Monday, December 31, 2012

End of Year Snow Camping in the Sods

Following a successful snowshoeing trip in November to Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia, it was time to try camping up there in the winter.  The forecast for Davis, West Virginia wasn't ideal, but it didn't look dangerous:  cold, snow showers and winds gusting to 30 mph.  Of course, it would be colder, windier, and snowier up on the plateau, but we decided we were prepared (We also took enough food and fuel so that, if the weather turned very bad, we could hunker down and wait it out).

We started from Timberline Resort and hiked up one of their trails to the wilderness boundaries. Let's just say that the sight of three people on snowshoes dragging orange sleds packed with gear, going uphill gets more than a few funny looks from skiers and snowboarders going down the trails in the proper direction. Even with sleds full of gear, the hike up to the wilderness boundary wasn't bad.

We stopped for lunch in a protected spot in the woods at the boundary.  At that elevation, there was about a foot of snow on the ground.  It was just a little packed, so it made for easy snowshoeing. The original plan was to go down Big Stonecoal Trail and camp. We started that direction after lunch and to our surprise, ran into another person who was camping up there. We, apparently, are not the only crazy ones! Unfortunately, Big Stonecoal Trail was completely closed in by mountain laurel weighed down by snow. The idea of being soaking wet after fighting our way through all of the branches did not appeal to us, so we regrouped and made a new plan.  

We hiked north to the Blackbird Knob Trail and turned east. Occasionally, we were able to catch a glimpse of the east ride of Dolly Sods in the distance when the clouds lifted. Fine, granular snowflakes fell steadily as we hiked.  The wind was behind us, but blowing pretty steadily. Eventually, we found a nice sheltered campsite under some trees at the edge of a meadow. Snow swirled across the meadow and we could hear the wind roaring above us, but only a few gusts made it down to the campsite.  

We spent a pleasant night listening to the snowfall. When we went to bed, it didn't seem like the snow was falling that fast, so we were surprised to find in the morning a foot of fresh snow coating everything. It was dry, fluffy, light powder: the kind that gets blown into drifts and swirls across meadows in giant eddies. In the clearing near our campsite, it had drifted into hip deep piles. We took a long time to break camp and finally got underway around noon.  It was still snowing steadily and now we had to break trail through a foot of powder. We had so much fun. It was more work than the day before, but the scenery and conditions were just spectacular. 

The worst part of the trip was at the very end.  Timberline Resort was making snow on the trail we had to hike down, so we had to hike through blasts of freezing mist all the way down.  By the time we got to the bottom, my sunglasses were completely frozen over.  

It was an awesome trip.  We dealt with the cold well and had a great time. Once again, Dolly Sods proved to be a beautiful host to a great trek.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Michael pulling his sled along the Blackbird Knob Trail.
Conifers covered in hoar frost and snow.
The meadow near our campsite.
Our campsite near dusk. Note how trampled down the snow is.
Snow piled up on the tents in the morning.  All of our tracks were covered, even around the campsite.
 Another view of the meadow at our campsite.
Michael making a platform for cooking breakfast in the morning.
Sunday, we got the briefest glimpse of blue sky.
Looking east across the wilderness area.
Snow on the creek on Blackbird Knob Trail.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas and a Walk in the Park

 Merry Christmas!
We took a short walk in a park near our house this afternoon between eating cookies and Christmas dinner.  There were lots of ducks out on the lake, including this pair of Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis).
 We also saw several Ring-Necked Ducks (Aythya collaris).
The lake we walked around.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Short Hike in Catoctin Mountain Park

December is always busy and sometimes the whole month will get by without a hike, at least until Christmas is over.  Yesterday, we found ourselves with a few hours and nice weather, so we decided to make a quick getaway.  We met WanderMindfully and drove to the visitor center at Catoctin Mountain Park.  We started around noon and crossed the highway for a mile-long hike along Big Hunting Creek.  There isn't really a trail along that section of the creek, but there is a pretty distinct fishermens path along most of it.  The woods were fairly open, if a little muddy, so it wasn't too difficult to make our way down the creek.  We stopped for lunch beside a pretty little waterfall.

After a mile, we crossed the road again and began the climb up to Chimney Rock.  We had to quickly shed layers as we warmed up from the climb:  short sleeves in December.  Remarkable.  I'm not complaining, but it is a little weird.  At Chimney Rock, we found that the valleys were still filled with hazy fog, giving the mountains a blue cast that is usually associated with those mountains further south and west.  We continued north to Wolf Rock, a large outcrop which was part of the seafloor 500 million years ago (per the sign at the outcrop).  There is no view at Wolf Rock, but the outcrop itself is pretty interesting, with large blocks of quartzite and deep cracks.

From Wolf Rock, we continued to Thurmont Vista and then on to Hog Rock, before descending back to the car at the visitor center just before sunset.  Our hike was only 7.5 miles, but it was a pleasant walk through the woods and a nice break from pre-Christmas preparations.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

 The view southwest from Chimney Rock.
 A small waterfall at our lunch stop on Big Hunting Creek.
 Big Hunting Creek.
 A fungus on a downed log.
 The trail near Hog Rock.
The view east from Hog Rock in the fading light.