbud trees, old fruit trees, and fragrant bushes lined the trail. 

We arrived at the junction with an unnamed trail leading off to the right after 0.6 miles.  This is an easy junction to miss because there is a blowdown just a few feet beyond the junction sort of obscuring the trail.  Based on the number of blowdowns, I am not sure if this section of trail is maintained or not, but it is easy enough to follow.  The wildflowers started appearing on this trail.  Anemonella thalictroides (Rue Anemone), a myriad of violets, and the occasional Arisaema atrorubens (Jack-in-the-Pulpit) lined the trail.

After just under a mile, we turned left onto the Appalachian Trail and followed it for the next two miles.  This is where the wildflowers really come out.  We were pleasantly surprised to see a few Trillium grandiflora blooming.  It is still pretty early for them.  After we crossed the Lake Trail, we immediately found Dicentra cucularia (Dutchman's Breeches), followed by Erythronium americanum (Trout Lily).  We made our way south on the Appalachian Trail until we reached a crossing with a gravel road.  After taking a few more pictures of flowers, we returned the way we came, turning right and heading down the Lake Trail directly to the dam.

On a sad note, we took our dog along this time because it was going to be a short hike on easy terrain.  She is 13, but last year, she was still able to hike 10 + miles per day.  Three years ago, she was still carrying her own food and water for hikes.  She hiked all over Oregon, Virginia, and Maryland with us.  We used to joke that she felt it was her responsibility in the woods to lead us safely back to the car.  Unfortunately, she had quite a bit of trouble this time.  That means her hiking days are likely over, save for shorter walks in Rock Creek Park.  It is very hard to admit that she has gotten too old to join us anymore, but it has been coming for a while. She's earned her retirement. 

Pictures (click to enlarge):
A fruit tree along the Lake Trail

Redbud trees lining the Lake Trail.

Dicentra cucllaria (Dutchman's Breeches)

Anemonella thalictroides (Rue Anemone)

Erythronium americanum (Trout Lily)

Geranium maculatum (Wild Geranium)

Trillium grandiflora (Giant Trillium)

Dogwood near the dam.

Our dog when she was younger and could carry her own pack.  This picture was taken at Dolly Sods in 2006.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fourteen Miles of Waterfalls and Wildflowers: Dark Hollow Falls and Rose River Falls

Yesterday was the perfect spring day.  We spent it hiking with a friend in the Rose River area of the Central District of Shenandoah National Park.  It started out just a little cool, birds were singing, flowers were blooming and the waterfalls were still full from recent rains and snowmelt.  The wildflowers make spring one my favorite times of the year for hiking.  We followed the Rose River Fire Road 6.4 miles as it lazily winds its way up from the valley to Skyline Drive, passing Dark Hollow Falls along the way.  Seriously, this might be the easiest hike up to Skyline Drive in the park.  We then turned right onto the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail and followed that for half a mile, where we turned right onto the Rose River Trail.  That took us past Rose River Falls and back to the Fire Road.  All said and done, it was a 14 mile day.

As we pulled into the parking area, I noticed that Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's Breeches) were blooming along the roadside.  Once parked, I hopped out of the car to take pictures of them before even putting my boots on.  It was clearly going to be a good day.  There were a few people in the parking lot who were there to fly fish on the Rose River, but we would not see another person until we were nearly to Dark Hollow Falls. 

Along the lower reaches of the Rose River Fire Road, the path was lined with D. cucullaria, Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot), Dentaria lacinata (Cut-Leaf Toothwort), the occasional Hepatica nobolis (Liverwort), and a few different violets.  We also found what may be the first blooming Trillium grandiflora (Giant Trillium) in a ditch along the old roadbed.  We crossed a bridge over a pretty tributary of the Rose River and then came across an old cemetery in the woods.  It was a fairly large cemetery, which, along with the stone walls and the daffodils, is a reminder of the people who lived here before there was a park.

Shortly after that, we passed the junction with the Upper Dark Hollow Trail and then began some long switchbacks.  Along one of them, we spotted a spring flower that is new to me:  Caulophyllum thalyctroides (Blue Cohosh).  It is a tall, rather dark flower.  It takes its name from the bright blue berries it produces.  We stopped for a quick lunch before heading on to Dark Hollow Falls.

All of a sudden, there were people everywhere.  Dark Hollow Falls is only a half mile below Skyline Drive, making it a popular stop for those on the Drive.  The Falls are beautiful and definitely worth the stop.  After taking several pictures and climbing up to see the upper falls, we continued a mile up the fire road to do the Rose River Loop, another popular short hike for people on the Drive.  Just before reaching Skyline Drive, we turned down the Horse Trail, which connected to the Rose River Trail.  We thought we had long since left the wildflowers in the warmer valley below us, when we rounded a corner to find clumps of purple H. nobolis.  We spent a little time enjoying the cool mist of Rose River Falls before continuing on.

At the confluence of Hogcamp Branch and the Rose River, there is an old copper mine.  The tailings are clearly visible and there is a short path up on to one of the mounds.  There isn't much to see there, but it is an interesting part of the history of the park.  Hogcamp Branch has beautiful waterfall after beautiful waterfall, cascading over bright green moss-covered rocks.  It was warm enough that, on a short break, we dunked our heads in the water to cool off.  As we continued on, I was just about to say that this would be the first hike since the end of November without any snow, when I looked up and saw a small remnant snowbank.  There isn't much left of it, but there it was, snow at the beginning of April.

After reaching Dark Hollow Falls, we returned down the Rose River Fire Road to the car.  As we hiked down the mountain, we made our way our of late winter into early spring.  One of the joys of getting out into the woods often is you get to see the forest slowly wake up after the long winter.  This week, most of the wildflowers were in the first 1.5 miles of the trail.  Next week, they will be a little higher. 

We couldn't have asked for better weather or a nicer hike.  Even with all of the stopping to take pictures, we cranked out 14 miles in 7.5 hours, definitely earning the ice cream we had in town.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's Breetches)

Cardamine concatenata (Cut Leaf Toothwort)

Trillium grandiflora (Giant Trillium).  This was the only one blooming along the road, although others were coming up.  This is pretty early for them.

Anemone americana (Liverwort)

Caulophyllum thalyctroides (Blue Cohosh).

Upper Dark Hollow Falls

A pretty clump of A. americana along the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail.

Rose River Falls.

Rose River Falls

The remnant snowbank.  We have not had a snow-free hike in the mountains since the last weekend in November.

A large Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot) on the fire road on the way down.