Sunday, December 22, 2013

Winter Solstice Cycling

The weather was incredible yesterday: highs in the 60s and mostly sunny. I almost had to check the calendar to remember that it was, actually, the winter solstice. Michael, a friend, and I headed for Skyline Drive for what could be considered either a very late training ride for this year or a very early training ride for 2014. Either way, it was a beautiful, warm, nearly traffic-free day in the park.
 Looking southeast from the Range View Overlook around milepost 17.
My bike taking a break and enjoying the view of Compton Peak from the Gooney Run Overlook.
Ice on some cliffs near milepost 11. There was still quite a bit of snow in the ditches along the road, particularly in shady areas, but it was melting quickly.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Snowy Antietam

Horizontal Tread invited Michael and I up to Antietam National Battlefield for an afternoon on snowshoeing on Sunday. While we didn't get any snow to speak of, they had 4-6 inches up there. That is just barley enough snow to use the snowshoes. In a perfect world, it is nice to have a foot of snow for snowshoeing, but we can't be too picky in the Mid-Atlantic. Opportunities to use them without driving three hours don't come along even every winter.

When we left the DC area, it was 45 degrees and sunny. I thought I would be snowshoeing in my base layer. It was colder in the Sharpsburg area, which wasn't a surprise, but the moment we arrived at Antietam, it clouded over and the wind picked up. I wound up needing a coat for the whole hike. We started on the the north side of the battlefield and made our way south across the cornfield. We passed several farms and stopped to have lunch on the porch of one of the houses that are part of the national battlefield.After lunch, we headed south, pausing to climb the Tower and then further south, all the way to Burnside Bridge. By the time we made it back to the car, the mood was up and the sun was below the horizon. One of the cool things about this hike was that we weren't really following any trails. We just set out across various fields, generally aiming for the next stop. 

Horizontal Tread was a great tour guide, providing context for what we were seeing. I don't know enough of the details of the battle to get into it beyond noting that more soldiers (on both sides) died that day than in any other single-day battle in the Civil War. Almost a quarter of the troops involved in the battle perished. A detailed account of it can be found here

 Looking southwest towards the observational tower, which was built in 1890.
One of the cannons in the Cornfield.
 A directional plate in the observational tower.
A dried seed pod in the snow.
Horizontal Tread (left) on interpretive duty.
 A snowy field in the late afternoon.
 Burnside Bridge.
A Red Bellied Woodpecker in a Sycamore Tree (click to enlarge).
 Monuments near the visitor center in the setting sun.
Moonrise over the fields near the visitor center.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Third Annual Hike Off the Pie: Bushwhacking the North Side of Old Rag

For the third year in a row, I celebrated Black Friday with an epic hike with my friends from WanderMindfully and Horizontal Tread. This year, we added two additional Old Rag Mountain Stewards to make a party of five. This year's hike didn't involve much walking on actual trails, except on the way back down. We explored the north slope of Old Rag, looking for old cabin sites. The valleys around Old Rag had been settled over 100 years before Shenandoah National Park was created. Evidence of those farms and villages can be found throughout the park. Most trails in the park pass stone walls, house foundations, and rock piles left from cleared fields. Old Rag is no different. Exploring another side of the mountain seemed like a perfect way to spend the day.

Friday was sunny, but cold (although, not nearly as cold as last Sunday). We arrived to find this, much to our surprise:  
We actually had to park in the back of the parking lot. We didn't really expect very many people to be out on a chilly day when most people are focused on standing in line at the mall. I guess our party wasn't the only one who opted out of the crazy. 

We made the easy walk up the road to the trailhead and then crossed the high water bridges before leaving the road. It rained hard on Tuesday and Wednesday, so crossing Brokenback Run proved to be a challenge, but we all made it across with dry feet. From there we followed old road beds, game trails, and sometimes made our own path up the mountain. Way back in the woods, high up on the north slope of Old Rag, we ran into two guys who were camping. They were definitely as surprised to see us as we were to see them. We chatted for a minute and continued our explorations. Higher up on the slopes, a light dusting of snow covered the ground. We saw a lot of evidence of the large fire that swept over the mountain in the year 2000. The ground in many places was scattered with artifacts of those who lived there before the park existed. We emerged onto the Weakley Hollow Fire Road just before sunset, much to the surprise of some downward-bound hikers. We arrived back at the car just as darkness fell.
 Crossing Brokenback Run on a log.
Part of a chimney is all that remains of a cabin high up on Old Rag.
A broken crock.
Snow on the leaves.
A large stone wall along Brokenback Run.
A walled in spring. Springs were often used to keep food from spoiling before refrigeration.
 A seed pod from a Frasier Magnolia (Magnolia fraseri).
Old Rag through the trees.
If you enlarge this one, you'll see an old road bed through the trees.