Monday, July 28, 2008

Honest Abe

July 19, 2008. While not really a hike, I had to be in Kentucky for a couple of days for personal reasons and decided to see a bit of the history of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. I took very short (less than half miles each) strolls at his birthplace and boyhood home, and snapped a few photos:

A footpath near the "Great Emancipator's" birthplace, winding through the pretty Kentucky woods.

Lincoln lived as a boy in a cabin that was similar to this, believed to be the home of a family friend who saved little Abraham from drowning in a nearby stream.

Idyllic view of a garden behind the homesite.

Finally, I snapped a few shots of some butterflies - one is a tiger swallowtail - who were more intent on thistle nector than on me being near them:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wildlife Photos - Past Riprap Hollow Hikes

On my hike on June 29, I didn't see these animals (on the hike that is, obviously I saw a box turtle on the drive in). But I did take these photos on hikes in previous years along the Riprap Hollow circuit hike.

In 2005, I came upon this apparently very old box turtle in Cold Stream Hollow. Note the missing scutes on the left side of his shell:

In 2006, I encountered this white tail deer on the hike up Wildcat Ridge:

On the same hike, I found this pretty little flowering plant along the trail. No idea what it is. Yes, I know, it isn't an animal, but I wanted to include it anyway.

I saw this beautiful but dead luna moth in 2007 along the Appalachian Trail part of the hike:

I nearly stepped on this timber rattlesnake on the Wildcat Ridge Trail in 2004. I was more fascinated with my brand new GPS than I was with where I was putting my feet. But there was no harm to man or beast:

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Riprap Hollow - June 29, 2008

June 29, 2008. Riprap Hollow is one of my favorite hikes. On the drive in, I come across a box turtle trying to cross the Skyline Drive. I pulled over as quickly as I can, and ran back to rescue him, my good deed for the day. I marvel at how tightly they can close their hinged shell, the only American turtle that I am aware of that can fully do this. These turtles are not as common as they once were, with all the highway traffic and development, but I would guess they have a good refuge in Shenandoah National Park. Still, I was glad to find this turtle before a car did. I carried him about 100 feet from the road, in the same direction that he had been pointed.

I reach the Wildcat Ridge parking area at Skyline Drive milepost 92.1, synch up my GPS, put on my boots, and hit the trail. I am so happy to be doing my annual Riprap Hollow hike. The weather was warm and hazy with a cooling breeze at times. I quickly reached the Appalachian Trail from the parking lot.

Maybe I will hike this whole trail someday, or at least all of Virginia, and from Vermont to Katahdin in New England. As I follow the famous while blazes for the next 2.8 miles, I listened to oven birds (“Teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher”) and rufous sided towhees (“Drink your tea”) calling in the rich hardwood forest. At one point on the trail, a black and white warbler came to check me out, the only warm blooded animal I ended up seeing on the hike.

At one point on the AT, I had a brief distant view of my destination, Riprap Hollow, still about 5 trail miles distant.

A little while later, I come upon the last of the Mountain Laurel. I missed the peak bloom once again this year.

Along the Appalachian Trail, I saw this burned out tree – maybe it had been struck by lightening at some point.

I also thought that this tree along the trail was interesting. I wonder what caused it to grow this way? You can see a white AT blaze on its trunk:

I passed the Riprap parking lot, and continued on the AT for about 0.4 miles, reaching the junction of the Riprap Trail and the AT. This trail is quite different from the AT section that I just hiked. For one thing, it is steeper, generally downhill and a little narrower.

For another there are several good views of the valley created by Paine Run from several rocky areas, such as these from Chimney Rocks:

At a few points on the Riprap Trail, you can also see the broad Shenandoah Valley in the distance, getting closer and closer as one descends the trail. The towns and farms of the “Valley” are in sharp contrast to the heavily wooded mountains right around me.

This interesting talus area always appears to me as a good place to see a rattlesnake, but I have never seen one here.

Along the trail, I saw several American Chestnut sprouts. The loss of this species (from the imported chestnut blight), which once covered the forests in this area and were a critical tree for wildlife and local people, is one of the environmental disasters in the East Coast. The sprouts reach a certain height, perhaps 10 feet, and then become susceptible to the blight and die off.

I also saw these pretty yellow flowers along my hike of this part of the trail. I don’t know what they are – any botanists out there? – but they sure were pretty.

As I continued my descent, light rain fell on and off, and there were many times that I had to put the camera away in a ziplock bag. After about 5.5 miles, the trail heads south into a beautiful gorge with steep forested slopes on each side. Shortly after this, I saw the first evidence of water since I started hiking. Water from this point will be my constant companion for the next mile or so, as it rapidly comes out as a beautiful stream. Now I am in Cold Spring Hollow:

I tried to go quietly, as twice I have seen black bear in this general area, two bears each time. Alas, I had no such luck today, although a little later in my hike I will see an amazing wildlife sight that I have never seen before. As I hiked along the stream, crossing it once, the only evidence I detected of wildlife was a blue jay calling.

The stream is beautiful and sings as it cascades through the hollow in a series of rivulets, small falls, and pools. At 6.3 miles into my hike, I reached my main destination: one of the prettiest little pools one could ask for. Of course, I had to take a dip, so I changed into my swim suit and jumped in. The shock of the 62 degree water on my heated skin was so intense that I almost hyperventilated for about 30 seconds, but as I adjusted to the temperature change, it was quite refreshing. A young woman at the pool for her lunch break during her hike kindly snapped a photo of me in the water:

After my dip, I ate lunch, battled a few mosquitoes, and was entertained by the beautiful flute-like call of a wood thrush near the pool. I dried the best I could, changed into my hiking clothes once again, and reluctantly started the hike out. The hike continued along the stream for a while, but at 6.9 miles I must take a left onto the Wildcat Ridge Trail, which will climb the ridge rather steeply in a while.

In the meantime, I crossed pretty little streams several times along the first part of the Wildcat Ridge Trail. At one of these, I stopped at the bank to look at a small area of falling water. Suddenly, there was a splash in front of me, and there right in front of me was a good sized water snake thrashing around and contorting its body. The snake had come out from under a large rock in the middle of the stream, and as it turned out, it was thrashing because it had caught a 4 inch trout. The snake had the trout by the tail and they thrashed around in the water for several minutes and came over near the shore line at my feet for a few seconds. It was dark in the shade of the trees, but I snapped this photo. You can see the trout and the snake's head gripping his tail near the center of the photo, while the snake's body is left center:

Eventually, the snake took the trout under an overhanging rock and I saw them no more. I suspect that the day ended badly for the fish. But that is life in nature. Either a fish dies or the snake will starve. I have never seen such a sight in all my time of rambling around various natural places.

The trail climbs nearly 1,500 feet back to the car, and so in many spots, I was out of breath, soaked from sweat, and with tired quads, gluts, and hamstrings. The sweat was pouring down my face and dripping off my nose. The coolness of my swim was now just a distant memory. I took a few short rest stops on the hike out to catch my breath, eat some trail mix, and drink a lot of water. Along the hike up Wildcat Ridge, I saw this interesting mushroom:

I also saw this pretty red eft along the trail. They are a juvenile form of the red spotted newt and live entirely on land, unlike the adult newts which are aquatic. Their fiery color is a warning to predators: “I am poisonous, eat me at your own peril.” I took the hint, ate trail mix instead, and took his photo. What a beautiful little animal!

As I climbed higher up the ridge, a strong breeze came up, and I wondered if we would get a storm, but it held off. The ridge opened up a bit, so the breeze felt great, and the openness also allowed me to snap a photo of Thorofare Ridge from Wildcat Ridge.

As always, I had a wonderful day hiking this trail, but also as always, was glad to get back to my car and replace my hiking boots with running shoes. Note to self – the pair of boots that I wore make my feet hurt and are not sized right. Don’t wear them again! Does anyone else have trouble finding hiking boots that fit right?

Background - Riprap Hollow Hike

The circuit hike to Riprap Hollow in Shenandoah National Park in Northwest Virginia, USA is one of my favorite hikes, for a number of reasons. First, it is a beautiful hike, and is a great workout through some decent ups and downs. Second, there is a great swimming hole in the hollow (holler as they call them in Virginia). Third, I almost always see wildlife on this hike. In past hikes on this trail, I've seen black bear twice, white tail deer, a timber rattlesnake, a box turtle, and assorted other creatures. But I have a fourth, more personal reason for loving this hike.

In 2002, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and did six months of chemotherapy, from June 3 into December. I have been in remission ever since, to my good fortune. But chemo is very hard on your body. I received four drugs, each of them very toxic with an amazing variety of side effects, every two weeks. One of these drugs, bleomycin, can cause lung damage, and in extreme cases, permanent pulmonary damage and death. In August, 2002, I ended up in the hospital, severely ill with what turned out to be lung damage from this drug. It was about as sick as I have ever felt in my life, and after discussions with the Pulmonary Specialist, I made a decision to discontinue this drug for my last three months of treatment. Dying of cancer did not scare me a fraction as much as the thought of sitting in a wheel chair chained to an oxygen bottle for the rest of my life. The doctor felt like my lungs would probably heal more or less 100% if I stopped getting bleomycin, and they appear to have indeed healed.

When I finished chemo in December, I was weak and in poor physical condition. I had resolved that by the next summer I would be strong and healthy enough to hike again, specifically to do a hike up Tumbledown Mountain in Maine in August. My stamina slowly returned through the winter and spring, and in July 2003, I decided to try the Riprap Hollow hike. It was my first hike of more than a mile or so since recovering from cancer. Although I had done this hike several times before being ill, it will always have special significance for me, representing overcoming cancer.

When I did that hike in 2003, I still had lingering effects from the chemo and was not in peak condition. It was a hard hike for me but I was by myself and could go at my own pace. On the long uphill slog that marks the last 2.5 miles of the hike, I felt like I was crawling and had to stop and catch my breath many times. Younger people flew by me. But I was alive! My lungs worked! (Oh, did they work coming up that trail back to the Skyline Drive). I was hiking again! I was cancer free! I was elated!

So every summer since then, I do this hike as a celebration of life, of health, and of victory over cancer and bleomycin! I know that some summer day, I will do this hike for the last time, but I am hoping that day is still decades away.

This hike is 9.6 miles long, and gains (and loses) 2,260 feet. If you hike the circuit, you are actually on three separate trails - the Appalachian Trail, Riprap Hollow Trail, and Wildcat Ridge Trail. Most of the elevation gain, about 1,500 feet, is in the last 2.5 miles of the hike coming up the Wildcat Ridge Trail. You will know that you have quads! The highlight of the Riprap Hollow hike is the beautiful stream and the swimming hole in the hollow, a refreshing and invigorating reward on a hot day! And if you see a black bear on the trail, consider it a bonus!

Origin of this Blog

I love to hike. I don't get out there often enough, but it is one of my favorite things. I also like to write and I thought I might trying blogging about some of my hikes. For one thing, if I see that I my last post is pretty old, it might remind me that it is past time to get out there again on another hike. For another thing, maybe I be more observant on my hikes. For a third, maybe some of my hikes might interest others in trying some hiking.

Part of the inspiration for creating this blog is a wonderful blog that I came across. It is named "Let it Shine".