Monday, July 30, 2012

Sky Meadows State Park

One of the things I want to do this year, my tenth since surviving lymphoma, is to hike in some new places.  I did that nearly two months ago at Bear Church Rock.  Yesterday, I made it to another one: Sky Meadows State Park in Northwest Virginia.  It is a place that I have wanted to get to for a while, and when it was posted as a Meet-up, I signed on for this day hike.  150 years ago, great armies moved back and forth here to fight some of the bloodiest battles in American history nearby.  Their campfires would have lit up the night skies.  Today, everything here is peaceful and bucolic, the way it should be.

This hike covered about 8 miles, carefully plotted out by our hike leader, Marc.  He did a great job organizing things and getting us to the trail head just after 11AM.  We cobbled together a circuit hike with these trails: Gap Run; Snowden Interpretive; South Ridge; North Ridge; Appalachian; Old Appalachian; Appalachian again; Ambassador; Piedmont Overlook; and Gap Run.  This map shows where we went, starting and ending at the purple arrow, and moving clockwise for the most part.

Although this is not a super-strenuous hike, there was plenty of elevation gain and loss, and on the hot, humid day, my clothes would not have been more wet had I jumped in a stream (of which there were none).  We gained and lost nearly 1,800 feet.  Note - click on the wide photos to see the entire image.

One thing I've noticed after every hike in mountainous terrain this year is that my left knee pain returned.  This pain started in the winter as I trained for the Shamrock Half Marathon, and despite not running since March and doing a lot of PT work, it will not go away.  Part of me wonders if my marathon and half-marathon days are all in the past.  But you know, 10 years ago, I was getting some pretty nasty chemotherapy, so by comparison, a little knee pain here and there is not so bad.

Here are some pictures of this fun and very scenic hike, as we rambled through forests and open meadows, watching colorful butterflies flit about.

Sky Meadows has beautiful views across the many open areas, such as this panorama from South Ridge.

Here is our mighty Meet-up group of seven hikers this day.
Meadows and mountains...
A plantation and manor house used to be on this site.  It burned down in 1913.
Historic and scenic Harper's Ferry W.V. is just a two or three day hike north from here up the Appalachian Trail.
About 70% of our eight mile hike was in heavy mid-Atlantic forest.
This beautiful section of the Ambassador Trail was in a transition zone from the meadows to the forest.
Views across a meadow.
The Virginia Piedmont (from French for "feet of the mountains") from a Sky Meadows ridge.
Panorama looking towards the east.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Rambling Around the Steel City

Like a phoenix rising from the flames, smoke, and ashes of heavy industry, the city of Pittsburgh has undergone a rebirth.  This one city produced more steel during World War II than all of the Axis nations combined, but Pittsburgh was also known for heavy air and water pollution.  Since the steel industry's decline, this metropolis in Western Pennsylvania is experiencing a renaissance into the financial and service industries, as well as tourism.

Although I didn't hike in Pittsburgh, I did walk for about 22 miles in my two and half days there last weekend, and I saw a lot of the local sights.  Here are some photos to prove it.

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History had excellent collections of geology and gems,
 prehistoric life, and other collections.
 We also enjoyed the Carnegie Museum of Art:
 Hometown Pirates hero Roberto Clemente is memorialized outside of PNC Park,
 where we saw the Pirates defeat the Marlins Saturday night.
 After the game, we were treated to nice views of the city at night as we walked back across the Roberto Clemente bridge, shown here in the foreground.
 I walked for miles along the riverfront.  Pittsburgh has 70 miles of riverfront and over 400 bridges, including the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
 A short distance away is the Rachel Carson bridge, dedicated to someone that I have admired for a long time.
 There is also some good public art in the city.  Based on the paucity of taxis I saw, this business man might still be waiting.
 As we walked across the Fort Pitt Bridge, you can see why Pittsburgh is here.  Originally called the Forks of the Ohio, the Monongahela River (foreground) and Allegheny River (behind the point) join to form the Ohio River, which joins the mighty Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois.
 We walked a goodly amount to ride the Duquesne Incline up Mount Washington for magnificent views of Pittsburgh.
 Heinz Field is directly across the Ohio from the Duquesne Incline.  As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I am rarely going to cheer for the Steelers, who play here.  But as winners of six Super Bowls (six more than the Eagles have won), I do have to give them grudging respect.
 Click the photo to see the full panorama from Mount Washington.  The Allegheny River is on the left, the Monongahela in the right foreground.  The point (now Point State Park) used to contain Fort Duquesne of the French until the English captured it in the French and Indian (Seven Years) War.  Then, Fort Pitt was built here and the city gradually grew up and spread from there.  I wonder what George Washington would think if he could see this?
 The Fort Pitt Blockhouse is the oldest surviving building in Pittsburgh.  It has double rows of musket ports to guard the advances of the now gone Fort Pitt from Indian attacks.  After the French were defeated, horrific wars and revenge killings between the Indians and Americans continued in Western Pennsylvania for a good many years, including during the Revolutionary War.  The excellent Fort Pitt Museum, a stone's throw from the blockhouse, tells this story - among others - really well.
 The World War II Submarine USS Requin is now a museum.  I wonder if it is constructed from Pittsburgh steel?  We got close to it during a one hour scenic river cruise on Pittsburgh's three rivers.
 Here is view of the Point with Pittsburgh rising behind it from the cruise boat.  The Allegheny River is on the left.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fort Necessity

Before he was the Father of Our Country, before he was the first U.S. President, before he was a general in the Revolutionary War, George Washington -  in the wilderness of Pennsylvania - essentially started the first world war.  And Fort Necessity, on the other side of Ohiopyle State Park from Falling Waters, is an integral part of that event.  It also marks Washington's first military campaign (and defeat) as a 22 year old commander of an expeditionary force from Virginia, and the first battle of what would become the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War.

The Upper Ohio Valley was considered vital by both France and Great Britain, and in January 1754, Virginia sent a force to build a fort at the strategic Forks of the Ohio.  This area was total wilderness at the time, but it looks slightly different now, with the large city of Pittsburgh sited there.  A French force arrived, drove the British off, and built a strong fort at the site, Fort Duquesne.  In the meantime, Washington was on the way to build a road through the wilderness to the Monongahela River, and reinforce the fort - which was now in French hands.  When Washington learned of this, he continued with the road building mission, and in May, arrived at Great Meadows in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  One of few open areas in the extensive forest, this site provided forage for the horses and cattle, and also had a source of water.  While encamped here, the Virginians learned that there was a small French force camped in a ravine not far away, and Washington led an all-night march to find them.  When they arrived at the French camp at dawn, a shot was fired - by whom will always be a controversial mystery - and a massive global war would soon be underway.  This area is now named Jumonville Ravine, after the name of the French leader who perished in the fight.  Of the 35 French, 13 died and 21 were captured, but one escaped and returned to Fort Duquesne.

Washington returned to Great Meadows and sent the French prisoners back to Virginia.  His forces began construction of a "fort of necessity" on the site - essentially a crude stockade and trenches.  After this was built, Washington took part of his force of about 400 to continue building a road from the fort towards the Monongahela.  On July 1, he learned that a large force of French and Indians were on the way, and he retreated to Fort Necessity.  The force of 600 French and 100 Indians, led by Jumonville's brother, arrived two days later and attacked from the woods during an all-day drenching rainstorm.

Washington had done a lot of things right with the fort, but one thing that was done incorrectly was that it was too close to the dense forest.  The enemy forces could take cover behind the trees and fire on the Virginians, their horses, and their cattle.  It was an untenable position, and late in the day, Washington was offered surrender terms by his foe.  These were written in French, and in them, Washington accepted responsibility for the assassination of Jumonville.  Not reading or speaking French, this was not clear to him until later, when France used it to great effect as propaganda.  But suppose he had understood and refused to sign?  His entire force would have been slaughtered or captured, so he really had no choice.  Upon the surrender, Washington and his surviving men and horses were allowed to retreat to Virginia.  But as Horace Walpole wrote: "The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire."  The resulting war, the first true global war, involved many nations and was fought in North America, Europe, the Carribean, India, and many other places.

After the retreat, the French burned the primitive fort to the ground, but it has since been reconstructed from archaeological evidence.  It consists of some trenches and a stockade to give limited protection to a single small building, where the supplies - ammunition, food, and the all important rum - were stored.  There is an excellent small museum on the site, which also shows a film, and several miles of hiking trails.  I didn't have time to explore these, but did walk into the site and look around a bit.  Given that this is a piece of history I didn't learn much about in school, I found it very interesting.  Want to read more?  I read The French and Indian War by Walter Borneman earlier this year, and learned a lot from it.  Here are a few of my photos from this historic site.

This may look like the real fort, but this reconstruction of the stockade had one purpose - to protect the small building with critical supplies.

 The trenches around the stockade were the real fort.  They would have been considerably taller before 258 years of erosion acted upon them.
 These two French soldiers spoke excellent and unaccented English.  C'est magnifique!
 Inside the stockade, this building contained important supplies such as gunpowder and rum.
 The French let the men and horses leave with their weapons, but they required that the swivel guns stay behind.  I would imagine that some of the soldiers were secretly pleased not to have to carry the heavy things through several hundred miles of wilderness back to Virginia.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Falling Waters

We returned to our native State of Pennsylvania for a few days to act as tourists and see some of the sites.  I was hesitant to post about it, because it wasn't traditional hiking.  But after thinking about all the miles on my feet during this trip - yesterday alone, I took more than 26,400 steps - I figured it was close enough to hiking to write about.  We'll start with a post about Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece, Falling Waters, which is near Ohiopyle State Park (which looks like a very cool place, by the way.  Maybe another trip?)

I have never seen anything like Falling Waters, a large home built into a waterfall.  It is beyond incredible.  It was built for the Kaufmann's, a wealthy Pittsburgh department store owner late in the Depression.  Later, their son donated the home and land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.  I am sure that there is tons of detailed information about this site that you can easily get to, and so am not going to try to duplicate it.  I will just say that was my favorite part of the whole four day trip (today was strictly a tiring travel day).  If you have not seen it, go!  I will repeat that statement: if you have not seen it, go!  I bet spring when the rhododendron is in bloom, and October with the fall colors would be amazing times to go.

Here are few photos from our visit last Friday.  Photos were not allowed inside or out during the tour, so I got these afterwards from the outside.

One of my favorite features of the home is the "Hatch," which leads from the living room to a small platform over Bear Run.

 Falling Water is surrounded by nature.  The 1,600 acres bought by the Kaufmann's are now owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, along with several thousand additional acres that the WPC acquired separately.
 View of Falling Water from about 100-120 meters, looking up Bear Run.
 Here is a close up of the home from the same distance.  The cantilevered decks over the water falls is the most distinctive feature, but there are so many other features carefully designed and built into the home.
 Here is a zoom into the falls under and just below the home.  There is not a spot in the home where you cannot hear the running water.  How soothing it must have been to vacation here!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What Am I?

I saw this creature during my hike on the Malvern Hill Battlefield Sunday.  This should be an easy one for you!

My fur is brown, and smooth as silk
I feed my babies creamy milk

On full alert is my life's fate
Else I am on a dinner plate

For many creatures seem to feel
That I would make a tasty meal

When hungry fox in stealth appears
I should hear him with my long ears

I like to hop and run with speed
And propogate, with zest, my breed

I run fast; you're soon forgotten
All you'll see is fluff of "cotton"

OK, my creativity is low tonight for me to write more verses, so take your guess and scroll down.  I think you have enough clues, anyway.  C'mon, you got this one!



If guessing well is your habit
You have guessed cotton tail rabbit!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Malvern Hill Battlefield

Today's hike was less about the walk or the miles, and more about trying out my brand new camera, a Coolpix AW100.  It is waterproof to 10 meters, shock resistant, and geo-tags the photos - a great camera for a hiker or runner, or cyclist for that matter.  So I took a two mile walk at the Malvern Hill Battlefield, getting back to the car just ahead of big thunderstorms.

Malvern Hill was the final battle of five in the "Seven Days Battle," fought just east of Richmond 150 years ago.  Malvern Hill itself was a Union victory, but paradoxically, it convinced General McClellan to act as if he had been defeated and retreat.  As a result, the Seven Days was an overall strategic victory for the Confederates, preventing Richmond's capture and prolonging the war for three more years.  But what if the South had lost?  Well, I've read discussions lately that while the war would have ended fairly soon afterwards, slavery would have gone on, because the war was about the Union, not slavery, at that point.  It wasn't until January 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in any state still in rebellion that slavery became a formal part of America's Civil War.

In the battle, late in the day on July 1, 1862, an army of 70,000 Confederates launched waves of futile attacks on 80,000 strongly positioned Army of the Potomac soldiers.  The Southern troops were torn to pieces by deadly cannon fire and volleys of Minie balls.  It must have been awful.  I reflected on the horrific suffering of these men, so long ago and much forgotten, as I walked a loop around the main Union and Confederate positions.

I captured some photos with my new camera during my walk and show some of them here.

My route started at the bottom of the map and went counter-clockwise.  When I got nearly back, I took a side trip to a point in the woods where some Confederate soldiers came up through some ravines near the strong Union position.

 At the time of the battle, the Union forces crammed more than 80 artillery pieces across a narrow part of the field.
 This is a panorama looking from the Union position across the battlefield from where Southern forces vainly attacked.  Click the photo for the full view.
 Part of the path is in the open, moving along a mowed section right by woods.
 I thought these two old chimneys were pretty neat!
 The part of the path that returned to the start through heavy woods gave some welcome relief from the heat.  I imagine that the weather was fairly similar during the actual battle.
 This Confederate soldier, aged 17, died in the Battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hiking's Risks

It is still too hot to really enjoy a hike right now.  It hit 104 yesterday and stayed there, and it is supposed to hit 103 today.  Even in the mountains of Virginia, temperatures were in the 90's.  So no hiking for me right now.  But I did feel like writing a bit, and my post the other day about my new DeLorme InReach satellite communicator made me reflect on why one might bother to carry such a thing with them.

Most of the time, hiking is not a dangerous activity.  I would guess for most of us, the drive to and from the trail head carries more risk of death or serious injury than the hike itself.  But like any activity, hiking does entail some risk.  Things can and do happen.  Hikers fall, drown (an AT through hiker drowned in Maine just the other day), get hypothermia, get lost, get bitten by poisonous snakes, and get attacked by wildlife.  The hikes that I mostly do are less risky than, say, a two week solo trip through the Bob Marshall Wilderness, which is less risky than a month-long trip in the wilds of Alaska.  But any hike involves some degree of risk.  The risk increases if you are alone, as I sometimes am.

In the cases I have read about of hiking disasters, two solo hikers stick out in my mind: Mike Turner and John Donovan.  One of them I knew personally, but I read articles about each of them in Backpacker Magazine.  In both cases, had a device such as InReach been available - and if they carried one - they would likely still be hiking today.

In August 1998, the Reverend Mike Turner was a few days into a nine-day solo dream trip in Wyoming's Wind River Range with his dog, Andy.  Just yards from a lake, a boulder he stepped on began to tip, and he instinctively jumped to the next large rock, which was sloped backwards.  He slid rearward down its slope and off the edge, and at that exact instant, the huge boulder that he had leaped from completed its rotation and shut against the back of his legs just above his knees.  He was essentially caught in a trap, feet off the ground, between the two boulders.  He tried in vain to free himself multiple times, and kept a journal of his remaining days of suffering and longing for his family.  His strong faith in God was shaken but, in the end, not broken.  Just 30 feet from a lake, he slowly died of thirst and exposure over ten days.

A search had been implemented a couple of days after Reverend Turner failed to show up, but it was too late, and in any event, the searchers found no trace of him in the rugged wilderness.  But five days after the search was called off in late August, Andy came out of the wild with some hikers who had found the exhausted but uninjured dog.  That led to a new search being started, with the hope that Andy might be able to lead the search party back to his owner.  On the same day that the new search began, a solo backpacker came across Mike Turner's body on this little-hiked route.

Mike Turner, whose full story you can read here, really did nothing wrong.  He caught a bad break.  Had he by chance taken a slightly different route, he would have been fine.  All of us have stepped on a rock that shifted, but in his case, it proved to be fatal.

I used to do some hikes with the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club (ODATC), and on a number of these, I met a man named John Donovan.  I didn't know him well, but it was clear he was an avid hiker, leading a trip for the club just about every single weekend.  I was shocked in late May of 2005 to learn from club news that John had gone missing on his dream hike of the Pacific Crest Trail to celebrate retirement.  Because he was alone and had no family, people only realized he had gone missing when packages friends shipped him for points along his hike went unclaimed.  A search was finally begun, and they learned that several people had actually seen John hiking and in some trouble in a May snowstorm on California's Mount Saint Jacinto.  He had declined offers to hike into a town and get out of the storm, and was never seen alive again.  As it turned out, lost, injured from a fall, and weakened, he stumbled down into a deep canyon and was unable to climb out.  He celebrated his sixtieth birthday on May 11th by eating a couple of crackers.  He wrote a note to a friend who was to have been hiking with him but wanted to delay three weeks because of snowy conditions.  He told the friend that he regretted not following his advice, and said that he wanted to be buried in a US Navy cemetery.  On May 14, 2005, John scribbled a final note that he was going down to Long Creek for water, ending with: "Goodbye and love to all."

Amazingly, John, who had helped many people in his life, helped save two lost hikers a year - nearly to the day - after his death.  To read his full story, and how he managed to do this, you can go here.

Unlike Mike Turner, John made mistake after mistake until his untimely death became certain barring a miracle rescue.  I learned more about John from his close ODATC friends at a memorial meeting we had, and more still after reading the article in Backpacker Magazine referenced above.  He took a lot of risks and was easily lost - not good traits for someone by themselves, under equipped and under dressed in a blinding snowstorm in the mountains.  With a good tent, warm clothing, and a great sleeping bag, John could have hunkered down on the trail in the storm and survived.  Or he could have chosen to go with the people who said to turn back, and made it out alive. Or he could have delayed his trip by three weeks and gone with his friend.  It is a real tragedy that none of these things came to pass.

Had SPOT or InReach been available in 2005, and had John carried one - which I kind of doubt he would have - he still could have been rescued by sending an SOS message.  So when I am hiking along, by myself or with others, in terrain and conditions a lot less harsh that either Mike Turner or John Donovan faced in their final days, memories of their sad tales is enough for me to justify the extra weight and cost of my DeLorme InReach, and my PN-60 GPS that is paired with it to send customized messages - along, of course, with a couple of pairs of spare Lithium batteries.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Staying In Reach

Happy Independence Day!

It has been too hot for hiking this past week or so.  I've taken some early morning walks for 3-4 miles before work when I can, and on the weekends.  I went to an electric bluegrass concert ("Trampled by Turtles") last Friday night (outdoors with the actual air temperature was 101 degrees at 7PM).  I walked the cancer survivor laps Saturday afternoon at the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.  But no hikes, not since my out and back to Saint Mary's Falls almost two weeks ago.  But when I do hike, I have a new way to stay in touch - DeLorme's InReach.

The InReach pairs up with my DeLorme PN-60 GPS.  I can send a customized message - up to 160 characters - from just about anywhere in the world, as long as it can find a satellite.  And I can receive a text message back, displayed on the GPS.  Think of that - you could be off hiking for two weeks in the Alaskan wilderness, and keep in touch with family and friends!  I've sent a message on each of my last two hikes, and so far, it has been fast and reliable.  The service is not cheap (although the safety plan that I am on really is very cheap) but as long as people you send messages to don't deluge you with replies, it is not expensive either.  And because you can send an SOS message that goes to command center that will dispatch search and rescue, it gives one a certain peace of mind and safety net.  I do at least some hiking in pretty remote areas by myself, so having a way to summon help in case of an emergency is a great feature.  I do a lot of reading, including some true life adventures, and in many cases, having something like this would mean that the person would have survived their adventure.

I think I am really going to enjoy this new electronic gizmo.  GPS and InReach - it's a long way from map and compass (although I never go on a hike without those either).