Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sixth Annual Hike Off the Pie: Pinnacle Peak

Friday was the sixth annual post-Thanksgiving Hike Off the Pie. This year's was a bit abbreviated because one member of our party wasn't feeling well, but it was still an interesting, challenging hike. We started in the Old Rag parking lot, which was more than half full when we arrived at 8 a.m. Seriously. We headed up the road along with many other people, but we left the crowds at the Nicholson Hollow trailhead, about halfway between the parking lot and the Old Rag trailhead. 

The Nicholson Hollow trail starts with a couple of potentially nasty creek crossings. Fortunately, we haven't had any rain in quite a while, so they weren't bad. We hiked a mile up Nicholson Hollow and then turn left, crossing the Hughes River, onto the Corbin Mountain Trail. As soon as you cross the river, the climbing begins. We saw a little bear in the distance (too far away to get a picture) at one point. When we reached the right switchback, we left the trail and headed up to the top of Pinnacle Peak. We definitely earned our pie making our way up the steep slope to the top of the mountain. Once on top, we found a nice spot under some pine trees for lunch. 

From Pinnacle Peak, the original plan was to drop down to the west to the Indian Run Trail. We made a slight error in bearing right a little too quickly at the beginning of our descent, which put us descending the north flank of Pinnacle Peak instead of the west side of it. The downside of that is that the mountain is pretty darn steep on its north side. We also got to pick our way across a few boulder fields. The upside is that it was really pretty. Once we started descending, we knew that we were trending too far to the north. We kept trying to work our way around to the west, but we were trying to avoid climbing too far back up and the landscape kept drawing us back north. In retrospect, we should have stayed up on the ridge longer. In the end, we wound up coming out on the upper Nicholson Hollow Trail (much to the surprise of two hikers who were coming up the trail). By this time, given that one person was feeling progressively worse, we decided to head for the car. We did about 7.5 miles and had a great hike. The bushwhack definitely still qualified as epic.

 The first crossing of the Hughes River.
 A fan-shaped fungus on a downed log.
 A single tree holding on to its leaves.
 One of the steeper sections of the bushwhack.
 An assassin bug on a leaf.
 The home site visible from the Nicholson Trail.
 The Nicholson Hollow Trail below Hannah Run Trail.
An inchworm. This little guy had been riding on my bandanna. Not needing an inchworm for a pet, I turn it loose on this tree.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A New State Park and the Last Trip to Old Rag This Year

I'm a bit behind on posting due to work travel. Last weekend was our last on Old Rag for the year. It was cold, but considering it is November, the weather was pretty good. There were a lot, A Lot, of people out hiking. Most people were in pretty good spirits, though, the day passed uneventfully. The leaves had mostly dropped.
Two volunteers hiking up the fire road. I love this stretch of the road, lined with Tulip Poplars
 Robertson Mountain, across Weakley Hollow from Old Rag.
 The view to the south, towards Fork Mountain, from the summit of Old Rag
 Once again, another crowded day. It was pretty late at this point, so we were trying to encourage people without lights to mosey on down the mountain ( have an hour of daylight left and at least two hours of walking...).
The spot where I usually take a picture. After a conversation with another volunteer, I went through my photos. I've taken a picture at this spot 48(!) times (I've probably been up Old Rag 60 or so. I didn't take pictures here the first few times I hiked it and there have been other times where I busy with a rescue or only hiked the back side of the mountain).
 Sunset looking towards the southeast
 November 12 was just before the Supermoon the following Monday morning, so the moon was really bright. I took a ridiculous number of pictures of it.
 A nice closeup of the moon.
 Another sunset shot.
The moon over the lights of Etlan to the east.

The first weekend of November, Michael and I had a number of things that we needed to do. We still wanted to do something outside, so we went up to North Point State Park early on Sunday morning. The park is just outside of Baltimore and only about 45 minutes from us. There is a small network of trails winding through wetlands and stands of trees. We were lucky enough to see a fair number of birds.
 A Great Blue Heron in one of the wetlands.
 One of the wetlands we walked along.
 Another wetland.
 Tall grasses at a viewing platform.
 A woodpecker looking for insects.
 The Chesapeake Bay from one of the trails.
Fall colors.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Old Rag: A few pictures from a very crowded mountain

We volunteered on Old Rag both days last weekend. It was a madhouse. The weather was good, though, and other than everyone in the tri-state area deciding to hike there, the weekend passed without incident.

The six of us walking up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road. The fall colors are late and somewhat subdued this year. Still pretty, though.
 The ravens were out, enjoying the sun and the wind.
 Up on the summit on Saturday.
 Looking north from the summit on Saturday.
 Sunset on our way down through the rock scramble
 Sunrise at our campsite on an old roadbed in the forest.
 Hiking up the ridge trail on Sunday.
 Oak leaves.
 The spot where I always take a picture.
 Sunday crowds on the summit. This doesn't capture half of the people up there.
Looking down the rocks scramble from the summit.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Walking Across New Jersey: 78 Surprisingly Beautiful Miles

We spent last week section hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) in New Jersey. I'll give everyone a moment to complete their jokes about hiking up the Garden State Parkway or thru-hiking parking lots....Ok, all done now?

I sort of wondered what it was going to be like, too. We hiked a little bit of the NJ AT in April, when we took a friend out for his first backpacking trip. It was pretty, but it was such a short distance - just six miles and my vision of NJ is pretty urban. It turned out to be a great hike and well worth the trip.

After the April trip, the fourth person who was along said she was interested in doing the whole thing. She grew up in New Jersey and thought it would be cool to hike across the state. The AT in New Jersey is 72 miles. The first road crossing in New York is six miles into that state, so 78 miles total. An expedition was born.

We started in Pennsylvania at Delaware Water Gap and hiked north for eight days until we reached New York highway 17A. The hike began with crossing the I-80 bridge from Pennsylvania into NJ. There is something clarifying about having 18-wheelers going 70 mph four feet away, just on the other side of the jersey barrier. Fortunately, that section doesn't last too long. After crossing underneath the highway, we started climbing.
 The state line on the I-80 bridge
 Cold bumblebees on goldenrod at our first campsite.
Our first campsite in Delaware Water Gap. The first two days, in Delaware Water Gap, we hiked in the fog. I love hiking in fog. Forests are so pretty in the mist, but I would like to go back at some point to see the gorge. It rained the first night after we were already in our tents, but otherwise, we remained relatively dry.
 Hiking in the fog the second morning.
Sunfish Pond on the second day. While we were standing there taking pictures, the fog rolled in across the water, obscuring the shoreline.

While we were having breakfast on the third day, I looked up and realized that I could see blue sky: the fog was burning off. It took a little while, but soon enough, we were hiking in the sun. Around lunch time, we found a sunny spot to dry out all of the damp gear.
 The trail follows an old road for part of the way.
An old pond. We had lunch here and dried our gear on the rocks.
Looking into Pennsvylvania from Rattlesnake Mountain. Sun!
A bright orange shelf fungus on a downed log at the Brinks Road Shelter.

We took an easy day on the fourth day, hiking just six miles from Brinks Road Shelter to Gren Anderson Shelter. Along the way, we crossed a highway at Culver Gap. On our first day, a random hiker told us in passing that we should get make sure to get pie at the Culver Gap General Store. We were all looking forward to it. We got to the highway crossing there and there was a bar, a cafe that was closed, a service station with no convenience store and a hunting store. None of them sold pie or even a package of M&Ms. So, it was back into the woods for us for a dehydrated lunch.
Looking south back to where we had been hiking near Culver Gap. As we hiked north and as the week progressed, we saw more and more color in the trees.

On our fifth day, we started the harder portion of the trip. Due to the spacing of shelters, the next three days were each 13 miles. While that isn't far for a thru-hiker who has reached NJ, for the three of us who work office jobs, it is a long day's hike with a full pack. On the bright side, we had eaten half of our food by this point, so the packs were getting lighter.
 When we started hiking in the morning, fog filled the valleys.
 Someone took the time to carve the AT symbol and directions into a downed log.
A little group of mushrooms on a log.
High Point State Park. The obelisk it at the highest point in NJ. We didn't take the side trip up to the monument because we had been there in April.

That night was our coldest night on the trip. It got down to around 40. Not terribly cold, but definitely a sign that fall is advancing. The sixth day was really pretty and varied.
 Hiking through a young stand of trees in the morning.
The trail descends out of High Point State Park and then crosses farmland as it follows the NJ border southeast.
At lower elevations, we started crossing bogs on impressive networks of bog boards.
We took a side trip into Unionville, New York for lunch at Annabella's pizza. Well worth the extra mile of walking (round trip).
Late in the day, we had to walk around the Walkill National Wildlife Refuge (apparently, this is the only NWR that the AT crosses). Pochuck Mountain is in the background.
Ducks in the refuge
Cranes feeding in the wetlands.

After leaving the refuge, we had to climb up Pochuck Mountain to the shelter. Unfortunately, there isn't any water at the shelter. The official, NJ State Parks endorsed water source is a spigot at an abandoned house a half mile below the shelter. Fortunately, we had to pass the house before hiking up the mountain to the shelter. Southbound hikers aren't nearly so lucky. We spent a pleasant evening at the shelter, chatting with a southbound section hiker.

I felt like the seventh day was the toughest day. We had to cross several ridges, including hiking up Wayawanda Mountain. It was also one of my favorite days. Like the day before, we crossed another large swamp on the Pochuck Boardwalk. Then we climbed "the Rockpile" up Wayawanda Mountain. There were steps in some places, at least.
 The Pochuck Boardwalk. It is over a mile long and took seven years to build.
The bridge over Pochuck creek.
The view from the top of Wayawanda Mountain. We could see Delaware Water Gap and the monument at High Point State Park along with the trail through the valley. It was pretty neat to see the entire distance we had walked - over 60 miles- from one point.

Wayawanda Shelter also has no water. The official source there is the state park office, also a half mile from the shelter.

The last day, we woke up to gray skies, but no rain, which was an improvement over the forecast just a day or two before. We had four miles to go in New Jersey and then six in New York to the first road crossing. This day was spectacular.
 Wetlands at Long House Creek. We saw a couple of swans here, but they were too far away to get a good picture.
 At the NJ/NY state line.
 Once in New York, the trail went up and down over a series of slabs on the top of the ridge. Blazes were infrequent and we had to stop every now and then to make sure we were still on the right path.
Michael climbing a ladder up onto one of the slabs. The last couple of miles were an easy walk in the woods and we were all pretty happy to see the highway.

It was a great trip. New Jersey is spectacular and a seriously under-rated section of the Appalachian Trail. The little bit of New York that we did makes me want to section hike that state, too. Nearly everything went flawlessly, including the weather. Many, many thanks to our friend's mom, who drove us to the trailhead and picked us up eight days later.