Sunday, September 20, 2015

Cold Mountain (Virginia)

For a couple of years now, I have wanted to lead an Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club hike, and I got my chance today with a return hike up Cold Mountain.  My last time here was in 2011 when I was nursing severe plantar fasciitis, and that day was sullen, drizzly, and foggy - with no view from the top (but still a ton of fun).  The bad views were not the case this year.  This might be the northernmost southern bald on the Appalachian Trail, and we had wonderful views that everyone on the hike enjoyed.

Our merry little group consisted of five people, and everyone had a good time on the 6.3 mile loop.  The elevation gain was about 1,300 feet, so we got a steady workout during our miles.  Here is the track of the Cold (also called Cole) Mountain hike, which we hiked clockwise as shown by the arrow, and starting and stopping at the upper left point of the track.

Most of the hike is through southern Appalachian forest, but a half mile or so of the Appalachian Trail is a "bald" with fabulous open views.  Here are some photos from the hike today, starting with one of my four fellow hikers about a mile into the hike.

I didn't see water, but other than that, this area would be a fabulous campsite.

The group admires the first views, with much better ones to come.

Here is the first of the balds that we came to.

We found a sweet spot for a lunch break, chatted in the sun, admired the views, and watched hawks and vultures fly overhead - including a possible peregrine.

Here is a panoramic view from the bald - click to enlarge.

Our group of five out in the bald.

Loads of apples on this tree should mean deer and bear in the area.

The Blue Ridge from the bald on top of Cold (Cole) Mountain.

Kathy is having a good time on the hike.

Here is another panoramic view from the other (north) side of the bald.
The goldenrod was the most vibrant I think that I've ever seen it.

With so much of the mountains in Virginia covered with trees and not having any views, the balds on Cold Mountain are a real treat.

I liked this tree - a mountain ash, we thought - positioned next to the large boulder.

Can you see the two bees in with the goldenrod - the bumblebee in the middle and the honeybee on the right with the bulging pollen sacks?  The bees are working overtime to gather food for the winter.
This was a really fun hike.  I was glad to finally lead an ODATC hike, especially with such a nice group of people.  I enjoyed hearing all about people's adventures and plans!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Life at August Camp

I spent a week at Appalachian Mountain Club's August Camp from August 8 to 15, and did a lot of hiking, which I've discussed in my blog.  But I also wanted to include some accounts from camp itself.  What's it like?  Well, it's a lot of fun if you like camping out.  It is way more comfortable that backpacking, and even than just camping out of your car.  For one thing, I had a good sized tent, and the tent had a cot - much more comfortable than being on the ground.  Most people are two to a tent there, but in my case, I ended up with my own tent which was nice because I could lay my stuff out on the other cot.  Here is the view looking out the back of my tent:

We had about 80 people in camp, and the 8 most important of them were the members of the "Croo." These extremely hard working young people made the camp run.  They got there a week early and set everything up, cooked for all four weeks of camp, and stayed behind and took the camp down.  I can't say enough about them.  They had to cook two meals a day for a big group and do all of the prep and clean up.  And they baked cookies and bread and deserts every day.

A day at August Camp started whenever you woke up, and you could get up and go to the Tea Tent for coffee or tea.  In any event, by 6:15 one of the Croo walked through camp blowing on a type of bugle - although it sounded more like a bugler being tortured - and that generally, but not always, woke people up.

Sometime about that time, the hike leader posted the hike clipboards for the day, and everyone could see what hike they were assigned to.  In every case but one, I got assigned to my first choice hike.  And every hike was really good - you could not go wrong.

Then, it was time to make your way to the lunch tent and put together your lunch for the trail.  They had most things you could imagine for sandwiches and fixings, and there was always carrot and celery sticks, trail mix, fruit, and cookies.  Oh, the cookies! We each got two every day.

After that, about 7:00, it was time for breakfast at the dining tent.  The meals (two a day) were really good, and quite varied.  There were vegan options if you told the camp in advance that you were on a vegan diet.  Breakfast always had hot and cold cereal, and there was always a main course and breakfast meat.  Dinner always had soup, salad, and some kind of fresh bread, a main course and sides, and a desert.  Really good food!

After eating, it was time to get ready for a hike.  Make sure your water bottles and sun shower are topped off at the "water buffalo," the source of all potable water in camp.

If you want a shower later, better make sure and lay your sun shower out in a sunny spot.  The camp was at a ski area, so there were also coin operated showers a short walk away, but that is a rarity at August Camp, I think.

Then groups would gather for their hike at a designated spot and tim, and the leader would go over the plans for the day.

A few other things - 80 people produce a lot of waste - there is no getting around that.  We had a porta-john service that was appreciated, although as one might expect, it got a little gross after a few days.  It was very welcome when the service came and pumped everything out.

After hiking, most people would get back and take a shower if there was time.  Here is what the shower stalls looked like.  They had an ingenious rig inside.

You hang your sun shower on  the hook, hoist it up to the desired height using the pulley, and, voila! hot running water for a shower!  My bag held four gallons, but I found that I could get a nice little shower with less than two.  The last night of camp was a cool and cloudy day, so I ended up taking a shower at the ski center - the best 75 cents I ever spent!

After a shower, you had about an hour to relax before dinner if you were lucky.  Some people scored chairs for outside their tent, but I didn't.  Those that did might read outside or socialize at their tents.  Others gathered for a group happy hour before dinner.  After dinner, we had "camp fire," with no fire because of wild fire dangers.  That involved trip reports, reviewing the next day's hikes, and singing around the "non-campfire," while some talented folks played musical instruments.  That was something that I enjoyed doing most nights.  Quiet hour was at 10:00.  A couple of nights, the Pleiades meteor  shower was going on, and was spectacular with the extremely dark sky - one of the best skies that I can ever remember.

August Camp is not for everyone - several women told me that their husbands would hate it - but it sure was for me.  I hope to go again!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ode to Obsidian Trail

Every night back at AMC August Camp, someone from each of the half dozen hikes would give a brief - well, usually they were brief - trip report, talking about what the hike was like.  During our last hike of the week, in my case the Obsidian Trail, hike leader Eva talked about how we should write an ode to obsidian.  It got the wheels turning, and I said I could probably write a verse or two that whoever did the trip report could include.  Eva said "Why don't you just do the trip report?"  So as we hiked along, I started thinking about what I might want to say and how to get it into verse.

Back at camp, we learned that there would be no trip reports that night, because of the "Follies," which is the end of each week of camp's talent show.  So after thinking it over for a few seconds, I had a leap of faith that I could write something before the Follies and present it there.  I took a shower, and then spent about a half hour after dinner scribbling something out, and here is the result.  I read it at the Follies - which were excellent by the way: a lot of talented singers, musicians, and story and joke tellers, and even a funny mime act on sleep deprivation.

"Ode to Obsidian Trail"

Eleven hit the Obsidian Trail
Energized, with such wide smiles
We had a great time, without fail
On this lollipop of a dozen miles

Obsidian’s volcanic glass
It’s hard as flint and black as jet
This hike is one you should not pass
This trek is one you’ll ne’er forget

We climbed about 2,000 feet
Through forest, meadow, lava field
The air was cool and damp, yet sweet
We layered up, from chill to shield

Around midday, our merry bunch
By waterfall and rocks of pumice
Pulled out our sandwiches for lunch:
Turkey, ham, cheese, tuna, hummus

As far as wildlife on our day
The highlight was a yellow marmot
We met no harm, but sad to say
I’m pretty sure we did alarm it

Through open glen we softly tread
When we all spied two glacial tarns
So unexpected that I said
“What lovely lakes!  Well, I’ll be darned!”

My week here is near a close
This hike today was quite the champ
A fitting last hike that I chose
To end my week in August Camp!

Yes, eleven hiked the Obsidian Trail
A little piece of Oregon heaven
With one last fact, I’ll end my tale:
How many returned?  Why, all eleven!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

More on Obsidian

I didn't keep any of the obsidian that I found while hiking on the Obsidian Trail - it was all over the place but against the law to collect it - but it was very tempting.  I did take some photos of this amazingly cool mineral - black glass forged in the heart of a volcano.  It is shiny, sharp, and hard as flint.  I am convinced that some of the pieces that I photographed were shaped into tools by ancient people.  What do you think?

They had great trail signs here.  Back East, I am afraid that people would steal these.

In places, obsidian littered the ground for large parts of the trail.

See how smooth and shiny it is?

To me, each of these pieces look like they had been shaped into tools by humans long ago.  I guess an archeologist would know for sure.

This looks like a spear head to me.

Is this stuff cool or what?

Obsidian Trail (Oregon)

Friday, August 14 - the last day of AMC August Camp - dawned, and I found that I was again signed up for my first choice hike - the Obsidian Trail.  This hike had been offered earlier in the week and folks really liked it.  It is 12 miles long and thus considered to be an "A" hike, but the leader was Eva, who led my hike the day before to Tam McArthur Ridge.  She assured everyone that while we would be moving along, we would not be on a rapid pace and that everyone would be able to keep up.

This ended up being my second favorite hike, and I have to wonder if it would have been my favorite if the weather had been more clear.  It goes through some very scenic country, and while it didn't rain, it was overcast and very cool without some of the long vistas that we had on all of the other days.  As I said, the hike was 12 miles long and of a lollipop orientation - an out and back section of about four miles each way with a four mile loop.  Here is a map of the track.  We started and ended at the upper left, and we did the loop portion of  the lollipop counter clockwise as the arrows indicate.
You'll note that the trail climbs steadily all the way up and for the first part of the loop, then it more or less descends all the way back to the trailhead.  The total elevation gain and loss was about 1,800 feet, and it was never extremely steep as were some of the other trails this week.  It was a good workout without being totally nuts.

Here, we've zoomed out a good bit so you can get an idea of the terrain.  Note the peaks to the east - the three Sisters, some of the tallest and most rugged peaks in Oregon.  North Sister is almost exactly due east of the loop portion of our hike.

We had a really good group on this hike, just as on all of the others.  There were 11 of us, at many different paces - a couple of speed burners, some moderate but steady folks, and some a little slower.  But even those like me who like to look at things and take photographs never really felt rushed.  The speed burners waited at any major trail junction for everyone to catch up, and our leader did a good job of making sure everyone was together.

This hike had it all (other than the big vistas, and I think those were hidden in the weather).  We started in beautiful forests, hiked past rugged volcanic areas and pumice, trekked through open meadows, crossed streams, had lunch by a waterfall, and even saw a couple of tarns.  And that doesn't include all of the amazing obsidian!  For wildlife, we saw a pretty cool marmot, which I'd only seen  few times before in my life.  It was a marvelous hike, and I am really glad that I didn't take the white water rafting option on the last day as I nearly did.  That evening, I turned an account of the day into verse for the August Camp Talent Show: "Ode to Obsidian Trail."

One of the highpoints was seeing the obsidian - black volcanic glass.  In places, it was everywhere.  And I found a number of pieces that look like they had been shaped into tools by peoples long ago, like scrapers or spear heads.  I really wanted to bring some home, but we were all told that it was off limits to take any from this place.  So I captured some photos of it, and memories.

Our hike started in a lovely forest, and climbed moderately but steadily uphill.  This hike was the only one of the week where I wore layers - it was that chilly at times.

About three miles in, we took a break at the start of volcanic area.  The remains of volcanic activity was everywhere through here.

Can you find this cliff on the topo map showing the hike's track?  Hint - it is south of the "stick" part of the lollipop, but fairly close to the loop portion of the hike.

Just left of center you can see a couple of hikers picking their way across a lava field.

This hike had several lovely meadows, like this one.

I think this was the first hike all week that we crossed a stream, so it was pretty exciting.  I was beginning to wonder if Oregon even had streams!

Part of the "lollipop" portion of the hike involved me hiking on the PCT for the second time ever.

Lovely Obsidian Falls ended up being a great spot to have lunch near.
In places, obsidian was scattered all over the place.  See more obsidian photos here.

Just above Obsidian Falls, we found an ideal lunch spot.

We saw two of these tarns on the loop portion of the hike.  They were very cool!

Some of the landscape was almost bleak at times.

I wish I knew more about geology.  I'd like to know the story of this amazing boulder!

Like a shepherd looking for a lost sheep, hike leader Eva searches for a straggling hiker.

Eva told me that this was bear grass post-bloom.  It was about three feet tall, and when it is in bloom, it has white flowers.
This was just a fabulous hike.  Everyone enjoyed it.  And later, the hike gave me grist to create an entry in the Camp Follies that night - the end of week camper talent show!