Monday, January 21, 2013

Dry Run and South River: Lots of Waterfalls

This week's hike was another installment in waterfall season. I like to go searching for waterfalls in winter, particularly when there isn't any snow on the ground. Often the rocks near the falls are covered in bright green moss, providing a pop of green in an otherwise gray and brown landscape. We had some rain this week, so I was hoping that the falls we were looking for would be running well. We were not disappointed.

We met a friend and parked at Swift Run Gap in Shenandoah National Park at the trailhead for the Appalachian Trail (AT). While we were getting ready, one of the park rangers that we know stopped and chatted with us. We hadn't seen him since our last weekend on Old Rag in the fall, so it was good to catch up for a few minutes. We headed northbound on the AT, making quick work of the 3.5 miles to the South River Fire Road, where we turned west and crossed Skyline Drive. Dry Run Fire Road gradually descends the west side of the ridge, passing some cliffs and crossing the creek that gives the road its name.  We did some bushwhacking, seeking waterfalls and wrestling greenbriar. Eventually, we hiked down to the boundary of the park and returned to Skyline Drive.  

Back at the junction of South River Fire Road and the AT, we had to make a decision about whether to go down to South River Falls. It was 3pm and going down to the falls would add three miles to our trip, a hike down into the valley and back up again, and it would mean that we would finish in the dark. We ultimately decided to go for it.  After all, what is three more miles? We were rewarded for our effort by a nicely flowing waterfall - the biggest one we'd seen all day. The return hike wasn't too bad and we finished up about 15 minutes after the last of the day's light drained from the sky. We saw a total of two other groups, both of which were on the South River Falls Trail.  

Pictures (click to enlarge):  
A small waterfall on Dry Run.
One of the upper falls of Dry Run Falls. There are a series of cascades, not all of which are particularly easy to get to.
Moss near Dry Run Falls.
Looking west from Lost Cliffs. Massanutten Mountain is the ridge in the distance.
South River Falls.
 Looking east, down the South River in the fading light.
Sunset from the Appalachian Trail.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Conestoga Trail: Waterfalls in the Fog

While looking for a new place to hike this past weekend, I came across the Conestoga Trail, a 60 mile trail maintained by the Lancaster (PA) Hiking Club in south-central Pennsylvania along the Susquehanna River.  The 8.8 mile section we hiked with WanderMindfully yesterday was absolutely beautiful. We started hiking from a trailhead just off of Pennsylvania Highway 324 in dense fog. We followed the trail south from the little parking area along Pequea Creek. The trail is flat and easy, following an old trolley rail bed that used to connect the little town of Pequea to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Within a quarter mile, we came across a small side stream with pretty little waterfalls pouring into a pool among green moss-covered rocks. Further on, larger waterfalls on the main creek demanded our attention. It was going to be a slow hike.

After a little over a mile, we reached the covered bridge and entered a campground.  We took advantage of a picnic table and stopped for lunch before continuing along the old trolley bed.  Just after the campground and park, the trail turned into a dirt road and we entered the town of Pequea.  Houses were built into the hillside above the creek and perched almost directly above the road.  Steps led from the road almost straight up the bluff to the houses. Some of the older houses were abandoned, completely given over to vines.  Others were neat and clearly still in use.  As we approached the mouth of the creek and the Susquehanna River, the road became paved and the landscape flattened out.  We had a short walk up the bluff, through town, before returning to the woods.

The trail, at this point, basically followed the east bank of the Susquehanna, climbing up steeply to the top of the bluffs before descending just as steeply into side stream coves. The trail generally went straight up and down the hillsides with few switchbacks. The humid, foggy weather made the rocks and leaves slippery, so descending took us some time in a few places. We passed Wind Cave and looked around, but did not enter.   We also passed House Rock, which probably has a great view of the river below, but all we saw was fog, which had grown thicker as the afternoon progressed. I don't mean that as a bad thing. I love hiking in the fog. The landscape looks totally different and the woods take on an other-worldly feel. Fog makes all of the green plants such as mountain laurel and green moss stand out more. We described it as hiking in a Tolkien novel (without the orcs, fortunately).  

The trail puts on its best show when it descends into Tucquan Creek.  The descent didn't give us any hint of the amazing canyon below us.  When we got down to the creek, we had to hike downstream a little ways to find a place with enough stepping stones that we could cross without over-topping our boots.  What we found downstream was a canyon filled with green rhododendrons, bright green moss-covered rocks and beautiful waterfalls.  We probably spent an hour exploring it and taking pictures of the waterfalls.  We finally had to just say that we would be back because it was getting late.

We pushed through the last section of the hike, basically racing the remaining daylight. We got back to the car just as the last light faded.  We will definitely be back to explore this area again, perhaps when the rhododendrons are in bloom.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Pequea Creek at the beginning of the hike.
A side stream near Pequea Creek.
 Hiking on the old trolley rail bed.
The covered bridge near Pequea campground.
The interior of the bridge.
An old Schwinn bicycle in Pequea next to some steps leading to a house on the bluff.
The forest above the Susquehanna River in the fog.
The trail through the rocks above Wind Cave.
The trail (marked by orange blazes) climbing straight up to the top of the ridge into the fog.
A cedar tree (I think) growing on a rock.  There can't have been more than half an inch of soil under the tree.
A waterfall on Tucquan Creek among the rhododendrons.
Another waterfall on Tucquan Creek.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Snowshoeing at New Germany State Park

We haven't hiked a lot in Western Maryland.  The parks are just as far away as the National Forest lands in West Virginia and we've always been drawn there instead.  Horizontal Tread, WanderMindfully, and the two of us decided to explore New Germany State Park, near Grantsville, Maryland, on snowshoes.  It did not start out particularly well.  I couldn't find any maps online, so I figured we could stop by the park office and buy them once we got there.  The first woman we spoke to told us there were no maps to be had and that snowshoes were only allowed on a single one-mile loop (the concern being that snowshoes would destroy the groomed ski tracks).  I was a little taken aback, since that isn't what their website says and we had driven a long way.  We talked to a second woman there and finally figured out that there were actually more trails where snowshoes were ok.  Fortunately, it got better from there.

We finally got underway on the Hemlock Trail with a photocopied map.  The trail winds its way along a pretty ridge covered with stands of hemlock trees.  About a foot of snow covered the ground, providing a nice base for the snowshoes and sleds.  The trail eventually drops into a small valley and follows a little creek.  I was cold, so I kept zig-zagging up the hillside to warm up.  Nothing will get the heart rate up like breaking trail with snowshoes going up hill.

We had a pleasant lunch complete with hot chocolate at the bottom of the valley.  We saw a few skiers go by as we were near one of the groomed trails.  After lunch, we snowshoe-ed near the lake and up around the Ice House loop.  We spent a few very pleasant minutes warming up by the fire in the lodge at the end of our hike.  We had a very nice hike and the trails are pretty.  Typical of other Maryland State Parks that I've been to, the hiking is made up of very short loops connected by short stretches of road walking.  It wasn't crowded yesterday, but from what I understand, it can be quite crowded on weekends.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 A Hemlock grove up on the ridge.
 A Hemlock twig in the snow.
 I found this little burrow when I was tramping uphill to warm up.  My snowshoe track is on the right for size comparison.  The critter using the burrow had thrown pine cone bits outside the entrance.
 A small creek on the Hemlock trail.
There was extensive damage to the park from Hurricane Sandy.  These blowdowns were just one set of hundreds.  Much credit goes to the New Germany State Park trail crews for getting them cleared.
The lake at New Germany State Park.
 The Ice House Trail.
 Michael and Horizontal Tread pulling sleds.
The lovely fire in the lodge.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Quick New Year's Hike: Loudon Heights

There are three classic hikes around Harper's Ferry, West Virginia that lead to rock outcrops overlooking the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.  Maryland Heights is probably the most famous due to the Civil War battle that took place there.  It overlooks the confluence of the two rivers and the town of Harpers Ferry.  Weverton Cliffs are just three miles down the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry and mark the first big climb of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland.  The last is Loudon Heights and it was the only one we hadn't done.  We passed near there when we hiked the section of the Appalachian Trail leading from Virginia into Harpers Ferry, but we didn't actually go out to the overlook since it would have added several miles to an already long hike.

Tuesday, we took advantage of the holiday for a rare mid-week hike with WanderMindfully.  We started at the small parking lot on the Appalachian Trail and the US Highway 340 bridge.  The Appalachian Trail crosses the bridge and is separated from traffic by jersey barriers.  It is quite possibly the least pleasant half mile out of a total of over 2,200 miles on the Appalachian Trail.  At least it isn't very long.  There was a dusting of snow on the ground at the trailhead and, as we climbed, it got deeper and covered the trail.  We steadily climbed to the top of the ridge where we left the Appalachian Trail and headed north on the blue-blazed Loudon Heights Trail.  We had lunch out on the rocks overlooking the Potomac.  On our way back, we returned to the Appalachian Trail via an orange-blazed trail which makes a short loop along the side of the ridge. It was a pretty hike with which to welcome 2013.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Looking west up the Potomac River towards Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  The overcast skies gave the river a beautiful steel blue color that doesn't quite come through in the photo.
 A fern on the rocks where we had lunch.
The snow-covered orange trail.
A Mallard Duck on the Shenandoah River.
Looking northeast down the Shenandoah River from the US 340 bridge towards the confluence of the rivers.  Harpers Ferry is on the left.