Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hazel Mountain Backpacking

Although I prefer backpacking with others, I am not adverse to going alone, which is what I did last Friday and Saturday, heading up to Shenandoah National Park.  I hiked on trails where I had never been before, which is always fun - exploring a new part of the park.  I covered a 17 mile loop in the northeastern part of the Central Region of the Park, centered on Hazel Mountain and the Hazel River.  The track captured by my DeLorme inReach is shown below, starting and ending towards the upper left of the track and traveling clockwise.  I camped on the Hughes River a few miles from Corbin's Cabin (more here from my last hike in the mountains), shown at the red star.

One reason that I hiked solo was my ongoing left leg issues.  My sore ankle is finally feeling pretty good after six months of pain, but my left knee has hurt a lot since the Corbin's Cabin hike, and I wanted to go at my own slow pace and not hold others up (or be forced to keep up).  My knee started hurting a good bit at about four miles and I wrapped in in a bandage for the rest of the hike, at times doubting if I could finish.

It was a muggy and warm two days, and I was soaked with sweat most of the time.  Of the 17 miles, no more than a third - and probably less - was sort of level, and the rest was descending or climbing.  You're going to drop and climb about 3,000 feet by doing this hike, but there were only a few really steep parts.  Carrying my 35 pound pack, I went very slow at these times.

The highlight of the hike was a 2 second glimpse of a bobcat as it ran across the trail 100 feet in front of me.  I also heard, but never saw, a bear ripping up a log.  Since a picture is worth 1,000 words (and you don't want to read that many), here are some photos of my fun hike.  Several days later, my knee still hurts some.

This was my lunch spot on Friday.
Just upstream of lunch was a nice 30 foot waterfall,

and a cave that was at least 20-30 feet deep.

I only had a few partial views while hiking, and here is one of them.  Most of the time, I was in the "green tunnel."

I found the sweetest camping spot in a nice pine grove, 200 feet from the Hughes River along the Nicholson Hollow Trail.  It was the nicest backcountry campsites that I've ever had in this park.  I cooked a delicious dinner on the trail, relaxed for a while, and went to bed about 9, listening to Mozart on my iPhone.

It was so warm and muggy that I peeled back the rain fly.  I figured that if it started raining, it would wake me up.  I enjoyed seeing the cloudy sky through the pine trees and watching lightening bugs.  This is the view in the morning from my tent up to the sky.

On the hike out, I saw numerous reminders of the people that once lived here.  Here are photos of a couple of them.

I saw a number of pretty mushrooms, but was not tempted to try any of them, which is why I probably am still here to write this.

The green woods, bois vert in French.

I saw plenty of bear sign, like this ripped apart log and lots of scat, and I heard a bear as stated before, but didn't see any.

I had fun hiking and exploring a brand new area, and especially was thrilled to see the bobcat.  But I have to figure this knee out!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cumberland Marsh Natural Area

All week, I had big plans for this past Friday.  I was going to go solo backpacking, just for one night, in a part of Shenandoah National Park that I had never hiked in.  That always feels a little adventurous!  But after my hike last Saturday to Corbin Cabin on the Nicholson Hollow Trail, the back of my left knee hurt quite a bit.  And all week, it never relented, so while I was going through my trip preparation and mapping out a route, I started having this nagging doubt about actually being up to doing the trip.  And by Wednesday, I knew that it was not a good idea. But I still had Friday off, and it still looked like a gorgeous day.  So I decided to try a much shorter, flatter hike without carrying a 35 pound pack.

I choose Cumberland Marsh Natural Area. which is less than an hours drive for me.  Maybe I would see some wildlife: a box turtle, a turkey, a deer.  Well none of those, but I found plenty of deer flies right from the start.  They swarmed all over me.  I killed two that bit me before I had hiked 100 feet and 1,000 more showed up for their funeral.  Dozens of dragonflies swarmed around me, I assume eating deer flies.  After less than a half mile of walking, I entered the forest and the deerflies were mostly gone.  I got to see them again on the hike out.  I must have killed 30 or so and been bitten at least 20 times.  And in the woods I got bitten by a deer tick, which are tiny and carry Lyme disease.  I also had 3-4 of the bigger dog ticks crawling up my pants leg.  Ticks are like my least favorite animal.  So while I enjoyed the hike, and the knee pain was okay, I would go back to Dutch Gap before I would hike back here.  It has wider and less shrubby trails, better views, and more wildlife.

I walked about 4.3  miles, enjoyed a gorgeous fall-like spring day, and communed with nature for a couple of hours.  I could have done without the ticks and the flies, though.  Here are a few photos.

My route, starting and ending at the pink arrow, and going counterclockwise for the loop section.  The natural area is on the southern bank of the Pamunkey River.

View across the wetlands from a boardwalk at the start of the hike.  The scent of honeysuckle was intoxicating!

I think that this is an iris of some kind.

Forested trail, and ferns along the trail.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hike to Corbin's Cabin

Yesterday, I joined the Richmond - Charlottesville Adventurers for an out and back up Nicholson Hollow in Shenandoah National Park.  There were only four of us but we had a great time hiking together on a kind of sultry day.  There were not any grand views, but we saw a wild turkey, a black rat snake, and a garter snake, along with great forest and stream scenery.

Here is the route (about 8 miles total), parking at the incredibly popular Old Rag parking lot.  We started at the pink arrow after walking about a half mile or so from the car:

You can see that there are lots of other trails there.  The purple circle shows the Old Rag area (go here for my hike there) and the red circle shows the Robertson Mountain area (go here for my hike there).

Can you see that this is a popular destination?  Check out the parking lot about 10AM.  Fortunately, most of the hikers were going to Old Rag, one of the most popular hiking destinations in the state.

The prominent feature of this hikes was streams.  This is the Hughes River.

Does this look like an inviting spot to soak hot, tired feet?

There were at least 4 major stream crossings.  This was the only difficult one.  Two of the group are partway across here.

We didn't see many wildflowers, unlike my last two hikes.  I am not sure what these are, but I do know that they are lovely.

This lazy black rat snake was wary but not aggressive or scared.  I was within a foot of his head, I think.

Our destination was Corbin Cabin, built by George Corbin in 1909.  He was forced to vacate in 1938 when Shenandoah National Park was created.  It must have been heartbreaking for him.

Is this a sweet lunch spot or what?

Here is our merry little hiking group for the day: Art, Terry, Giselle, and Suzanne (plus two canine hikers!)

On the Corbin Cabin porch.

We saw this garter snake on the hike out.  Sharp eyed Suzanne spotted it.

This was a really fun hike, and not too hard for anyone in shape (I am not right now).  One gains about 1,200 feet on the hike up and loses the same on the return.  Figure on about 4 hours, plus a lunch break.  There are native brook trout in the river, and we saw a number of fisher folk trying their luck.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Torry Ridge Loop

It's always special to take a hike when most of the rest of the world is working, and that is what I did last Friday (may 8).  I had the day off, my ankle does not hurt as much, and - having been a couch potato for several months resting my ankle - it was time for a hike up in the mountains.  I choose a loop hike, the Torry Ridge Loop, for my 10.6 miles of mountain hiking.  I actually hiked on about five different trails, starting and ending at mile 18.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway: the White Rock Gap Trail, Slacks Trail, Torry Ridge Trail, a blue blazed trail to Sherando Lake, the Sherando Lake road, and returning on the White Rock Gap Trail. Here is my track, starting and ending at the purple arrow and traveling clockwise (red arrow).  Total elevation gain and loss is about 1,700 feet.
Last year, I hiked part (all but Torry Ridge and the trails leading to and from it) of this on my hike of  the White Rock Falls area.
It was a beautiful spring day, although a bit warm.  I only saw a few small animals - a wood thrush and a rufous-sided towhee, an unidentified lizard, a toad, a water snake, and a gray squirrel.  But I saw many incredible wildflowers.  I will put photos of them in a future post.
Here are some photos of my joyous Friday hiking.  I was really tired when I got back to the car, although this is not an extremely hard hike.  I am just out of shape.  But I did it!
Small American (?) toad seen on the trail.

This is typical of the trails in this area - along the Torry Ridge Trail.

Pink Azalea was in bloom all over the place - so lovely!
I checked but didn't see anything living in this dead tree.

Mostly this hike was a "green tunnel" but now and then, I got a decent view.

From Overlook Rock, I had a partial view of Lower Sherando Lake.

And this is Lower Sherando Lake from a different perspective.

Just a harmless water snake along the trail.  It dove into the stream when I got a little too close to try to get a better photo.

This is where I saw the snake, less than 2 miles from my car on the hike out.

No, this is not part of the hike.  It's a visitor center on the Blue Ridge Parkway on the drive to the trailhead.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

50 Shades of Green

After six weeks of being very sedentary to rest my sore ankle - I gave up wearing the boot because it made my back hurt - I finally lost patience and decided that it was time to take a hike.

I love hiking in the spring - all of the new green, the wildflowers, the birds migrating and   defending their territories with their singing.  I love the Italian word for spring, primavera - "first green."  There have to be at least 50 shades of green in the woods and fields - all fresh and new.

My friend Hawkeye suggested we do an overnight out and back along the Appalachian Trail to the Paul Wolfe shelter, 5.5 miles south of Rockfish Gap.  He didn't have to twist my arm, and we planned on going Saturday and Sunday.  The weather forecast got worse and worse, and then Hawkeye called me about 2PM Friday and suggested we go now!  A quick check with my better half and I was ready to go.  Hawkeye picked me up about 3:15 and we hit the trail by about 5PM.  Immediately, we were greeted by beautiful violets, which we saw over and over.

This stretch of the Trail is beautifully maintained by the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club.  I loved seeing all of the fresh green, and much of the trail is smooth and level, with some uphill and downhill.  My ankle definitely felt sore, though, and hurt a fair bit after a couple of hours of hiking.

We crossed at least 3-4 beautiful streams on the hike.  I only carried one bottle of water because I knew I could replenish it when needed.

No one lives in the thick woods now, but that was not always the case. At some time in the past, a family likely lived at this spot in a cabin.  It must have been an extremely hard life.  I wonder what happened to them?

A mile or so from the remains of the chimney, we saw an open and level area off the trail and checked it out.  It was an old cemetery. 

Writing on the headstones was barely legible.  It was pretty there but kind of sad to think that people there are likely forgotten.

Now and then, there were gorgeous redbud in bloom in the woods as we hiked along.

About 7:30, with 40 minutes of daylight remaining, we reached the shelter.  You can see it here, behind the memorial bench to ODATC member John Donovan, who died 10 years ago in a storm while attempting to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in California.  I know I carry too much stuff while hiking but John was the other extreme.  If he carried the things I did, he likely would have survived and still be out there hiking, and there would not be a bench here.  It's sad.

The shelter is open on one side, but is comfortable and actually pretty deluxe for a trail shelter.  For one thing, it has a porch and a covered picnic table.  Here is what the sleeping area looks like.  No one was at the shelter when we got there.  There was a couple and a dog camping nearby.

I blew up my air mattress and laid down my sleeping bag on the floor as I heated up a cup of Constant Comment tea.  Hawkeye set up his tent down by the stream.  A little while later, just before dark, another hiker - Josh - arrived and put his bag down in the shelter.

Hawkeye and I ate our dinners (mine was a vegan curry freeze dry that was good but too soupy), chatted with Josh, and then about 9:30 made a fire down by Hawkeye's tent.  Josh started the fire with a spark from his flint and knife - no match needed!  It is always fun to meet other hikers on the trail, and we enjoyed Josh's company.  Eventually, I walked back to the shelter in the dark and went to bed, falling asleep quickly.  But two through-hikers, Turtle Bear and Bird Man, came in past 11 and woke me up, despite being quiet and considerate.  I learned the next day that they had left Springer Mountain March 1 and had hiked 36 miles - the last three hours in the dark - the day they came in to our shelter!  Amazing!

In the morning, it was cloudy at first, and then it sleeted for a time!  I'd had a cold night and actually slept in my jacket for most of the night.  I wish I had packed my heavier bag!  I had not slept well once the others arrived and was tired.  But we were in no rush to leave so I lay in bed for an hour, enjoying the sounds of the stream and the birds, especially the wood thrushes.  Here is the morning view from the shelter down to the stream:

The stream is called Mill Creek and is really beautiful.

Hawkeye and I enjoyed spending some time Saturday morning down by the stream before starting the hike out.  The sleet had stopped for a little while.  I also enjoyed mugs of Irish Breakfast and Earl Grey tea from the porch of the shelter.

Breakfast for me was my last piece of chocolate, some trail mix, and a power bar (that said best eaten by last January - but it was still decent).  And as a treat, Hawkeye and I shared a tiny bottle of Dalwhinnie Scotch that I bought last May in Scotland.  I'd planned on us drinking it on our to-be nine day hike last October, but Hawkeye hurt his knee on the second day.

The wee dram of Scotch hit the spot, and soon enough, we hit the trail for the hike up.  The first two miles was a steady uphill of switchbacks, but not steep, and resting my ankle all night had it feeling less sore.  The rain began steadily about 45 minutes from getting back, and when we were nearly back to the car, two young hikers caught up to us.  They were Little Goat and Yellow Beard, had gotten married last September, and now here they are, nearly 1,000 miles into hiking the AT together!  How cool is that?  And how many marriages would survive the discomfort and close quarters of hiking 2,200 miles together over 5 months?  I have a feeling these two are going to be all right, though.  We gave them a ride to a YMCA in nearby Waynesboro so they could take showers, do laundry, and hit the fast food circuit.

I really enjoyed the hike.  Being sedentary for weeks is not a good way to prepare for a hike, even one like this which is pretty easy.  And my ankle still hurts, and I know I have to see the doctor again about it.  But just for the 20 hours we were on the trail and in the woods, part of it in gorgeous spring weather, it sure felt amazing to be alive.

By the way, in March 2014, I did this hike as a day hike and highly recommend it.  You can see photos from that trip here.