Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oh, Deer!

This morning, I went to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge again for a short hike of maybe 3 miles. I bought a new pair of hiking boots last week and am trying to break them in prior to a more serious hike. This hike seemed like just the ticket. Unlike my hike here of two weeks ago, I saw a fair amount of wildlife: a garter snake, two aquatic turtles, an egret, lots of warblers, and two white-tailed deer. Here are a few photos, starting with cattails in the marsh.
Bald cypress cones high in a tree.
Catching a few rays in a small freshwater pond.
This shrub was covered with beautiful white flowers along the trail.
Ripe persimmons ready for the picking, if you can climb that high.
I am not sure what this flowering aquatic plant is, but it was very pretty.
Near my turn-around point, I saw these two deer. They were wary but never did run, eventually just trotting off as I walked past them.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My New Tent

My first time truly backpacking, I was 20 years old and alone in the wilds of Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. I'd hitchhiked for two days to get there after my car broke near Dayton, Ohio. I carried a ridiculously heavy pack, since everything I needed while hitching rides and camping were in it, but the one thing I didn't have was a tent. I slept on a groundcloth and as a result, I got chewed alive by mosquitoes at night, and soaked to the skin in heavy thunderstorms. Before I went on another trip, I bought a great tent that lasted decades until I made the mistake of loaning it to my son.

When I went backpacking up the Priest a year ago, I borrowed a friend's tent, and didn't much care for it. It was very difficult to get in and out of, and you could not sit up in it. So that made me realize that I wanted a tent with an entrance on the side, and more head room. After a lot of searching, I bought an Eastern Mountain Sports Velocity 1 last spring. The idea was that I would join a friend for a few days while he hiked the southern half of the Appalachian Trail. Then I developed bad plantar fasciitis, and he broke his ankle, which pretty well knocked those plans for a loop. So for five months, the tent has sat in my closet, unpacked.

Well, that changed today. I am planning on a three day backpacking trip next month. Hopefully, it won't be as cold as a year ago. And I figured I'd better learn how to put the tent up under dry and sunny conditions so that I might have a chance getting it set up if it is dark and/or raining. So I took the tent out on the patio, and spent a good half hour learning how to set it up. Then I took it all down, packed it up, and set it up again. This time, it only took about six minutes, not counting staking down the tent (the stakes are not going to go into a concrete patio real well). I think I will like this tent. It is light weight, about two pounds 14 oz. I also bought the "footprint," which adds a few ounces but will extend the life of the tent. It is not nearly as roomy as my pink tent that I slept in for two nights during the Susan G. Komen 3-Day, but it doesn't need to be.

Why get just a one person tent? Well, it saves a couple of pounds, and even if I go camping with a friend, it is more comfortable to sleep in your own tent. Two people in a two person tent - roughly 6.5 by 4 feet - have to be two very friendly people. My wife is as likely to join me on a backpacking trip as I am to wear a pink dress to work and spray paint "My Boss is an Idiot" all over my workplace. In fact, she is even less likely to go backpacking. So a one person tent should fit the bill.

Here are some photos as I set it up, starting with a picture of the "foot print" on the patio and everything else still bundled up.
The pole system is really cool. It is one assembly, all shock-corded together. There are little balls at the end of each pole that snap into an assembly at each corner of the tent. And there are things on the tent that snap on to various parts of the poles to make the tent open up. It is very easy, once you learn how it works.
Here is the tent set up without the fly. If there was a zero percent chance of rain at night, and it was a warm night, this would not be a bad way to sleep.
All set up and showing the side entrance with the vestibule pulled back.
View with the rain fly on and pulled out as well as I could without staking it down.
Inside view towards my feet.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Am I?

Let's see if you can guess this animal that I saw during my hike last Saturday to Big Run in Shenandoah National Park. Scroll down slowly to uncover the clues.

Like you, I have a backbone.

I am cold blooded, unlike you.

I am a carnivore, 100%. Keep your nasty salad, give me a delicious, fat, wriggling earthworm!

I almost always only eat live prey, and I swallow it whole, alive, and struggling.

If you don't know a lot about me, you may fear me.

I have no legs at all, but can move around, swim, and even climb just fine without them.

Yell as loud as you like, but I cannot hear you.

I am not poisonous, but grab me, and I may bite you. I will certainly release an awful smelling (and tasting) musk.

I give birth to live young, but I am no mammal. You probably already figured that out, though.

I have a variety of color patterns to my skin, but I am most commonly thought of as having yellowish stripes.

Have you figured it out yet?I am a garter snake!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Big Run Circuit Hike

My second hike last Saturday in Shenandoah National Park was a 5.8 mile circuit hike in the Big Run watershed. It could not have been more different than my earlier hike up Turk Mountain the same day. It did not have the dramatic views of the mountaintop vistas, but it did have solitude in a beautiful forest that is rapidly changing to autumn. I hoped to see bear, but was disappointed. In fact, I saw very little wildlife: a downy woodpecker, a warbler of some kind, and two aquatic salamanders, as well as a couple of other animals that I will talk about in later posts.

For most of the hike, I saw only two people - a couple I passed descending towards the stream. I saw a few others on the ridge hike out of the watershed, and then a number of hikers and backpackers on the Appalachian Trail over the last mile. Here is a map of the route, as well as an elevation profile. The first part of the hike is a steady decline into the watershed, the middle third is a moderate climb back out - gaining 600 feet in the first mile after the stream - and the final part is ridge hiking with minor up and downs.Near the start of the hike, there is an overlook on the Skyline Drive where one can see much of the Big Run watershed, where I will be descending into shortly.
This hike goes through lovely forest, and is very tranquil and soothing.
Mother Nature likes to change the carpets and her decorating scheme this time every year:
Big Run may not look like much, but it was tricky to cross without getting my feet wet. Without my hiking stick - and trekking poles would have been better - I think wet boots would have been the result. I ate lunch here, my typical PB&J:
At this point, I've gained 1,000 feet or so from my luncheon spot at Big Run, and started to get some partial views again.
I think this is sassafras, decked out in orange for Halloween.
The last mile or so of the hike is on the Appalachian Trail, as I passed by this dramatic rocky area.
Here is my final vista of the hike, the eastern view from the Doyle River Overlook on the Skyline Drive as the Appalachian Trail passes by. My beautiful hike is nearly over.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hike Up Turk Mountain

Yesterday was going to be a beautiful fall day, and because of some upcoming things, it might be my last chance to get up in the mountains with fall colors, so I decided to go for a couple of hikes by myself. Usually, I prefer hiking with others, but I had to be home by 4 or so to go to a concert (Vishten, beyond fantastic, and if you ever have a chance to see them, run, don't walk. They were amazing!). So I decided to get a very early start, hike at my own pace, and leave the mountains by 2 so as not to be late. I was out of my house by 6:10 and headed towards Shenandoah National Park, buying a new annual pass at the entrance station.

I drove about 10 miles up the Skyline Drive and pulled into the parking lot. I was ready to start up Turk Mountain before 8:30. I chatted with a group of boyscouts and their leaders from Hampton. They had camped out the night before and were going to be out the rest of the weekend. They surely had glorious weather. It was crisp and cool, with a strong wind at times. I put on a second layer, shouldered my pack, and hit the trail for the first of two hikes. This was going to be fairly steep, and mostly a nice hike through the forest and up the mountain. The first little bit was on the Appalachian Trail.

Here is a topo map and elevation profile of my out-and-back route of about 2.3 miles. To see exactly where I was, click here.
I peered into this cave not far from the top, but didn't see anything.
Self portrait:
A large rock fall on the way up looked like a great place for rattlesnakes, but I didn't see any.
Turk Mountain has a small, rocky summit. There is not a lot of room up there to spread out. The view from the top is wonderful at 360 degrees. These next three photos show it to the west over Virginia's Shenandoah Valley panning north to the mountains in the park. I could look almost straight down from the top of Turk Mountain's small summit. You can see that there is still a lot of green. From here, I retraced my steps back to car, meeting only the boy scouts that I saw in the parking lot as they hiked up the mountain for the view.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dawn over the Atlantic

Last New Year's Eve, I saw a spectacular sunset over Back Bay, and wrote about it here. This morning, I stood on the beach about 20 minutes before sunrise, and snapped photos every few minutes until the sun came up. I will let the pictures, from about 15 minutes before sunrise to about five minutes after sunrise, each be a thousand words, and speak for themselves....

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Back at Back Bay

Just two weeks after the Komen 3-Day for the Cure, and one week after running in the Livestrong Dolphin Challenge 10K at the beach, my plantar fasciitis is feeling a bit worse than it had been. But it is still not as a bad as before, so I decided to go on a hike back at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It was good to be back, for the first time in five months. I hiked about four miles, starting just minutes after dawn. I love being outside in the early morning, and have for a long time. I didn't find any amazing wildlife, other than a huge flock of swallows that flew over me. Here are some photos from my little hike this morning.

This guy and I were the only ones in the parking lot when I got there. He was launching his kayak, and I waited a second to capture him for my blog.
Panoramic marsh view.
Early morning view out across Back Bay and the marshes.
I hiked a long a dike with fresh water along most of the way. I sometimes see wildlife in the water ways, including a river otter once, but not today.
I ended my hike with a quick stop at the beach at the wild Atlantic. The beach is pristine for about nine miles to the south from this point.