Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bear Tracks, Bobcat Tracks, and Snow!

A little bit of snow fell in the Washington, DC area last week, so we figured a little bit more must have fallen in the mountains.  With holiday baking to do, we did not want to drive a great distance to hike, but we wanted to get out yesterday.  A loop consisting of Buck Ridge, Mary's Rock, and Buck Hollow fit the bill.  As a bonus, with the exception of the Mary's Rock portion of the hike, solitude is pretty easy to come by on this hike and in winter, it is pretty much guaranteed.  We were not disappointed in that regard.

We arrived at the trailhead early and met a trailrunner who mentioned that we would see bear tracks on Buck Ridge.  After packing up, we headed up the trail.  The Thornton River was running a little high and the rocks were icy, but manageable.  The rocks in the river were covered with snow and impressive ice formations.  After a few hundred feet, we turned up the Buck Ridge trail and began the steep climb that the trail is known for.  The first mile of the Buck Ridge trail is one of the steeper climbs in the park.  It is a challenging hike when it is dry.  The two inches of snow on the ground made it more of a challenge yesterday.  The pain is over quickly, though.  After about twenty minutes, the trail gradient eases somewhat into a more reasonable climb towards Skyline Drive.

Shortly after we finished the steepest section, we saw our first bear tracks.  The bear that left them followed the trail for a few feet and then turned off into the brush.  As we climbed towards the drive, we must have seen seven or eight more sets of bear tracks, several of them very fresh.  When we've hiked Buck Ridge in the summer, it always feels like a good place for bears since the trail is lined with blueberry bushes in several places.  Apparently, the bears agree.  We also saw a few bobcat tracks.  One bobcat left a set of tracks about half a mile long in otherwise untracked snow on the trail, before it turned off into the brush.

We crossed Skyline Drive and began the steep climb up the Meadow Spring Trail to the Appalachian Trail.  We were the first hikers on Meadow Spring since the snow fell.  We ran into another set of interesting bear tracks about halfway to the Appalachian Trail.  A tree had fallen across the trail and was covered by a couple of inches of snow.  We noticed bear tracks on the ground near it.  We were startled to see that the bear had walked up to the tree, then climbed up on it, and crossed the trail on it, leaving tracks in the snow on the tree.

We ate a quick lunch at the junction with the Appalachian Trail and continued on to Mary's Rock.  Although it was overcast, there was a good view from Mary's Rock.  Since it was cold (but not windy, at least), we didn't linger long up before returning to Skyline Drive.  From there, we headed down the Buck Hollow Trail.  There were some impressive ice formations on the waterfalls along the trail.  There were also some impressive ice sheets on the trail.  We returned to the car, having done almost 9 miles in the snow.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

  The Thornton River.

Buck Ridge Trail.

Ferns in the snow on Buck Ridge (If anyone knows which kind these are, let me know).

Bear track on Buck Ridge.  My foot is in the picture for scale.

Another bear track, this one more recent than the one above.

The only tracks ahead of us on Buck Ridge were left by a bobcat.

A bobcat track and some bird tracks.

The bear tracks on a long on the Meadow Spring Trail.

Mary's Rock.  It was about noon when I took this picture, but the clouds partially obscured the sun, making it look much later.

Bootshot off of Mary's Rock.

Ice formations on a waterfall.

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