Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hiking at York River State Park

I had Friday off, and had a number of things to do, but I did have time for a short hike - 2.7 miles - at York River State Park.  It was a lovely day for a walk.  Here is my track, hiked counter-clockwise, and starting at the blue arrowhead towards the east of the aerial view.  You can see that there is a lot of estuary and marsh in that area.

Want to see what the big estuary at the top of the satellite image looks like?  Here it is from ground level, so the hiking took place to the left of this photo:

Here is a view from the trail looking back toward where the photo above was taken:

While I was hiking, I found the geocache totally by accident.  I'd never seen one before, but I bet it would be fun to hunt for them.  If you are out there, Troop 414, your geocache made my blog!

I opened the box, and inside was a paper to sign, which I did, and this odd little doll, which I left in the box.

At the same point where I found the geocache, I looked up to see this large flock of blackbirds or starlings go by.  That they can fly in unison is amazing!

A little while later, I heard two women chatting, and eventually, they came out from behind the thick vegetation in two kayaks.  There is more ways to get around than one's two feet!

Here is another view of the marsh and the estuary.

Most of our autumnal colors are gone now, but now and then, we can still get a taste of.

Going on a hike, even a short one, on a gorgeous fall day sure beat being at work!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Waterfalls, Wildlife, and Woods - Oh, Wow!

Wonderful, wild, woods walk! Why? Well, waterfalls! Wildlife!  Woods! Wow!

My hike yesterday to South River Falls in Shenandoah National Park was fabulous.  For starters, the 83 foot tall waterfall was roaring, and I think it was the most beautiful waterfall that I've seen in the park.  The frosting on the cake was the wildlife, all seen very close: three deer, two woodpeckers (not sure which type), and a very large black bear.  It was only my third hike ever that I managed to get a photo of a bear.  And this bear did not seem very concerned about me being there.  In fact, for a little while, I wondered - with just a mile to go to my car - if I would have to back-track four miles to avoid the bear that showed no interest on leaving the trail just 150 feet from me.  Did I mention that he was large?  More on the bear later.

Here is a map of where I hiked.  For some reason, my inReach did not do its normal great job of defining the track.  I started and ended at the South River Falls Picnic Area (pink arrow).  I descended on the South River Falls Trail, and although the map does not show the trails accurately, on the South River Forest Road.  Most people hike 1.5 miles to the overlook, but I kept going to the bottom of the falls, which was well worth the extra mile one way.  I lost about 900 feet on the hike down, and gained it all back on the return trip.  The total hike was about five miles, and was more or less a loop, as I returned on the South River Forest Road and the Appalachian Trail.  The arrows show my travel direction, and the red star marks the approximate place that I ran into the black bear.

The day was perfect - crisp fall weather, blue skies without a cloud, and lots of warm sun.  I started hiking about 9:30, and it was still quite cool at the start, but it warmed quickly.  With such a short hike, I was done by about 12:15.  My knee has been painful since June, and my ankle still hurts, so I didn't want to push it.

Here are some photos from the day, plus the account of the bear.

I was barely a quarter mile into the hike when this white tail deer, totally unconcerned by me being there, walked by about 30 or 40 feet from me.

In about a half mile, I heard the sound of running water.  This is the South River.  Often in fall, the streams are low but not this year, as we have had some really rainy periods.

I liked the rugged look of this part of the trail.

After about a mile and a half, the trail had a nice overlook of the South River Falls that was partially obscured but still nice.  I suspect that most folks turn back here, but I wanted to see the waterfall from its base, so I kept walking.

And about a mile later, here was my reward - a beautiful 83 foot tall waterfall, probably the nicest that I have been to in Shenandoah National Park.

Most of the route out was along the South River Forest Road, which this picture is representative of.  The trail climbed steadily but was not steep.

Suddenly, I spotted a black object about 200 feet ahead of me, right in the path.  It was a bear.  I stopped and took out my camera, and put it on maximum zoom, and snapped this photo.  At the time, I didn't think that the bear was aware of me, as I was very quiet and downwind, but seeing this photo, he seems to be looking my way.

I assumed that the bear would run away any minute, so I slowly and quietly moved ahead to this spot to get a better photo.  While I walked up, the bear was looking down and pawing the ground, digging in the leaves.  I snapped this photo.  And you can see - as I clearly did - that he is quite large, and looking right at me.

Unlike nearly every other bear I have encountered, this one would not run. No bars between us. We were about 150 feet apart. I yelled "Hey, bear!" thinking that he would take off. He stood his ground and gave me this look as if to say "You dare to speak to me that way? Perhaps I should teach you some proper manners!" A bear can outsprint a race horse (and I cannot), so running is not an effective strategy.

I pondered what to do.  Should I retreat?  I really didn't want to retrace my steps for nearly four miles with just a mile to the car.  So I stood my ground, and then took a couple of steps towards him.  He turned and ran after about 45 seconds from when I took the last photo - but not super fast, more of a jog for a bear. As I stood where he had been and keyed an inReach message about the bear, two deer walked up through the woods. They didn't see me until they got 40 feet from me, at which point they turned and ran. Then the bear came out of the woods again, only 100 feet away, saw me on the path and turned and ran. At that point, I thought it made sense to move on, which is precisely what I did. I kept a very close eye on the stretch of woods that he had run off into, but saw him no more.  My guess is that he had discovered some kind of a food source and was returning to it, and I didn't want to interfere with that.

Black bears are not normally dangerous, but they do on occasion attack and kill people. For example, a young man, while hiking with three friends, was killed by a bear in New Jersey a year ago, and a woman was charged and bitten by a bear in August in western Virginia, perhaps 100 miles from here in Douthat State Park.  I really enjoyed my five mile hike to South River Falls, but being on the menu was not part of my plans. So it was a thrilling experience and a joy to see this powerful animal up close, but I had no desires to be on a first name basis! If the bear had not retreated, I think I would have had to backtrack the very long way back to my car. No sense tempting fate. A person alone is no match for a bear, and this one was large, as you can see. This time of year, they are doing every thing that they can to put on weight for the winter.

I finished my hike without seeing anything else, and as it was lunch time, I drove to a park overlook and enjoyed the views and my lunch.  What a fun and memorable day on the trails!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mushrooms in the Forest

After a couple of weeks of being unable to get out on a hike, I was looking forward to joining a group from ODATC for a hike in the Appomattox - Buckingham State Forest today.  I was looking forward to it so much that I arrived at the meeting point five minutes early, taking the exit for the huge shopping center, and eagerly looking ahead for Joanne Fabrics, the meeting spot.  The infallible map inside my flawless male brain knew exactly where Joanne's was located, except someone apparently moved the store.  Like, they moved it pretty far.  So I spent 15 minutes driving all over looking for it every which way but in the right place when I suddenly spotted the store across the way and got there just before everyone headed out!

What a great day for a hike!  The weather was perfect and the leaves are just starting to turn.  While we saw no wildlife or great scenery - the view was quintessential central Virginia forest - we did see a lot of interesting mushrooms.  I think that all eight of us enjoyed the hike a lot.  This was the longest hike I've done since the Obsidian Trail in Oregon almost exactly two months ago.

The trails covered somewhere between 10.6 (what my inReach tracked) and 12 (the hike description) miles, mostly level woods roads, with one amazingly steep section.  Here is a view of the track, which we hiked counter clockwise, starting and ending at the purple circle at the top.

Here, the group hikes down what was a typical "trail" for this hike, a woods road.  Things are not always well marked, so you need a map in here, and you need to pay attention.

Our first obstacle was this stream, early in the hike.  It looked like a long day of wet feet, but our fearless leader waded across, found a log, and made a bridge for the rest of us to use.  This saved the five men from proceeding with the suggestion of the three women - that we lie face down across the stream and let the women walk on our backs.  Surely Sir Walter Raleigh would have done so, right?

At our lunch spot, we expected to sit on the bridge, dangling our feet over the water.  But apparently the recent storms washed the bridge out.

Using some care, one could step on rocks, reach the steeply angled bridge remains, and creep upwards to the shore over the slippery wood.

It's fall, and colors are starting to arrive.

But green is still the dominant color.  Here, the group leaves the woods for hiking along a field.

As I said, mushroom was the word of the day.  We saw lots of them, many of them large, and while I can't identify them, here are photos of some of the best ones.


 (he is not holding it - we just wanted someone's hands in the frame so you can get an idea how big it was)


Pretzel colored....
(although for some of us, this looked more like a shiny Christmas tree ornament than a pretzel)

And more yellow...

What a fun hike with a good group of people on a beautiful early fall day!

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!