Friday, January 20, 2017

Wet, Wild, and Wonderful West Virginia: The Annual Getaway

We spent last weekend with a bunch of friends in a cabin (and, by cabin, I mean a house that sleeps 16) in the Canaan Valley in West Virginia. This is the fifth year we've done this in some form and it continues to be a weekend that I look forward to all year. We eat and drink  too much, yell at each other while playing board games, and play outside. What could be better?

This year, the weather did not cooperate. The hope is always for enough snow to go snowshoeing or skiing. Most years, we've had at least a little snow. Not this year. Worse, not only was there no snow, the initial forecast was for 40 degrees and raining all weekend. We did wind up catching a cloudy, but dry break on Sunday, but overall, it was pretty much a washout.

After hanging out and eating most of the day on Saturday, I finally needed to get out for a walk. The great thing about where we stay is that you can walk out the door onto miles of hiking trails without having to drive anywhere. We walked out into Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge in the rain to see what we could find. Since it was raining, I used Michael's waterproof camera, which is a point and shoot. It is a great little camera, but it has a few limitations, particularly in low light conditions.
 All of the creeks were out of their banks, including this one.
 A little bit of club moss.
 Walking up the hill, away from the large creek.
We had to do a short bushwhack to make a loop back to our cabin. It turned out to be the most interesting part of the walk. This cairn was randomly along the way on our walk through the woods.
 A creek on the bushwhack portion of our walk.
The lake outside our cabin. This was pretty much what things looked like the entire weekend.

On Sunday, we walked up into Dolly Sods. It wasn't raining, which was good, but it was a bit colder, especially on the plateau. That being said, for January in Dolly Sods? It was positively balmy. It was also stunningly beautiful, because of the fog and frost, not in spite of it. I used my camera on Sunday.
 Frosty moss on the way up to the plateau.
 Hoar frost on blueberry shrubs up on the plateau.
Michael standing on a wet, muddy trail in the fog. There was so much water up there and, in a normal year, it would have all been frozen.
Hiking in the fog.
Frozen Mountain Laurel branches.
 Wet, muddy walking.
 The rocks on the Rocky Ridge Trail. This is one of my favorite sections of Dolly Sods.
 Hoar frost on cedar trees.
Hiking out through blueberry bushes.

It was a great weekend, in spite of the weather.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Backpacking in the New Year, 2017 version

We ended 2016 the way we started it: with a pack on our backs, walking on the Appalachian Trail. This year, it was just Michael and me. We went to the South District of Shenandoah National Park and parked at Loft Mountain Wayside. We hiked up the Frazier Discovery Trail to the Appalachian Trail, where we turned south. It was clear, a little chilly, and really windy if we were on the wrong side of the ridge. The trail winds around the back side of the Loft Mountain Campground before descending to the Doyles River parking area. We passed that and made our way to Blackrock Summit. By the time we reached Blackrock summit, it was completely overcast and cold. From the summit, it was a quick 3/4 mile to Blackrock Hut, where we spent the night.

Blackrock Hut is tucked down in a valley, which was nice. We could hear the wind roaring above us, but we were spared most of it. When we arrived, there was another couple already in the shelter and they already had a lovely fire going. There were two more parties camped at the hut as well. Everyone was pleasant and relaxed, but no one, as far as I know, managed to stay up until midnight. It was just too chilly to sit outside. We climbed in our sleeping bags around 8 pm and I was probably asleep by 9:30.

The next morning, the wind had died down and it was actually warmer than the night before. One of the guys in the shelter had cell phone service and checked the weather. We lucked out. The system forecast to bring rain on New Year's Day had stayed south. We had a nice breakfast, packed up, and began the long climb back up to Blackrock Summit in good spirits.

The loop that includes Jones Run and Doyles River is one of the more popular hikes in the south district. It has a number of nice waterfalls and it can get pretty crowded (well...nothing like Old Rag). We actually hadn't done it before. It is a long drive from where we live and the loop itself is only 7 miles, which is right on the edge of our rule about driving time vs. time on the mountain (you have to spend more time on the mountain than in the car). We finally checked it off yesterday. It is a very nice hike. The waterfalls on Jones Run are spectacular and the ones on Doyles River aren't too bad, either. We spent some time taking pictures of them. I do wish I had thought to bring my tripod, but I was able to use rocks and trees to get some nice pictures of the falls. We had a pleasant lunch in the sun at Lower Doyles River Falls. I am guessing most people do the loop in the opposite direction than we did because the climb out of Doyles River will remind you that you ate too much over the holidays.

We finished our hike by returning north on the Appalachian Trail and walking out through the Loft Mountain Campground. We had a lovely hike and really enjoyed bringing in the new year on trail.

 Icicles on the Frazier Discovery Trail
 One of the larger icicles.
 The view from the rocks near the junction of the Frazier Discovery Trail and the Appalachian Trail
 Interesting patterns in the ice.
 The Appalachian Trail covered in a dusting of snow.
 An Eastern Bluebird. I saw this little guy on a branch and had time to change my lens and get exactly one shot before it decided to fly off.
 One of the crossings of Skyline Drive
 Gray skies on Blackrock Summit on New Year's Eve
 Bright, sunny skies on New Years morning on Blackrock Summit
 Michael scrambling up the rocks to the actual summit
 Looking northwest towards Massanutten Mountain from Blackrock Summit.
 Jones Run Falls
 Another view of Jones Run Falls
 Michael in front of Jones Run Falls
 Michael's backpack taking a break at the junction of Jones Run Trail and Doyles River Trail (behind his backpack)
 Lower Doyles River Falls.
 A closer shot of Lower Doyles River Falls
 Dried Goldenrod
 A walled-in spring near the top of the Doyle's River Trail
We stopped for pizza on the way home. When we came out of the restaurant, the moon and Venus were bright in the sky (click to enlarge).