Monday, March 12, 2012

An Unintentionally Long, Beautiful Spring Day: White Rocks

We got out in the Great North Mountain area yesterday.  We did what was supposed to be an 11.6 mile loop including the Pond Run Trail and White Rocks, but due to a mistake, wound up being more like 15 miles.  We parked at the Pond Run Trailhead.  The trail climbs steeply up from the road before returning to Pond Run.  We hiked the Pond Run Trail several years ago as part of a short backpacking trip.  The thing that stuck in my mind was the brutal climb, which was compounded by the fact that we had all of our backpacking gear with us.  We are in much better shape now, so I was curious to see how it compared to what I remembered.  I have to say, I didn’t remember all of the cool little waterfalls along Pond Run that I noticed this time.  The climbing did not strike me as particularly difficult this time, either, and I enjoyed the hike up to the top of the ridge.  At the top of the ridge, we sat on a log and ate lunch in the warm sunshine.  

We took a quick detour out an overlook of the Trout Run Valley, before continuing up the Tuscarora Trail towards the junction with the Mill Mountain Trail.  At the junction, we turned left, continuing on the Tuscarora Trail towards Little Sluice Mountain.  The trail is nice and wide, following an old roadbed.  We came across a large, deep puddle on the trail and were surprised to find big clumps of amphibian eggs in it.  As we were looking at them, we noticed that we were barging in on, shall we say, an intimate moment between two salamanders!  Giving them their privacy, we continued on our way.  The Tuscarora Trail descends steeply before the junction with the Little Sluice Mountain Trail.  About halfway down, we could see the still-white slopes of Bayse Ski Resort in the distance to the south through the trees.   

At the Little Sluice Mountain Trail junction, we encountered an equestrian group, the only group we met the entire day.  From there, the trail turns northeast and climbs gently to the top of the ridge.  We took another side trip to White Rocks, a nice overlook about ¼ mile off trail.  Returning to the Tuscarora Trail, we continued northeast, picking up the Old Mail Trail.  This is where things got interesting.  About a mile into the Old Mail Trail, the trail breaks out of the woods into a meadow, where it meets up with the Racer Camp Hollow Trail.  We looked around and found a pink blaze (Old Mail Trail) to our right, on the east side of the clearing.  There was a footpath trending north-northeast beside that blaze and that seemed to correspond to the direction we should go before turning downhill.  As we started north, we even noted what looked like a trail entering the woods on the west side of the meadow.  We did not see, nor look for any blazes on it, because, having seen the pink blaze, we assumed we were on the right track.

The trail we were on, which would turn out to be the northern half of the Racer Camp Hollow Trail, followed an old logging roadbed, which is definitely not unusual.  Earlier in the day, the Tuscarora Trail was on a roadbed.  We made pretty good time and were kind of on auto-pilot since we were talking and we (thought we) were just a couple of miles from being finished.  At one point, we stopped and looked around because we hadn’t dropped into the bottom of the valley like I was expecting and in fact were gradually climbing.  We decided to see what was around the next corner, where we pulled out both maps and realized our mistake.  I had been using a map specific to the loop we were hiking, but it doesn’t show much of the surrounding area and the context for that loop.  I pulled out the larger map that I was carrying and immediately realized our mistake.  At the meadow with the pink blaze, we should have turned left and headed into the woods.  The map showed that the trail we were on would loop around and connect with the Wilson Cove Trail, which was where we wanted to end up.  It wasn’t a disaster, but it did add about five miles to our trip.  

Lessons learned:
1.  When you look at the landscape and think, “This isn’t right and this isn’t what I was expecting it to be,” listen to that voice and check the map carefully.  

2.  The Tuscarora Trail, which we had been on for most of the day, uses the convention of a double-blaze to indicate turns.  The other trails in the George Washington National Forest do not necessarily use that convention.

3.  We did a good job of practicing, “Be here now.”  Meaning, rather than dwelling on where we should have been and getting upset by that, we just dealt with where we were and adjusted accordingly.  If we hadn’t been able to connect to the Wilson Cove Trail, we would have just backtracked to where we got off track.

It was definitely a good hike.  As a little bit of reward, we saw a few Tusilago farafara (Coltsfoot) blooming by the car.  They are not native, but they are pretty and are another indication that spring is going to be very early this year.  (In 2010, which was another year in which everything bloomed early, they were blooming at the end of March.)  We could not have asked for better weather.  I started out in a long-sleeve shirt and was halfway up the Pond Run Trail when I realized that I had not brought along a short-sleeve shirt.  It was warm enough that I really wished I had remembered it.  I am definitely happy to see spring arrive.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 T. farafara (Coltsfoot) growing along Waites Run Road.
 One of the small waterfalls on Pond Run.
 Half Moon from the lookout near the junction of Pond Run Trail and the Tuscarora Trail.
 Some type of amphibian eggs.  Each egg was about the size of a nickel.
 The view from White Rocks overlook.
 Bootshot from White Rocks looking east.
 Lycopodium digitatum (?) (Ground Cedar).  I'm not sure if I have the correct species name, but this is definitely a member of the Lycopodium genus.
 Small waterfalls on Cove Run, near the end of the hike.

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