Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hot as the Devil!

I did something today that I cannot remember doing.  Maybe it means that I really am getting old!  I aborted a hike after less than a mile and a half!

The trek was with a group of seven others, and we had driven a long, long way - nearly three hours.  The goal was an 8 mile loop to see the Devil's Marbleyard - a huge boulder field of large boulders up in the mountains.  I drove two people in my car, and the trip leader drove her van with the other five.

Here is the location (yellow square), near Natural Bridge (red arrow) in western Virginia.

I knew it would be warm but usually the mountains are cooler.  Not today - it was mid-80's F. when we started hiking.  It was steady uphill but not steep.  I stopped to take a photo and was quickly at the rear of the group.  After about 1.2 miles, I stopped to get a drink.  I was drenched in sweat.  I sat down on a rock, and things just started spinning.  I felt so hot and worn out.  The trip leader was hanging with me, and everyone else had disappeared behind the bend.  I told her I was not feeling really well, so hot.  She said we could go more slowly.  Or I could turn back.  I thought for about 30 seconds.  The group as a whole was faster than the pace today that felt comfortable for me.  I was already lagging behind.  I was not feeling good, and even drinking water didn't help.  I told her I would turn back and wait at the cars.  She said that she could take the seven of them in her van.  So we agreed that I would go home, and return to the meeting spot tonight when they got there to give the two people their things that they had left in my car.

I hated to bail but it seemed like the sensible thing to do.  It literally took me about 45 minutes to feel comfortable, temperature-wise, in my air-conditioned car!  During the drive home, temperatures were 90 - 99 F.

Here is my pathetic 2.4 mile (round trip) track, in blue.  The Devil's Marbleyard, aptly named today because it felt as hot as hell, in the black circle.

Here is a satellite image of the area.  You can see that I was not too far from reaching the "marble yard."

Here are the other seven hikers at the start of the hike.

This hike goes into the James River Face Wilderness, which is in the Jefferson National Forest.

When I crossed this stream on the way back to the car, I just wanted to dive in.

The way to do this: go on a cooler day, and/or camp at one of the great sites near the trail head so you can hit the trail early before it gets too hot.

As bad as it felt to go back, I think it was the right decision for me today.  I need to do some hiking by myself for a few times to see how I do before I try group hiking again.  If I had kept going, I either would have slowed them down tremendously, or potentially put them in a situation of dealing with an ill hiker.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Birds and Dragons in the Low Country!

First, a little milestone - this is my 500th post on this blog!  Plus, my 6.4 miles at Pinkney Island National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina last week put me over 100 trail miles for the year - halfway to my goal!

We were mainly in South Carolina for some beach time in the wonderful and warm ocean.  But one morning, I was out at daybreak to get in a little hiking and see some birds.

Here is my route, starting and ending at the blue arrow in the lower left.  The point on the right that I hiked to is Bull Point.  The small loop towards the right was my walk around Nini Chapin Pond.

This is a very level hike, walking along wetlands and through maritime forests and coastal zones, and going by several freshwater ponds that were put in for wildlife.  I saw many birds and land crabs, but no alligators - although a volunteer told me that a 13 foot gator lives in one of the ponds.  I did see a surprise animal on the hike back - a dragon!

The first pond I got to is Ibis Pond.  It has a fantastic amount of birds.  There are also alligators living in this green soup.  They discourage raccoons and opossums from crossing over to eat eggs and baby birds.  But they also require "protection money."  When a young heron or ibis falls in, they become a meal for the alligators.

Here are some of the white ibises and a young heron at this pond.

This refuge is only open to the public because of volunteers.  I talked to one of them.  Ten years ago, the US Fish and Wildlife Services did not have the resources to maintain the refuge to keep public access.  Nine local people volunteered to do work there, and this great area continues benefits humans as well as wildlife because of them.  Volunteer efforts created this butterfly garden at Ibis Pond.

This is a rare long leaf pine forest, once common throughout the Southeast.

Prescribed burning is used to keep the long leaf pine forests viable.  Their bark can protect the tree from fast-burning forest fires.

A wood duck nest box stands in one of the wildlife ponds.

This is Nini Chapin Pond, which I walked around, and saw much wildlife, such as
  this pair of white ibis, and

this young tri-colored heron.  I also saw several purple gallinules and many green herons, but could not get a good photo.

Much of my hike went through coastal maritime forest,

where Spanish moss, always picturesque, was much in evidence

I also saw dozens of these little land crabs in the paths while walking to Bull Point.  They were an inch or two in size and skittered across the path like big beetles.

Here is the view at Bull Point across the Inter-Coastal Waterway.

I saw a number of shy birds while hiking along the shore of Starr Pond on the way back, like this young egret, and

this green heron.  I saw at least a dozen green herons on this hike, but they are a very shy bird and usually fly before one gets close to them.

Returning by Ibis Pond, I saw these adult white ibises high in a tree,

As I got closed to my car, I spotted this dragon along the marsh.  I think the species is a Rebel Barker.  It didn't spot me, and I was able to avoid becoming its breakfast!  I think it was sleeping because it never moved a muscle.  ;^)

To me, the perfect hike combines exercise, wildlife, and scenery.  I'd have to say - although the views in the Low Country can't match mountain scenery - that this hike meets those requirements really well.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Foggy but Pleasant

My friend Doug suggested taking a hike together this weekend a few days ago, and I thought it was a good idea.  Saturday was his birthday so we picked Sunday.  As fate would have it, Saturday was a picture-perfect bluebird day, and Sunday was rainy and foggy.  I had selected a hike in Shenandoah NP, but the rain looked heavier up that way, so Doug suggested Mount Pleasant.  The rain looked a bit north of there, and it was.  Other than a few drops now and again, the weather was just intensely foggy and humid.  The spectacular views on top of 4,000 foot Mount Pleasant were obscured by fog.  This is a nice, moderate 6.2 mile circuit hike, and was my third time doing it.  I'll be back!  For one thing, I found a great campsite about a half mile from the summit, and maybe a 10 minute (steep) walk from water.

Here is the track, hiked counter-clockwise.  The purple star marks the west summit of Mount Pleasant.  We didn't bother hiking to the east summit, as there was no view in the fog.

I don't have an elevation profile, but I am guessing we had about 1,300 feet of elevation gain and loss, moderate but not extreme.

Here are some photos of our foggy day:

The first mile is level and very mellow!

My friend Doug takes a short break, surrounded by this plant which I didn't try to identify.

This big maple looks ghostly in the fog.

Summit at 4,000 feet!

What a view from the top of Mount Pleasant!

(I couldn't resist - here is the view when it is not foggy!)

This spider web looks bejeweled, doesn't it?

This would be a great campsite for a future trek, as long as one doesn't mind going a ways for water.

This was my fifth hike in this area, and I always seem to find at least one amazing mushroom.

We saw many beautiful wildflowers along the trail.

Yes, it was not the best weather for a hike (highs in the 60's F. in Virginia in July?  Really?) and we almost talked ourselves into staying home, but I am very glad we got out there and got in some trail miles in a beautiful area.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Meeting Some Through-Hikers

I made a short-term decision when I woke Saturday to go for a mountain hike.  I originally thought. as I packed my pack early Saturday, to head for Doyles River Falls, but I was concerned with all the rain we've had lately that parts of the trail could be under water.  So instead, I decided to head someplace new and hike the Appalachian Trail for a few miles out and back.  I choose a part of the trail that I've never been on - from McCormick Gap to the Calf Mountain Shelter in the extreme Southern part of Shenandoah National Park.  For going to SNP, it is about a short a drive as I can have - less than two hours.  The hike itself looked fairly mellow - maybe four miles each way with no extreme elevation gains.  The elevations would be between 2,500 and 3,000 feet.

Here is the track of my hike, with the shelter a my turn-around point indicated by the red arrow.

And here is the elevation profile, with the start at the red arrow and the shelter at the purple arrow. You can see that you do all this work to get over Bears Den Mountain and end up crossing Beagle Gap at about the same elevation as when you started.  Then you do it all over again to get over Calf Mountain to the shelter at about 2,600 feet.  I think out and back, the hike was in the 1,800 - 2,000 foot elevation gain and loss (so typical of the Southern Appalachians and the Blue Ridge), and the total round trip distance was 8.7 miles.

One thing I like to do when I hike solo to a new place is get a sense whether or not this could be a good group hike, and I think that this could be.  I'd go back, and I'd love to lead a little group of hikers along.

I started hiking about 9:20 and the fog was really thick.  The air was cool, mid-60's,  But between fog, sweat, and the moisture dripping from trees, I was wet quickly and stayed that way.  I could only have about 60 feet of visibility most of the way in to the shelter because of the fog.  All the way in, I only saw four people, three heading south - all long distance hikers - and one blitzing along north doing a trail run who passed me like I was standing still.  The southbound hikers were a man and his dog that crossed McCormick Gap as I was ready to get going on my hike.  He was hiking from Harper's Ferry a couple of hundred miles north of us to Tennessee.  The other two were a father and son who were wrapping up eight days hiking the AT through Shenandoah.  Made me remember when I tried that two years ago - the hike lasted two days after my friend ruined his knee!

At the Calf Mountain Shelter was a thru-hiker who looked miserable.  He had gotten drenched the night before and even though it was noon, he had not started hiking yet.  I got him the weather forecast on my DeLorme inReach ( how cool is that to be able to get a weather forecast in the middle of nowhere?).  By this time, the fog was burning off.  I had a sandwich and an apple for lunch, but I offered him my apple and he was thrilled.  It felt good to do a little "Trail Magic" while out hiking. I was hungry but figured that I could easily get another apple any time.   His name was Three Times, and before long, his buddy Lazy Eagle strolled in.  Right about then, I started south to retrace my steps and ran into hiker after hiker heading north.  Some of them were out for only a few days, but many were thru-hikers heading to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  Most were men with big bushy beards, but there was one woman hiking solo - Big Bird.  I enjoyed chatting with them all for a few seconds and wishing them well on their long trek.  And it was a good chance to use my trail name, Grey Ghost.

The hike back was sunny and warm with improving visibility.  I even saw bees and butterflies.  For the whole hike, I enjoyed listening to bird songs - cat bird, cardinal, towhee, hooded warbler, oven bird, Carolina chickadees.  And I also saw a ruffed grouse - such a rare sight while hiking - and a cottontail, as well as many towhees and chickadees.  The hike was mostly through forest, but there were several open areas, almost like balds, so a good bit of variety.

I really enjoyed my hike, and will share some photos from my day in the mountains, starting with a view near the top of Bear Den Mountain less than an hour into the hike.

Not much of a view from the summit of Little Calf Mountain.

Here is what the Appalachian Trail looks like in the fog.

This big old oak dominated all other trees around it.

Even on a clear day, the summit of Calf Mountain has no view.

This is what Little Calf Mountain looked like on the hike back - still not clear enough for views but definitely improving.

And here is Beagle Gap.  Bears Den Mountain rises ahead and to the right - the final high point on my hike.

The summit of Bears Den Mountain is not so pretty, but we all sure like good cell reception.

This beautiful orange butterfly was enjoying the sun and some nectar.

I need to look this flower up.  I think it is a primrose.  I saw a number of them.