Monday, February 6, 2012

Snow on Mud Hole Gap

The name of this hike, Mud Hole Gap, isn’t especially inspiring, but after yesterday, I think it is one of the more under-rated hikes in the area.  Five of us started out from Elizabeth Furnace yesterday in the snow.  There was about an inch of it on the ground and on tree branches and flurries fell all morning, something we’ve seen far too little of this winter.  The woods were beautiful - black tree limbs against the white snow and gray sky - and silent in the way that only happens during and after a snowfall.  

We hiked up the Tuscarora Trail, which winds its way up to the top of the west ridge of Mansanutten.  It is an easy three mile (approximately) climb up to the junction with the Meneka Peak Trail, where we stopped for a lunch break.  There were a few partial views along the way, but they are probably occluded by leaves during the summer.  At the top of the ridge, we were basically in the clouds.  

After lunch, we started down the west side of the ridge.  The trail on on that side is steeper and rockier.  That combined with the snow, slowed me down a little bit, but it wasn’t too difficult.  The trail is lined with Mountain Laurel, so in June, it must be spectacular, but with snow pushing the branches down over the trail, the large bushes just added obstacles to our hike.  At the junction with the Mansanutten Trail, we met a small group of Boy Scouts out hiking to get ready for Philmont.  We turned south on the Mansanutten Trail, which follows a nearly flat old road for almost three miles, passing the Strasburg Reservoir along the way.  

We turned east when we reached the Mud Hole Gap Trail.  We had been following Little Passage Creek while we were on the Mansanutten Trail, but the terrain being flat, it was pretty featureless - and hemmed in by Mountain Laurel.  Shortly after we left the Mansanutten Trail, that changed.  The number and size of the waterfalls gradually increased as we proceeded further down the trail.  The rocks near the creek were covered in bright green mosses.  It warmed up and the snow was suddenly gone, leaving light mist above the creek, which made the scenery even more enchanting.  Little Passage Creek is one of the prettier ones that I've hiked near in a long time.

The trail turned away from the creek, once again, using an old roadbed.  The sun came out for a while and it warmed up nicely.  We took the Sidewinder Trail back to the Tuscaroora Trail, which led us back to the parking lot.  The snow was almost completely gone.  It turned out to be a very enjoyable, pretty hike.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Snow on the Tuscarora Trail.
 Looking towards the east ridge of Mansanutten from the Tuscarora Trail
 A pine cone in the snow.
 The Mansanutten Trail
 Strasburg Reservoir
 Stalked puffballs, which are a fungus.  These are about 2.5 inches tall.
 A series of small cascades on Little Passage Creek.
A waterfall on Little Passage Creek.
Lichens on the boulders near the creek.
A mound of moss.
Mud Hole Gap Trail near Little Passage Creek.  Note the lack of snow. 

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