Monday, January 24, 2011

Frozen Hike - The Virginia Appalachian Trail from Manassas Gap to Ashby Gap

Saturday was cold.  When we left home, it was 15 degrees and the high was only forecast to be 24 in the city, so the mountains would be colder than that.  We met a friend at Ashby Gap, northeast of Front Royal and set up a car shuttle so we could hike nearly 12 miles of the Virginia Appalachian Trail (AT). We had hiked a very small portion of the AT in G. R. Thompson Wildlife Management Area, but the rest of the hike was new to us.

We started at Manassas Gap, just north of I-66 outside of Linden, Virginia.  The trail climbs moderately away from the noise of the interstate towards G. R. Thompson Wildlife Management Area.  It was very cold, but fortunately, there was little wind.  We paused at Manassas Gap Shelter and contemplated having lunch there.  There was a guy there gathering wood for a fire.  We called out hello, but he only responded with a glare that made us feel rather unwelcome, so we continued on.  Along the way, we passed some nice stone fences.  Unlike the ones in Shenandoah, I don't have a sense of how old these were.  They were in good shape, though. We also saw a number of woodpeckers on this stretch.

The Wildlife Management Area is home to spectacular wildflowers in the spring.  It can get rather crowded, but this time of year it is pretty deserted.  The area is also popular with hunters, but the large game seasons have ended for this winter.  There aren't really any views on the AT through the Wildlife Management Area, but it is a pretty, relatively easy stroll through the woods.  It never really warmed up.  By early afternoon, we had to break ice in the mouths of our water bottles before drinking from them. 

Just after leaving the Wildlife Management Area, we found a small, nearly completely frozen creek.  The ice was thick enough to stand on, although we could hear water running underneath it.  The small waterfalls were completely frozen over, making a nice contrast with the moss-covered rocks.  From there, the trail climbed back up towards Sky Meadows State Park.  The only views of the hike were in two of the balds in the state park.  From the top of the park, it was a quick three miles to the car at Ashby Gap.  The last quarter of a mile was along U.S. Highway 50.  That section was not the most endearing section of trail I have ever hiked.  The most dangerous part of the hike was probably crossing the highway to get to the car.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

A stone fence in G. R. Thompson Wildlife Management Area.

A twisted tree near Manassas Gap.

A small, frozen waterfall.

A leaf frozen into the stream.

Bootshot on the frozen stream.

One of the meadows at Sky Meadows State Park.

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