Monday, September 5, 2011

Bears and Flowers in Riprap Hollow and on Moormans River

For as much as we hike in the North and Central Districts of Shenandoah National Park, we rarely make it down to the South District of Shenandoah, mostly because it is so far to drive for a dayhike or even an overnight trip.  We definitely need to make the effort more often because the reward is fewer people, more wildlife, and very pretty trails.  For what was supposed to be a two-night trip over Labor Day weekend, we decided to hike in the Riprap Hollow and Moorman River areas.  On our way to the trailhead, clouds filled the valleys below the overlooks on Skyline Drive.  Given the forecast for rain for the weekend, we were pretty sure we were going to get wet.

We parked at Blackrock Gap and set off southbound on the Appalachian Trail.  We immediately started climbing, crossing two small, unnamed mountains, before reaching the Riprap Trail where we turned west.  We took a break on some rocks with a nice view to the southwest.  Just as we were packing up, the gray clouds that had been off in the distance finally made their move.  The temperature dropped 15 degrees and the wind picked up.  From our overlook, we had to cross a small ridge.  The clouds were blowing across the top of it, which was pretty cool.  I wish I had stopped to take a picture, but the sound of thunder kept me moving towards the safety of the woods on the other side of it.  We skipped Calvary Rocks because of the thunder and lightning.  Chimney Rocks had a bit more cover, but the view was socked in by the clouds.  At this point, we were just waiting for the imminent soaking.  It never came.  The wind blew, lightning flashed, and thunder clapped, but no rain ever fell, which was fine with us.

About halfway down the Riprap Trail, we came to the confluence of two creeks at the mouth of Cold Spring Hollow.  The valley narrows down to a gorge that is only about 30 feet wide just above a small waterfall.  There had been some sort of structure over the creek at one point because there were large timbers fastened to the creek floor just above the narrowest point of the creek.  It would be interesting to see this area when there is more water in the creek.  We continued down the trail to the junction of the Wildcat Ridge Trail.  Along the way, we saw a good sized black bear crossing the creek and climbing the opposite ridge.  From the junction, the Riprap Trail continues 0.9 miles to the park boundary.  We went ahead and hiked to the boundary and back, just say we had covered that section of trail.  We camped that night at the junction with the Wildcat Ridge Trail, a decision that we would later regret a little.

We had originally planned to camp 0.5 miles up the Wildcat Ridge Trail, just before the trail leaves the creek and turns up the ridge.  We were concerned about water availability on the creek along the Wildcat Ridge Trail because almost all of the side streams were bone dry.  The campsite we chose was nice enough.  When it got dark, the most amazing chorus of tree frogs entertained us.  They were loud enough that it was almost hard to hear each other talk in the tent.  Then the music started.  And the yelling.  Apparently, someone was having a loud enough party down at the parking area, almost a mile away, that we could hear it over the tree frogs.  It continued well past midnight.  Someone also decided to start firing a shotgun.  It was fairly far away and we aren't sure that it was associated with the party, but we did wonder what someone was shooting at in the dark.

The next morning, we continued our hike up the Wildcat Ridge Trail.  At the campsite we originally planned to use, there was water (sigh) and another backpacker looking for her glasses, which had been knocked off when she bumped a tree branch.  We helped her look for about 45 minutes, to no avail.  We made good time climbing up to the Appalachian Trail, where we turned south again, hiking towards Turk Gap, where we took a break for lunch and I attempted to deal with a blister that had developed on my little toe (having spent the summer in cycling shoes, my feet have developed a few soft spots).   The hike down Turk Branch Trail was uneventful and quiet.

We reached the South Fork Moormans River Road and immediately started running into people.  There are a number of great swimming holes along the road, but each one had about 30 people, so we kept walking.  Shortly after getting to the North Fork Moormans River Trail, SSW Spouse ran out of water.  The river was completely dry at that point, so we contemplated turning around and hiking back to where we last saw water.  It wasn't far, but no one likes to backtrack.  Fortunately, a group of dayhikers came by and let us know that there was water in the river upstream.  We took a long break beside the first pool and filtered water. 

The plan was to camp along the upper North Fork Moormans River Trail.  We even found a campsite.  We crossed the river, took our packs off and contemplated staying the night.  At that point, we were about three miles from the car, it was 4:30 p.m., and we had hiked 11 miles.  It was also supposed to rain that night.  We heard the siren song of pizza and a comfortable bed, so we headed for the car. On the way home, we saw a half-grown bear scamper across the road.

It was a great hike.  We wound up hiking a total of 22 miles:  8 the first day and 14 the second.  After not doing a lot of hiking in the last two months, it was a lot, particularly the second day.  Summer is definitely waning.  The leaves are starting to change at higher elevations and late summer-early fall flowers, including asters are blooming.  As I said earlier, we definitely need to make the drive to the South District more often.  Although we saw more people than we expected, it was Labor Day weekend and most parts of the park where we normally hike would have been overrun.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 The clouds below Bacon Hollow Overlook on Skyline Drive on the way to the trailhead.
 Aureolaria flava (Smooth False Foxglove) on the Appalachian Trail.
 The view from our lunch spot on the Riprap Trail before the thunderstorm. 
Chimney Rocks on the Riprap Trail.
Campanula divaricata (Southern Harebell) on the Riprap Trail.
Hylotelephium telephioides (Wild Live-Forever) on the Riprap Trail
The leaves are already starting to change at higher elevations.  Summer is winding down.
The gorge at the bottom of Cold Spring Hollow.
The timbers that were secured to the bottom of the creek bed.  We couldn't figure out what the structure had been.  There was some old concrete on the rock wall across the creek.  Anyone out there familiar with the history of the Riprap area?
 A Leopard Frog against one of the timbers in the above picture.
 A swimming hole along Riprap Trail.
There is a good-sized bear in the center of this photo.  This is the first one we've seen hiking that I've managed to actually photograph, although not well.
 We had a problem with our MSR Hubba Hubba rainfly.  We contacted the company and they sent us a new fly at no cost, which is awesome customer service.  Unfortunately, the colors have changed since we got the tent, so it doesn't match very well anymore.  The replacement fly was free, though, so I dig the color combination!
 A toad at our campsite.
Hypoxis hirsuta (Yellow Star Grass) on the Appalachian Trail north of Turk Gap.
Amphicarpaea bracteata (Hog Peanut) vine twisted around a Sassafras Tree. 
Ageratina altissima (White Snakeroot).
Pycnanthemum muticum (Mountain Mint)
Cunila origanoides (Dittany)
 A butterfly on the South Fork Moormans River Road.
Eurybia divaricata (White Wood Aster)
 A pool on the North Fork Moormans River
 Helianthus divaricatus (Woodland Sunflower) on the North Form Moormans River.
Lobelia siphilitica (Great Lobelia) on the North Fork Moormans River.

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