Sunday, October 27, 2013

Old Rag: Turning Leaves, Ice, and a Rescue

At the last minute, Michael and I decided to go to Old Rag yesterday for a day with Old Rag Mountain Stewards. Another volunteer had put together a geology talk about the mountain and we thought it would be interesting to hear it. By the time we arrived, the large parking lot was full and the neighbor's pasture was about half full (to the tune of $10 per car).

Like last week, we hiked up the fire road first to avoid the crowds. The leaves don't seem to have reached peak colors yet - there is still a lot of green in the valleys, but they also don't seem like they are as bright this year as they were last year.
We stopped for lunch on a boulder along the Saddle Trail and found a leaf with two of these little guys. This is some type of caterpillar, but it is the first time I've ever seen one. so I am not sure what it is. As usual, if anyone has any ideas, send them my way. Thanks to Bob Look for identifying this as Isa textula (Crowned Slug Caterpillar), which turns into the Crowned Slug Moth.
The first hoar frost of the year, pushing up from a bed of moss on the upper Saddle Trail. Nearby, there is also a seep right on the trail that ices over around this time of year. What was damp last week was icy this week. Sunlight almost never hits it and the wind tends to blow there most of the time. Once it ices over, it will often be frozen until March or April.

Ice in one of the many potholes on the summit.
 Looking south from the summit of Old Rag.
The boulder scramble below the summit. I took a similar photo last week and the leaves don't appear to have gotten any brighter. Most of the trees higher up on the mountains are bare.
We were just about to head down the Ridge Trail and listen to a geology lesson, when we received a call for an injured hiker. We spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening working with the National Park Service and the Shenandoah Mountain Rescue Group to get the patient safely to transport. This is a shot of the summit right at dusk from the Saddle Trail. We had stopped to take a quick break at a spot I have hiked by a thousand times before without really looking up. As I was looking around, I realized I had a clear view of the summit and just enough time to get my camera out.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Old Rag: Back Open for Business

After seventeen days' respite during one of the busiest times of the year, Old Rag - and the rest of the National Park System - is back open for business. I expected that this past weekend, normally one of the busiest of the whole year, would be absolutely insane. I figured that everyone who had wanted to hike the mountain over the past two weekends would be out. I don't know what Saturday was like, other than hearing reports that it was pretty busy, but yesterday was surprisingly quiet, for Old Rag, at least. The parking lot certainly filled, but the crowd was pleasant and friendly.

A new volunteer joined us and we did our normal fall weekend routine: Walk up the fire road against the prevailing hiking direction. The fire road is beautiful this time of year, with bright yellow tulip poplars lining both sides of it. Hiking the opposite direction of most people allows us to avoid the long lines at various choke points in the rock scramble and it allows us to find out what is going on above us on the mountain by chatting with descending hikers. We lingered on the summit for quite a while and, once we decided the crowds had thinned, descended through the rock scramble. It was a nice fall day to be out on the mountain and it was a great day for another reason. Believe it or not, I haven't summitted Old Rag in almost a year due to a foot injury that stubbornly refused to heal through the spring. It is on the mend now and it is wonderful to be back in the woods.

A maple leaf near the summit.
Looking south from the summit towards Fork Mountain.
Hamamelis virginiana (Witch Hazel). This is the last flower of the year to bloom - a sure sign that winter will soon arrive.
Looking east from the summit and down the rock scramble.
Dennstaedtia punctilobula (Hay Scented Ferns) in a crevice in the rock scramble.
Fall colors at the spot where I always take a picture.
The view from the first false summit in the fading sunlight.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ohiopyle State Park: Escaping the Rain

It rained a lot in the Mid-Atlantic last week. A Lot. Baltimore-Washington International Airport received over 5.5 inches of rain on Friday alone. By Sunday, we were ready to see some sun and dry out a little bit. With federally-managed lands closed due to the government shutdown, we figured it was a great time to visit a state park. We headed west with Wild Type of Horizontal Tread, away from the storm, to Ohiopyle State Park in western Pennsylvania. Ohiopyle State Park has been on the hiking to-do list for a long time, but it is a three-hour drive, so we just hadn't gotten around to it before. We did a series of relatively short hikes that added up to seven or eight miles and let us check out several of the park's many waterfalls, which is the longest distance I've hiked since January of this year.

We started with the Meadow Run area. We did a loop that took us to a series of low waterfalls. Ironically, the streams were all running low in Ohiopyle State Park. Although it had rained the day before, the park is too far west to have gotten much of the rain from last week's storm.
The Meadow Run Cascades.
Looking down Meadow Run at the first hints of fall colors.

After completing the loop, we drove to Jonathan Run trailhead. We hiked down the trail along the stream, meeting just a few other hikers on the way. The fall colors are really just getting started, but we were treated to some bright leaves.
A pretty yellow tree along the trail.
Looking down Jonathan Run.
A bright orange fungus on a downed log. Maybe Chicken of the Woods?
Upper Jonathan Run Falls.
Getting to the lower falls on Jonathan Run was a quite a scramble. Since there had been a little bit of rain the day before, slippery wet leaves and roots made it even more interesting. I think I made most of the descent on my rear end. The view was totally worth it.
Another view of the lower falls on Jonathan Run. After scrambling back up to the trail, we hiked a little further downstream to the Great Allegheny Passage Trail, which passes through the park. We took a short break before returning to the car the way we came.

Our next stop was supposed to be Cucumber Run, but the parking lot was completely full, so we decided to go see the main attraction:  Ohiopyle Falls on the Youghiogheny River.
The main falls from the Ferncliff Natural Area, across the river from the main viewing platform. The area was pretty crowded with sightseers and fishermen, but it was worth the walk to get below the falls.
These fossils were a neat surprise on the walk down to Ohiopyle Falls. This is a Lepidodendron (a type of tree known as a scale tree) fossil. We saw other fossils, but most of them weren't clear enough to photograph well.

After returning to the car, we made another, this time successful, attempt to see Cucumber Falls. It was worth the wait.
 Cucumber Falls.
The view from behind Cucumber Falls. We had a great day. I was really happy to get back out in the woods after a long absence. We will definitely go back to Ohiopyle State Park.