Monday, July 4, 2011

A Wild Berry Weekend: Nicholson Hollow and Old Rag (ORMS)

A rare three-day weekend inspired us to get out of the city.  We were scheduled for Old Rag on Sunday, so we decided to do some hiking on Saturday, camp, and then meet the rest of the Old Rag Mountain Stewards on Sunday morning.  We arrived at the Old Rag parking lot at 11 a.m. to find it mostly full and a bit crazy, so we got our things together, filled out our permit and headed up the road to the Nicholson Hollow Trail.

Nicholson Hollow Trail is literally right next to Old Rag.  We pass the traihead every time we hike Old Rag, but for some reason, we had never hiked it.  The trailhead itself is about halfway between the Old Rag parking lot and the old Upper Parking lot.  The trail starts on private land, crossing Brokenback Run and the Hughes River.  After half a mile, we crossed into the park and started looking for a campsite.  The plan was to find a campsite relatively close to the road so we would have a quick, easy hike to the parking lot in the morning.  At the junction of the Nicholson Hollow Trail and the Corbin Mountain Trail, we found one that fit the bill:  shady, flat, near the water.  It even had a small waterfall nearby. 

We ate lunch and set up camp before continuing up the Nicholson Hollow Trail.  The trail follows the Hughes River slowly uphill.  We passed Hot Short Mountain and Hannah Run Trails, also ones we have yet to do.  We passed a few trail runners, but few other people.  Evidence of the pre-park establishment settlements was everywhere:  stone walls, a hearth, house foundations, and piles of rocks.  After a couple of miles, we came to Corbin Cabin, which was restored and is maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.  We took a short break before continuing on the Indian Run Trail.  The trail dwindled to a rocky path and climbed steeply over the next mile to the saddle between Stony Man and Thorofare Mountain.  Each time we thought we might be at the top of the saddle, we would turn a corner to find it climbing even more steeply in front of us.  It wasn't the most difficult climb I've ever done, but it was a good workout. 

At the junction with the Corbin Mountain Trail, we turned right towards the Old Rag Fire Road.  The trail appeared to get even less use than the Indian Run Trail.  In places, the trail is just a grassy path through the trees.  After a few minutes, we found an old spring right next to the trail.  The ice cold water felt fantastic splashed on my face and hair.  At the Old Rag Fire Road, we turned downhill for a half a mile to the Corbin Hollow Trail.  We pass the bottom of the Corbin Hollow Trail every time we hike Old Rag, but it is another one that we've never set foot on.  From the Old Rag Fire Road, the trail descends steeply to Brokenback Run and then follows it, through quiet, beautiful woods to the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.

We had not seen anyone since we left Corbin Cabin, on the Nicholson Hollow Trail.  The moment we stepped out onto the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, we see a family, coming down from Old Rag who was out of water.  They had a few small, empty water bottles on a 90 degree day and the kids were complaining of being thirsty.  We gave them chlorine tablets so they could get water out of the stream and continued on our way.  We arrived back in camp at dinnertime.  We had wineberries that we had picked along the way for dessert (we had plenty of them while we were hiking, too.  And black raspberries.  And blueberries).  While we drank tea, a Great Blue Heron flew low over our campsite.  As the sun went down, fireflies lit up the forest and whippoorwills called across the valley.

We awoke around 4 a.m. on Sunday morning to a raging thunderstorm working its way down the valley.  At one point, I was laying awake, counting the seconds between flashes of lightning and thunderclaps, there was no delay, meaning the storm was right on top of us.  In the morning, after breakfast (with wineberries in our oatmeal!), we packed up and returned to the Old Rag parking lot.  While we were waiting for other stewards to arrive, we were able to dry out tent out by draping it over the car.

The day promised to be a quiet one, based on the number of cars in the parking lot.  We hiked up the Ridge Trail with another Steward.  The ripe blueberries along the way were a mild impediment to our hiking.  We had to take a wide sample of blueberries from many bushes to properly assess the quality of this year's crop.  It was hot.  The lower part of the Ridge Trail is back in the corner of the valley, so most of the time, very little wind reaches it.  On hot days, it can be pretty stifling.  We splashed water on our faces and heads at the spring that crosses the trail about halfway up.  Once in the rock scramble, we tried to stay in the shade as much as possible.  At the summit, we found a spot under the trees to take a break in the breeze.  After some training on anchors at Byrd's Nest Shelter, we made our way down the Saddle Trail to the parking lot in the early evening.  It was a perfect, quiet day on the mountain.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 The Hughes River at our campsite.
 Our campsite
 The Hughes River.
 Chimaphila maculata (Wintergreen) on the Nicholson Hollow Trail
 An old hearth from pre-park days.
 Actaea podocarpa (Black Cohosh or Black Snakeroot)
 Impatiens pallida (Pale Jewelweed)
 The Corbin Mountain Trail above Indian Run Trail.
 Lysimchia quadrifolia (Whorled Loosestrife) on the Old Rag Fire Road.
 Asclepias exaltata (Poke Milkweed) on the Old Rag Fire Road.
 Sisyrinchium atlanticum (Eastern Blue-Eyed Grass) on the Old Rag Fire Road.
 Monarda clinopodia (Basil Balm) on the Corbin Hollow Trail.
 Wineberries for dessert and breakfast.
 The S-curve on Old Rag.
 An interesting beetle on the summit of Old Rag.
Looking south from Old Rag towards Fork Mountain.

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