Friday, February 20, 2015

Annapolis Rocks and Blackrock

Saturday, the weather forecast called for a nasty winter storm in the evening. Sunday's forecast was for brutal cold and wind. Given the choice, we opted for a shorter, more local hike on Saturday. Annapolis Rocks and Blackrock on the Maryland Appalachian Trail are only about an hour away and we could be back in plenty of time to beat the storm coming in on Saturday night. It also gave me the chance to try out yet another pair of new boots in the unending hopefully-ended search for the right pair.

We originally intended to hike south from the trailhead on Wolfsville Road to the trailhead on US 40, which is about 8.5 miles. When we got to the parking lot on Wolfsville Road, however, it was a solid sheet of ice. We did actually pull in, but then Michael had to push the car back out of the lot (another use for microspikes!). So, we drove back to the parking lot on US 40, where we had dropped our friend's car and hiked an out-and-back from there.

The trail started out with a little bit of ice on it and by the time we crossed under the US 40 bridge, it was pretty much a solid sheet of ice. Aside from another couple, we had the trail to ourselves, which is a nice treat on a section of trail that usually very busy. It was cold and windy on Annapolis Rocks, where we had lunch. Then we walked another mile to Blackrock. On our way back, tiny snowflakes began to fall, a precursor to the storm that came that night.

Michael walking with our friend's dog.
 Bootshot from Annapolis Rocks.
The view to the south from Annapolis Rocks.
Michael and our canine guide on Blackrock.
The view from Blackrock.
Moss along the trail.
Tiny Mountain Laurel growing in the moss beside the trail.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Old Forge to Pen Mar: A Short Hike on the Appalachian Trail

We went out for a short hike on Saturday with a friend of ours. We hadn't hiked the seven mile section of the Appalachian Trail from Old Forge Road in Pennsylvania to Pen Mar Park on the Pennsylvania/Maryland border and, given our friend's evening commitment, it was a good day for a short hike. We probably hiked in the "wrong" direction, since hiking north to south on that section has much more uphill than downhill. Not a bad thing from a character-building standpoint, I guess.

The hike is a pleasant walk through the snowy woods. We had lunch at Deer Lick Shelter where we met the only other people we saw on the hike. The only clear view on the hike was right at the end at Pen Mar Park.

Antietam Creek right near the Old Forge Picnic Area parking lot. This area was covered with a lot of ice.
A clearing, I think for a gas line.
Ice sliding off of the roof of Deer Lick Shelter.
The Appalachian Trail through mountain laurel.
Our canine escort for this hike.
The trail near Pennsylvania State Highway 16.
The smallest white blaze I've ever seen. This tree is about as big around as my thumb.
Crossing into Maryland.
Railroad tracks below Pen Mar Park.
The view west from Pen Mar Park.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Signal Knob and Three Top Mountain

We hiked Signal Knob and Three Top Mountain in the Massanutten area this past Saturday with two friends and their two border collies. We've hiked Signal Knob a number of times before, but this time, we approached it from the back (southwest). We met our friends in Front Royal and piled into their car because it has all wheel drive. I had a feeling the road to the trailhead wouldn't be in great shape, which turned out to be the case. Most of the last couple of miles of the road were covered in snow and ice.

The first half of the hike follows a fire road except for a brief stretch of trail that goes around Strasburg Reservoir. It is a pleasant walk, generally uphills, but nothing too steep until the approach to Signal Knob. Like I said, we've hiked up to Signal Knob before from the Fort Valley Side. At the top of the mountain, there is a communications tower and a power line cut with a nice view towards Front Royal to the northeast. We had always stopped at the power line cut and usually would have lunch there. Then we would return the way we came for the hike back. I had no idea there was another viewpoint a few hundred yards north of the power line cut with a view to the west towards Strasburg and Great North Mountain. I had just never walked beyond the communications tower. Since we came up the mountain the other way, we found it this time (and our friends knew about it).

We went back down Signal Knob the way we came to the junction with the Tuscarora Trail, where we turned right and headed up to the top of Three Top Mountain. After climbing gradually towards the ridge, the trail follows the top of the ridgeline for a couple of miles. The ridge walk was really pretty. It is a narrow ridgeline with upturned rocks and views through the trees both east and west (the views are probably best in the winter). When we reached the junction with the Massanutten Trail, we turned downhill and made a quick descent down to the road and the car.

It was a nice hike, but there is a fair amount of road walking, which would be less pleasant on a blazing summer day. Three Top Mountain is really pretty. We had perfect winter weather: 30s and sunny.
Our friend and Michael walking up the road near the beginning of the hike.
Strasburg Reservoir from the dam.
Our friend's very dignified border collie on top of Signal Knob.
The view from the power line cut towards Front Royal.
The overlook I had missed several times before: northwest from Signal Knob
Cool ice patterns.
Moss in the snow.
The sun shining on snow on Three Top Mountain.
This tree broke in nearly a perfect square when it fell over.