Saturday, November 27, 2010

Winter's Arrival - Hazel River Area

When we got up this morning, the thermometer said 33 degrees.  Two weeks ago, when we were last out hiking, the leaves had still been on many of the trees and it was warm enough to hike in short sleeve shirts.  What a difference two weeks can make.  No leaves remain on the trees in Shenandoah and all of the underbrush has died away for the winter.  In spite of the cold, winter is a very pleasant time to visit the park if one is prepared for the weather.  There are few tourists and more views since the leaves are off the trees. 

We hiked up the Hazel River Trail from county road 600 with a vague plan for the day.  Soon after we started, we met a large church group, one of just two groups we saw the entire day.  We crossed the Hazel River several times before turning sharply uphill on the steep White Rocks Trail.  As we climbed, we could hear the wind howling above us.  Once in a while a gust would catch us, blasting us with cold air.  At the top of the ridge, we were pretty much constantly in gusts of wind of varying strength.  In a shady part of the trail, we saw our first frost flowers of the season.  We hiked the quarter of a mile down to White Rocks Falls and found a sunny lunch spot that was sheltered from the wind.  There was far more water in the falls than there was when we hiked there in the summer.  The first icicles of the season hung on a small branch over the creek below the falls. 

From there, we returned to the White Rocks Trail, which climbs slowly to the Catlett Spur Trail.  We turned onto the Catlett Spur Trail and hiked the mile to the Hannah Run Trail.  The Hannah Run Trail climbs steeply to the Pinnacles Overlook on Skyline Drive.  Normally, Pinnacles is a fairly busy overlook, but today it was empty.  With nothing to block the wind, it was also freezing cold, so we snapped a couple of pictures and returned the way we came.  At the junction of the Catlett Spur and Catlett Mountain Trails, we went east on Catlett Mountain Trail.  We made our way back to the car via Hazel Mountain Trail and a steep descent down Sam's Ridge Trail.  Sam's Ridge Trail was covered in leaves, making what is already a challenging descent even more exciting.

Winter has definitely arrived in the mountains.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

A small waterfall on the lower Hazel River

White Rocks Falls

Another view of White Rocks Falls.

Icicles over the stream.

Long shadows at 1:30 p.m. on the moss.

Frost flowers.

Old Rag from Pinnacles Overlook.

Pinnacles Overlook empty.  Quite a difference from the way the drive looked a month ago at another overlook.

Looking northeast towards Sperryville.

An interesting spider on Sam's Ridge Trail.  I don't know anything about spiders, so if anyone knows what kind it is, let me know.  She was about 1.5 inches across (including legs).

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