Sunday, February 20, 2011

Great North Mountain: Falls Ridge-Laurel Run Loop

The end of last week was so warm and pleasant.  It was too bad that it didn't last at least one day into the weekend.  That being said, 50 degrees and windy is better than 20 degrees (which is still much better than 35 degrees and raining).  We spent the weekend with friends in Bayse, Virginia, which gave us the opportunity to hike in the Great North Mountain area. 

Getting up, having a leisurely breakfast (our friend made fresh scones!), and then driving just 15 minutes to the trailhead for a full day of hiking was a rare treat.   When we left the house in the morning, the wind was already screaming in the valley, which meant that it would be gale force on the ridge.  We opted for a loop that would only keep us on the ridge top for about two miles.  The Falls Ridge trail follows an old roadbed between two parcels of land with numerous "Keep Out" and "No Trespassing" signs on either side.  After crossing a logging road, it climbs steeply up to the top of the first ridge.  There are switchbacks, which help, but it is still pretty steep.  We stopped to have lunch once the trail leveled out.  In the sun and sheltered from the wind, it was quite pleasant out.

We soon reached the North Mountain Trail, where we turned north towards the Laurel Run Trail.  The trail follows the ridgeline, which left us pretty exposed to the wind.  We made good time, though, crossing a couple of meadows along the way.  A band of cliffs formed the east side of the last hill we had to climb.  There were several overlooks along the cliffs, giving us a great view of the Shenandoah Valley.  We could see two fires burning in the valley, one of them large.  Given the dry conditions and the wind, we were not very surprised to see them.

We were happy to begin our descent on the Laurel Run Trail.  We were quickly below the worst of the wind.  We found a frozen little pond just below the ridge top, which was a surprise, considering how warm it had been.  The last part of the hike is 2.5 miles along a logging road, primarily crossing clearcuts.  It wasn't one of the more pleasant sections of trail I have ever hiked.  The wind was stronger in the clearcuts than it was on the wooded ridge and it kicked up dust and debris every time it gusted.  It is too bad that you have to walk that section to make a loop out of the rest of the trails (at least from the trailhead we used).

Pictures (click to enlarge):

Moss and Mountain Laurel on the North Mountain Trail.

Part of the band of cliffs on the North Mountain Trail.

The frozen pond on the Laurel Run Trail.

Ice on the pond.

 Water flowing over leaves in Laurel Run.

The Shenandoah Valley from an overlook along the North Mountain Trail.  Click to enlarge.  This is the first panoramic I've made using an automatic tool in a photo editor.  There are a few artifacts in it (such as the diagonal dark areas in the sky), but overall, it turned out pretty well.  It is made from six individual photos.  The large fire is visible near the center of the panorama.

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