Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cold Harbor Battlefield

Yesterday, I took a four mile hike around the Cold Harbor Battlefield.  Like several other places in Virginia, two major Civil War battles were fought here: Gaines Mill as part of the Seven Days Battle in 1862 and Cold Harbor in June 1864.  They represent Robert E. Lee's first and last major victories.  However, the Battle of Gaines Mill was a single major battle in McClellan's seven day long campaign, most of those individual battles being Confederate losses, but Lee won strategically when the Army of the Potomac retreated.  At Cold Harbor, the battle was an overwhelming Confederate victory, but Lee lost strategically when Grant swung around the Army of Northern Virginia and headed for the 10 month long siege at Petersburg that effectively would end the war.

I used my DeLorme inReach to capture my track.  The red arrows show my hiking directions, part of the walk being an "out and back."  You can see that a lot of the ground is heavily wooded, but in June 1864, most of it was open ground that led to wholesale slaughter as large armies clashed across seven miles of battle fortifications.  The battle lasted from June 1 through June 12, but the worst fighting happened on June 3.  After that, the action was nine days of miserable trench warfare in the broiling June sun.


The walk is easy - especially compared with the difficult times that the two armies had.  It goes past lots of incredibly well-preserved trenches and other earthworks that are now more than 150 years old.  It is sobering to walk in this peaceful place now and imagine what it must have been like.  Some of the Union dead, including many unknown soldiers, are buried at the Cold Harbor National Cemetery.  There were 13,000 Union and 5,000 Confederate casualties here.

The guns are silent here now - I call that a good thing!

The Garthright House was used as a field hospital as artillery shells crashed around.  The lady of the house cowered in terror in the cellar as blood from the injured men above seeped between the floorboards.

Here is one example of 150 year old trenches.  In 1862, the armies here clashed in charges across the battleground.  But two years later, one army (the Confederates) dug in as the other charged them.  This was the precursor to the awful trench warfare of World War I.

Since I was last here, they added some more trails and one of them goes past this pretty new battlefield monument, dedicated to the 2nd Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery, which suffered pretty horrific losses in the state.  It is a nice thing to remember those who made such sacrifices so long ago.

Believe it or not, most of this small pond was coated in ice!  That is really rare for Richmond in November.

These trench lines would have been totally in open land at the time of the fight, but now, a park-like forest grows around them.

This steam is named Bloody Run.  It is clear and refreshing looking now, but 150 years ago, it likely ran red with blood.  Something like 7,000 Union men fell in about 30 minutes on June 3, 1864.  One placard talked about a description of a regiment melting away like a snowfall in the summer. 

I enjoyed having the time to take a little hike on a cold Friday, and to reflect on the long-ago sacrifice by so many Americans.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hiking to Two Lovely Falls

It's funny how our brains play little tricks on our memory.  When I hiked the trail yesterday to Jones Run and Doyle's River, I was convinced that I hiked there almost exactly a year ago.  On checking this morning, it was actually two years ago.  I gave a very detailed account of that hike on a foggy Friday at this post, including many wildlife sightings, so I won't go into as much detail here.  Suffice to say, this is one of my favorite hikes, and it felt great to be back.  I was with my Meetup Group, Richmond / Charlottesville Adventurers, and it was nice to hike with a group of fun people who all share a common interest.  This was a particularly fun and lively group!  There were 11 of us - well, a dozen actually, as Indy, a very nice black dog, also came along.  She was pretty funny when all the snacks and lunches came out.  I always say that a dog will give its life for its companion, but let the food supply dwindle to a single morsel, and you won't stand a chance!

My hike from two years ago include an elevation profile and a map, so I won't repeat them here.  The trail loses and gains about 1,900 feet, most of the loss being in the first half and most of the gain being at the second half.  Any reasonably fit person can do this hike.  The distance of the hike is about seven miles.  My very accurate GPS captured it as 7.0 miles a year ago.  Yesterday, I didn't bring my GPS but used my new DeLorme inReach Explorer, and it captured the distance as 7.6 miles.  The both use the satellite network for the tracking, so I am not sure where the difference comes from.

Here is most of our merry little group near the Jones Run Falls.  It looks like three of us, plus Indy, missed being in this photo.  You can tell that it is fairly cool.  I am thinking that it was the upper 30's F when we started the hike.  It never got extremely warm - it is November in the mountains - but it was comfortable enough.

This is part of the Jones Run Falls, as the stream cascades through a steep mountain gorge.

Jones Run Falls was falling fast yesterday.  Note - the rocks are very slippery here.  I actually took a tumble and landed on my butt while approaching the falls.

A waterslide runs down the steep slope.

This crystal clear pool is on the Doyle's River.  All this water is headed for the Chesapeake Bay.  In one pool, two very large trout were swimming - they looked to be over a foot long!  That was the only wildlife I saw yesterday, in sharp contrast to the hike of two years ago here.

The Doyle's River Falls consist of a lower falls...

And the upper falls....

Several of us hiked up to the upper part of the upper falls, and a few even climbed the large rocky area in the background right.


Yours truly with the upper part of the upper falls at Doyle's River.

The waterfall splashes merrily over mossy rocks.

This was a really fun hike.  On the drive out, we stopped at an overlook for the view.  By coincidence, this view is the beginning of my three day hike a few years ago to Austin, Furnace, and Trayfoot Mountains.  Austin Mountain is on the right, the slope of Furnace Mountain is on the left, and Brown's Gap (our first night campsite) is in the middle.

Here's a topo map view of some of the same area, showing Brown's Gap clearly running between Furnace Mountain (foreground) and Austin Mountain (background), and also showing some of the trails.


Friday, November 7, 2014

North Anna River Battlefield Fall Hike

I had today off and had time to do an afternoon hike, so I headed to North Anna River Battlefield.  In late May 1864, as part of Grant's Overland Campaign, a desperate battle was fought here.  Now, it is a peaceful and pretty forest, although some of the original elaborate trench fortifications still are in evidence.  Here are a few photos from my 3.9 mile out and back hike.  I enjoyed reading the historical placards along the way, and flushing a family of ruffed grouse - at least six of them - on the hike back.  Since the last time I was here, they have expanded the trail system to reach the river itself, so that was nice.

At the start of the hike, there is information about the battle, and a painting of some of the bloody fighting.  The Union lost this battle, but the Army of the Potomac kept on heading south to an ever bigger defeat a week later at Cold Harbor.

The trail is nicely graded throughout.

I enjoyed reading information as the hike progressed about the battle.

I bet the soldiers who dug these would be amazed there is still evidence of their work 150 years later.  They might be even more amazed that people still care about what happened here.

Partridge berry, I think.

Fall colors are at peak here right now.  They are long gone in the mountains.


I enjoyed the fact that the trails now go all the way down to the river itself.  This was near my turn around spot, and I retraced my steps for the hike back out.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Through-Hikers and Trail Magic

During my aborted hike along the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, I spent the second and last night of the trip at the Pass Mountain Shelter.

I was hiking alone at that point, since my hiking partner, Hawkeye, had blown his knee out a few hours earlier.  I wondered if anyone else would be at the shelter, and when I got there, I ran into Ozone and Mittens, a father and his young son who we had run into on and off the past two days.  They were getting ready to leave the trail as Ozone was worried about his son's sleeping bag keeping him warm that night.  As it turns out, it was not nearly as cold as the prior night.

Shortly after they left, a through-hiker, Dirty Bird, showed up.  We chatted for a bit, and then five other through-hikers rolled in, one or two at a time: Hydro, Max, String Bean, Toast, and Ducky. They had started hiking in northern Maine, at Mount Katahdin, in July, and had the goal of reaching Springer Mountain in Georgia before Christmas.  I really enjoyed chatting with them and hearing their stories from the trail as we cooked dinner.  One of them reconstituted a campfire from the embers that a big party of picnickers had left, and we talked around the fire for several hours.  A few of the hikers came in well after dark, hiking by headlamp.  They were all lean and fit, used to putting in 15-25 miles a day on the trail.  Most were pretty young but Max was 50, and doing the hike as a way to celebrate the Big Five-O and attain a life-long dream.

As people were starting to cook their suppers, Max said "I need to get a new stove.  I have not had a hot meal on the trail since the 100 Mile Wilderness (which is in northern Maine) when my stove broke."  I said, "You know, I have plenty of food, go ahead and pick out a meal."  Max said, "That's too generous, I could not ask for that," to which I replied "You're not asking, I'm offering.  Go ahead.  My food bag is hanging from that tree over there.  Pick out a meal."  So he did, picking out my "Curry in a Hurry" that I packed since I like it so much.  I fired up my stove, and he just kept thanking me over and over, saying how much he was going to enjoy the hot meal, and how much he loves curry.  And he did obviously savor it!  He said "I never, ever expected to receive 'Trail Magic' at a trail shelter."  His last words to me when he left the shelter in the morning were "Thanks again for the meal, Warrior!"

"Trail Magic" is when someone does something nice for a through-hiker: gives them a ride, offers them a place to stay off-trail or a meal and a hot shower, lets them wash their clothing, hands out snacks or candy or cold drinks at trail junctions, and so forth.  It is a good thing to do, because these folks endure a lot of hardship and discomfort to attain their dream of hiking the 2,180 miles of trail.  So I was glad that, in some small way, I could make a fellow hiker's day a little more enjoyable.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Return to Mount Pleasant for a Pleasant Hike

It was hard being at work all week, because I was supposed to be backpacking.  But I didn't dwell on it and, yesterday being my regular every other Friday off, I decided to hit the trail and return to Mount Pleasant (east of Lexington).  I was there four years ago with some fellow hikers, but yesterday, I hiked solo.  Unlike the last time when it was drizzly and cloudy, it was partially sunny yesterday.

This is a moderately strenuous 5.6 or so mile hike, certainly not a stroll, but nor is it a "quad buster."  There are fantastic views from each of the two spurs at the summit, and those are the highlights of the hike.  The elevation profile shows a gain and loss of about 1,500 feet.  But compared to hiking last weekend with a 40+ pound pack, yesterday felt pretty laid back, even on the uphill sections.

Here is a track for the hike, starting and ending at the purple star, and hiking counter-clockwise on the Henry Lanum Memorial Trail.  At the lower right corner of the map, you can see the side trails to the western and eastern spurs of the Mount Pleasant summit.  You have to climb a very steep rock pile of about 7-8 feet to get to the western spur.  Being by myself, I did that very carefully, especially coming back down.

There was a pleasant little stream for the first part of the hike.

Lady in red

Most of the trail was good footing, but all the leaves made things treacherous at times.  They get slippery when on walks downhill, and they cover all kinds of small rocks that are potential ankle breakers.  You can see that there is some color still in western Virginia, but not a lot.

I decided to do a panorama of the forest from the trail.

On the way to the summit, I talked to two ladies who were backpacking.  They had spend a cold and windy night on Cold Mountain the night before.  A short time after speaking to them, I reached the western spur of the summit:


From there, I went on to the eastern spur.  Can you imagine the views from here at sunrise and sunset, or when the fall colors are at the peak?




I don't get a lot of photos of myself - maybe that is a good thing - but I set my camera to timer on the eastern spur of Mount Pleasant, placed it on a rock, and snapped a "selfie"

I liked the color contrasts - red, white, and blue!  Mother Nature was liking the good old USA!

After leaving the summit, I hiked several miles through the woods back to my car, and then got on the road.  I liked the way the sun hit the trees on my ride back out towards the main road.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How a 108 Mile Hike Turned into a 28 Mile Hike

For several months, Hawkeye and I had looked forward to our 108 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail from north of entering Shenandoah National Park to the south end where the trail exits the park at Rockfish Gap.  Finally, last Saturday morning, the big day arrived and we hit the trail about 7:30, heavy packs loaded and on our backs.  We were to be joined for the first two days by first-time backpacker Imad, who later earned the trail name of "Best View."  He had left his car at Skyline Drive mile post 28 the night before and Hawkeye's wife gave us a ride to Front Royal for the night, and then to the trailhead Saturday morning.  Best View would get his car late Sunday afternoon, and Hawkeye and I cached most of our food in his car to lessen our weight for the first two days of hiking.  After getting back the car, we would load our food and continue down the trail for about two miles for our Sunday destination, the Pass Mountain Shelter, and then onward for seven more days and 85 more miles.

That was the plan.  Like many plans, it unraveled when Hawkeye's knee blew out late Sunday about a half mile from the car.  We got him to the tiny car with less than two hours of daylight.  My car was 85 miles down the road at where the hike was to end this coming Sunday.  There was no room for three men and three large packs in the Mini-Cooper.  We effectively had two choices - Imad could drive Hawkeye home, or he could drive me to my car, and I could return to Hawkeye and give him a ride home.  This second option didn't really occur to me until later, when my wife pointed out that we could have done that, and really, should have done that.  It would have meant that Hawkeye would have to wait alone by the road for about 5 hours, and I would have gotten back to him about 9:30, three hours after dark.

What we did was option 1 - Best View took Hawkeye home, and I continued the hike alone.  When I got to camp, I sent my wife an update with the InReach telling her what had happened, and that if she was concerned about me hiking the next week alone, I would come home Monday.  She was concerned, and so that is what I did, hiking out Monday morning and hitching - with great difficulties - rides to my car.  Yeah, doing the car shuttle thing would have been smarter, but at the time it didn't occur to me and I was comfortable continuing to hike.

Here is a map of how far we got.  We started at the top where the AT (red dashed line) crossed Route 522 where the red arrow is.  The Skyline Drive is the heavy mustard line.  Saturday night, we camped at the Gravel Springs Hut after hiking nearly 14 miles (purple star).  The loop trails (pink, blue, and orange) in the middle left was my route of my Thornton Springs three day hike from two months ago, a few miles of which was on the Appalachian Trail.  The orange arrow was where Best View's car was and where Hawkeye and Best View went home.  At the red star is the Pass Mountain Hut, my home for Sunday night.  And my hike ended at the bottom at the purple arrow when I left the AT to hitchhike to Rockfish Gap.  Best View did reach me by InReach Monday to tell me he would come back after work to get me if I needed a ride, but I managed to eventually hitch a ride to my car with two very kind ladies.

Yeah, disappointing for sure, especially for Hawkeye, who can't walk right now.  Hopefully, he will heal quickly,

Here are some photos from my two (and a fraction) day, 28 mile hike, covering the Appalachian Trail in the northern part of Shenandoah National Park.

Hopes are high at the start of the hike, as Hawkeye, me (Warrior being my newly bestowed trail moniker), and Best View prepare to start hiking the storied Appalachian Trail.

This is the only bear we saw, and he is a patriotic bear!  However, the second night when I reached Pass Mountain Hut, a man who was hiking out with his son told me they had seen a large bear just before reaching the hut.  We all hung our food for the night.  We did see a number of deer.

Autumn is well underway, as seen by this lovely maple leaf.

Best View and Hawkeye early on one of our many climbs.  Most of the first day was uphill.  We started at 900 feet and camped the first night at about 2,500 feet.  We crested North Marshal Mountain along the way at more than 3,300 feet, and probably gained over 4,000 feet during the day with all of the ups and downs.

The view from Possum Rest, at the Shenandoah National Park boundary on the AT.  This was 3.7 miles and 1,400 feet higher from where we started.

This is the panoramic view from Compton Peak at 2,900 feet, where we had lunch on day 1.

Best View enjoys one of the "best views" from North Marshall Mountain, at 3,300 feet.  I think he really enjoyed his first backpacking trip.

Because we could leave all but one day of food in Best View's car, we each decided to cook a deluxe meal the first night.  Here was mine, before cooking it in the fire.  To top it all off, Best View packed in several bottles of IPA and Stout.  That IPA with dinner hit the spot!  Steak and beer - a backpacking luxury!

We camped that first night at the Gravel Springs Hut, setting up tents nearby.  My site was terrible, sloping away downhill.  I slept horribly on the slanted ground, but got to listen to owls calling off and on.  Before bed time, we enjoyed chatting with the other hikers, many of whom were through-hikers coming down from Maine.  One was doing a "yo-yo!"  He had hiked from Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin, and now was reversing the trip back to Springer. 

On Sunday, we broke camp as early as we could and hiked uphill for nearly nearly four miles to start the day to crest Hogback Mountain at nearly 3,500 feet.  It was a cold and windy morning, probably about 34 degrees when we woke up.  The winds were awful.  Here I am just before the final 500 foot climb to Hogback.

View of the Shenandoah Valley near the trail up Hogback Mountain.

Panoramic view of Hogback Mountain.

Sometimes we hiked together, other times separately.  I was ahead of Hawkeye when I reached this spot on the Skyline Drive, our agreed rendezvous point about 1/3 mile from Best View's car.  I had no idea that Hawkeye had injured his knee out a quarter mile or so behind me, ending his hike at this point.  With sundown approaching, I decided to continue the hike alone.

I reached the Pass Mountain Hut - a truly beautiful camping spot - with an hour of light to spare.  The hut was built by the CCC in 1939.  There is a great spring, a privy, and excellent tent sites.  The shelter can comfortably sleep at least 10.  Seven of us slept there, the other six being through-hikers Dirty Bird, Max, Hydro, Ducky, String Bean, and Toast.

Here is where I laid down my bedroll for the night.  It was not as cold, and unlike the prior windy night, it was calm.  I slept better, despite a little bit of snoring from the five other men and one woman sharing the hut.  I did hear an owl call, and I heard coyotes during the night - hard to hear over the snoring, though.

In the morning, I caught the sunrise at the exact moment through this large tree in front of the shelter.

Since I had decided to end the hike and hitch back to the car and head home (instead of a third day of hiking with 15 miles originally planned), I had a leisurely breakfast and a couple of mugs of hot tea as the six through-hikers chatted, ate, packed up, headed off.  They were more than halfway through their 2,180 mile stroll, all having left northern Maine in July.  More about them in a later post,

From the hut, I packed up, hiked the 1.2 miles out to Thornton Gap, and started hitching rides.  It was much more difficult than I could have believed to hitch though a national park with a big backpack.  I guess people assumed I was dangerous.  Too bad we have come to that as a society.  But eventually, two kind ladies took a chance and gave me ride the last 55 miles to my car, going out of their way.