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?