Sunday, December 18, 2011

2500 Miles

A few weeks ago, I realized that if got a few more rides in this year, I could get a total of 2,500 miles of riding in for the year.  Various things, including travel and getting ready for the holidays, conspired against me over the last couple of weeks, but this weekend, I did it.  I got out for a 41 miles ride yesterday with Michael and a friend of ours.  This morning, I did a quick 13 miles after breakfast, which put me at exactly 2,500 miles.  That is just slightly longer than the distance from Silver Spring to Spokane, Washington (!).  It has been a good year for cycling.

 Heading out for my ride this morning.
My mileage tracker after today's ride.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Cookie Swap Trip Report

We made the strenuous hike to our neighbor's house (half a block! uphill! stairs!) to co-host the annual Silver Spring cookie swap.  We wound up with an abundance of cookies (thanks to Lizandra Vidal for the photo).
This is the fifth year we've hosted the cookie swap with our neighbor and it just gets better.  I am always so impressed with the variety of cookies.  I made pecan-bourbon cookies this year and they were by no means the most creative.  The best part is getting see friends that we don't get to see nearly often enough.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Rollercoaster: 14 Miles on the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia

The Rollercoaster was the only section of the Virginia Appalachian Trail north of Shenandoah National Park that we hadn't done before yesterday.  It has the reputation of being fairly challenging at 14.1 miles and 3,900 feet of climbing (northbound).  We set up a car shuttle and parked at Ashby Gap on US Highway 50.  As we pulled in, a large group was just getting ready to depart for their hike and we crossed our fingers that they were headed in the opposite direction (turns out they were). 

The trail climbs immediately out of Ashby Gap.  It was cold, windy and clear, but climbing warmed everyone up and soon we were stopping to peel off layers of clothing.  There was a lot of storm damage on the trail.  The snowstorm a month ago felled lots of trees and broke countless branches.  There were more fallen branches and trees on this section of the Appalachian Trail than on any other section of the AT I've ever been on.  That is certainly not meant as a criticism of the maintainers of this section.  I would imagine they are working as fast as time, weather, and day jobs allow.  It is more a testament to just how much damage that storm caused.

The morning went by quickly and we made good time on the rolling hills.  The trail was rocky in a few places and the fallen leaves made that more of a challenge, but everyone was in good spirits when we stopped for lunch.  There aren't a lot of clear views on the Rollercoaster, but we had a few nice ones through the trees.  The hollows are pretty in their own right.  Most of them had a small stream with rocks covered in bright green moss.  We took a break at Reservoir Hollow for a side trip up to the waterfall at the head of the valley.

After the side trip, we focused on covering as much ground as possible before sunset.  We were treated to a beautiful sunset through the trees as we climbed the last ridge of the day.  By the time we reached Bear's Den Rocks, the last light faded from the sky and for the third straight hike, we had to use headlamps for the walk out. 

It was definitely an enjoyable, challenging hike.  A lot of the climbing is steep, but those sections are short.  There was a lot more to see than I was expecting:  old stone walls, a waterfall, pretty hollows, and nice views through the trees.  It is probably less interesting in late summer when leaves on the trees would limit views and the breeze and the streams are likely low.

 An old stone wall that crosses the trail.
Maclura pomifera (Hedgeapple, Osage Orange).  This grows everywhere in Missouri, where I grew up, but I have not seen very many M. pomifera trees here.  There were two or three growing along the trail.  The fruit is a little bit bigger than a softball.
The inside of the M. pomifera fruit.
Rocks near the trail, south of Ashby Hollow.
Dried sepals on a downed Tulip Poplar branch.
The lower falls in Reservoir Hollow.
The upper falls in Reservoir Hollow.
Michael waiting for the photographers to finish taking pictures of the sunset.
Sunset from just south of Bear's Den Rocks.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Walking Off the Pie: 17 Miles on the Bluff and Mount Marshall Trails

Almost exactly a year ago, we attempted to hike The Peak and the Bluff Trail-Appalachian Trail loop all in one day.  We wound up doing The Peak and then got sidetracked on Big Devils Stairs.  It was a really nice hike, but I wanted to go back and do the whole loop.  Yesterday, instead of participating in Black Friday madness, I went out with four friends to make another attempt.  The loop itself is 14 miles.  We started at the Jordan Run trailhead on the east boundary of the park, which added 3 more miles, for a grand total of 17.  My previous record for a dayhike was 16, back in 2009. 

We started at the Jordan River trailhead on the eastern boundary of the park.  We climbed steeply to Thoroughfare Gap, between The Peak and the main ridge in Shenandoah.  From there, we made good time on the Bluff Trail, stopping briefly to look around a the Big Devil's Stairs trailhead.  We had lunch at the Gravel Springs Hut, just off of the Appalachian Trail.  Sitting at the picnic table in the warm sun, it was hard to believe that it is the end of November. 

From the hut, the trail climbs steeply up the hill to the Appalachian Trail, where we turned north and crossed Skyline Drive.  We climbed South Mount Marshall and got our first real view at an overlook facing to the west.  The air was clear enough to see the mountains in West Virginia off in the distance.  North Mount Marshall was even more interesting with a beautiful outcrop at the top.  We spent a few minutes taking pictures before the chilly wind drove us back to the trail.  The rest of the hike north to Jenkins Gap was uneventful.  We ran into a half dozen other hikers, all southbound.

At Jenkins Gap, we crossed Skyline Drive and hiked south along it for about a quarter mile to the junction with the Mount Marshall Trail.  The Mount Marshall Trail is a pleasant hike along an old road.  There were several good-sized creeks with nice, small waterfalls along the way.  By the time we reached the junction with the Bluff Trail, we were running out of daylight.  Just before the junction with the Jordan River Trail, we came up to the gap to the most amazing sunset to the south.  We hiked out on the Jordan River Trail in the dark.  17 miles in 9 hours.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Looking south from North Mount Marshall.
Bootshot looking west towards Mansanutten
Purple berries along the Appalachian Trail.  It isn't a great picture, but if anyone knows what they are, please leave a comment. Thanks to AW who identified these:  Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry)
An National Park Service marker along the Appalachian Trail
The fading sunlight at Jenkins Gap, looking east.
At Jenkins Gap, the sun was sinking below the ridge to the southwest.  The top of this tree was the only thing that was still in the sunlight.
 A small waterfall on the Mount Marshall Trail.
Small cascades on the Mount Marshall Trail.
Another small cascade.
Green ferns in the leaf litter.
Sunset at Thoroughfare Gap.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Corbin Mountain and Robertson Mountain: A Sunset Hike

We got a rather late start on Saturday.  We had to pick up our weekly vegetable box from the local farmers' market before we left town and our friend was a few minutes late.  We did not start hiking until after 11:30 a.m.  This hike, like the one we did two weeks ago, starts at the Old Rag Fee Station.  The station was predictably busy, but we left the crowd when we turned off on the trail to Nicholson Hollow.  We hiked the mile to the junction with the Corbin Mountain Trail, which is one of the few trails we had not hiked in the area.  We took a left on Corbin Mountain, crossed the Hughes River, and took a quick break for lunch. 
Less than a mile up the trail, we spotted a small waterfall on a tributary of the Hughes River, just off the trail.   There was an old footpath leading to the top of it, but getting below it involved a scramble down the ravine.  Below the first waterfall was a second, smaller cascade, shown above, so I scrambled down to it, and managed to grab some greenbriar in the process.

Once back on trail, we began the serious climbing.  Hannah Run and Robertson Mountain Trails get all the attention for being difficult climbs, but the Corbin Mountain Trail (below) is no slouch.  Although not quite as steep as either of those, it is plenty steep in places and the climbing is sustained over a longer distance.  The trail wound around, through a pretty little valley with the ruins of an old farm, before climbing again.  Several times, we thought we were at the top of the ridge, only to turn a corner and find the trail ascending a slope in front of us.  The trail finally leveled out and we reached the junction with the Indian Run Trail. 

Since the days are so short right now, even though it was only 3 p.m., the sun was already low in the sky.  It was apparent that we were going to be hiking out in the dark, but we wanted to finish the Robertson Mountain trail while we still had some light.  We hurried up the trail to the junction with the Old Rag Fire Road, where we turned left towards the Robertson Mountain Trail. 

The climb to the summit of Robertson Mountain from the Weakley Hollow Fire Road is one of the steepest in the park, but coming from the Old Rag Fire road, it is a quick, pretty moderate climb through mountain laurel of less than a mile.  I love Robertson Mountain.  The summit has a nice view of Old Rag and Weakley Hollow, there are a few rocks to scramble around on, and few people hike it.  We spent quite a bit of time taking pictures of the sunset.  Of course, then we had to descend that steep, leaf covered, rocky trail in the fading light.  We went as fast as we could, which wasn't that fast, and just made it to the Weakley Hollow Fire Road as it got too dark to see the trail easily.
 An old tree on the summit of Robertson.
Bootshot over Weakley Hollow.
Fork Mountain from the summit of Robertson.

Dried Hylotelephium telephioides (Wild Live-Forever) on Robertson
Looking north from Robertson towards the Hazel Mountain area.
Old Rag in the fading light on the way down the Robertson Trail.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Old Rag Mountain Stewards: Final Weekend of the Year

This past weekend was the final weekend of patrol for Old Rag Mountain Stewards for the year.  We are on the mountain in the spring through approximately July 4 and then again in the fall, which is the busiest time of year.  We spend all year walking the trails, talking to people, training, more training, and rarely working a rescue.  Last year, a new tradition was started for the last day:  an epic adventure.  This year was just as epic.

Saturday was a regular patrol day.  After checking in at the Old Rag fee station, we started our day at Berry Hollow because we had a lot of gear to carry.  A lot of gear.  We looked like a disaster walking up the trail.  We all agreed that, if we encountered a similarly encumbered group as part of our patrol, we would raise an eyebrow.  Many eyebrows were raised as we made our way to Old Rag Shelter, where we set up camp. 

Saturday was busy.  The crowd had some unusual suspects, including this guy, who arrived on the summit barefoot and wearing long underwear. 
There was plenty of wind and this hiker came prepared.
Getting the ropes set to do vertical ascending training.
The rare spinning bootshot while ascending one of the ropes.
 Michael ascending the ropes.
Berries in the fading sunlight.
Sunset from the summit of Old Rag.
After the day's patrol, we had a fantastic cookout.  Old Rag Patrols brought steaks, Shenandoah Mountain Guides brought veggies and brownies, another mountain steward brought pasta salad, and I brought a pecan-bourbon cake.  That is the long way of saying we had a feast.  As we were sitting in front of the fire, the nearly-full moon rose over the ridge. 

 We got up early on Sunday to carry gear up the mountain.  We made it to the summit around 9:30, which is probably the earliest I have ever been up there.  The summit was empty since we arrived ahead of the crowds.  It was also windy.  We had to yell to talk to each other.
The wind eventually died down a little bit and it turned out to be a very nice day.  There was a lot of work to be done setting anchors and ropes. 
Michael rappelling down a face from the summit.
Another volunteer setting up a top-roped climb (he is in an orange shirt on the cliff near the center of the photo - click to enlarge).
Packing up after a long, awesome, epic day.  The day couldn't have happened without the hard work of each person.  This is the end of our fourth fall season with Old Rag Mountain Stewards.  We are incredibly lucky to work with such a great group. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Return to Fall: Hannah Run and Hot Short Mountain Trails

After last weekend's hike through the blowing snow, this weekend was like turning the clock back one season.  The leaves were still on the trees in the valley and the air was chilly, but a few patches of snow high on the ridges were the only evidence of winter's presence just a week ago.

When we arrived at the Old Rag parking lot at 9:15 a.m., we had to park on the back fence because it was already 95% full.  We got ready to go as quickly as possible and wished the fee station rangers well on what was going to be a very, very busy day on Old Rag.  Where we were going, however, was as quiet as it gets in Shenandoah National Park in the fall.  We walked up the road towards Old Rag amidst the crowds for about half a mile before turning off onto the Nicholson Hollow Trail where we left the madness behind.  It was shaping up to be a perfect day.  The morning started out quite chilly, but was warming up as the sun rose.  The trail was lined with red and gold leaves shining in the morning sun. 

The Hughes River was quite a bit higher than when we hiked the Nicholson Hollow Trail in July and all of the side runs and streams were full.  We hiked past the junction with the Hot Short Mountain Trail and the Hannah Run Trail to a nice waterfall on the Hughes River.  While I was taking pictures a relatively large group passed us and crossed the river.  One of the party messed up the rock hop and wound up in the river, but fortunately, he appeared to be ok.

We returned down the Nicholson Hollow Trail to the Hannah Run Trail.  The Hannah Run Trail has a reputation as one of the steeper trails in Shenandoah.  Since this was our first time on it, we were interested in comparing it to some of the other steeper ones like Sam's Ridge or Robertson Mountain.  The first mile or so climbs fairly gently - a pleasant walk through the woods along Hannah Run.  Then the trail turns away from the run and gets a little steeper, but still nothing outlandish.  We passed some interesting old farm terraces and chimneys along the way.  Then we turned a corner and the trail descended quickly back to the stream.  As we got closer to the bottom, we could see the trail on the other side of the stream.  It basically went straight up the side of the ridge.  It didn't take too long to get to the top of it, but it was definitely a thigh-burner.  I would say it is definitely steeper than Sam's Ridge, but the steep part isn't quite as long. 

Near the top of the ridge, we made a Boy Scout Leader very happy.  At the bottom of the Hannah Run Trail, something caught my eye and I found a compass, knife, whistle, a light, and some safety pins.  It looked like someone had everything fall out of their pocket.  We knew a Boy Scout Troop had gone up the Hannah Run Trail before us while we were at the waterfall, so we picked everything up, hoping that we would catch them.  When we had nearly reached the top of the ridge, we found them and asked if they had lost anything.  Their leader was very happy to get the contents of his lanyard back.

At the top of the ridge, we turned right on the Catlett Mountain Trail for a pleasant mile's walk to the Hazel Mountain Trail.  There were patches of snow on the ground from last week's storm and no leaves on the trees at that elevation.  We turned right again on the Hazel Mountain Trail and then again on the Hot Short Mountain Trail.  At a couple of spots on the way down, we had a nice view of the valley and Old Rag to the south.  Further down, we walked between two well-built stone walls from before the area was a park.  By the time we reached the Nicholson Hollow Trail again, the sun had gone behind the ridge, even though it was only 3:45.  We stopped a few more times to take pictures of the river and then finished the easy walk back to the car.  It was an incredibly nice, quiet fall day on trail.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Red and gold leaves on the Hannah Run Trail
Aster sp.  (Aster).  This one was not, apparently, bothered by last weekend's snow very much.
This shot does not even do justice to the steepest part of the Hannah Run Trail. 
 An old saw blade in front of a chimney.
One of the signposts along the way.
Maple leaves.
A maple leaf on the snow on the Catlett Mountain Trail.
Old Rag from the Hot Short Mountain Trail.
The lower part of the Hot Short Mountain Trail.
A small waterfall on the Hughes River
Our canine escort (a neighbor's dog that we took care of for the weekend).  She was very, very disappointed to not be allowed to chase a deer on the other side of the river.
Another view of the Hughes River.
The Old Rag parking lot at 4:30 p.m.  It was still 3/4 full and the neighbor's lot was nearly full.