Saturday, October 27, 2012

Foggy Fall Friday for Fetching Falls

I had Friday (yesterday) as my bi-weekly day off and decided to go back to the mountains for a hike.  But where should I go?  I am only one hike away from completing my goal of 10 new hikes this year, so I could complete that goal.  But after debate, I went to Doyles River Falls, one of my favorite Shenandoah hikes.  And am I glad that I did, because of the wildllife sightings.  I have not been on this trail for at least five years, but it has been much less than 10 years, so I can't count it on my "new hikes" list.

The Jones Run - Doyles River Falls circuit hike passes by three nice waterfalls - the water was low yesterday, but they were still very nice - and a number of smaller "mini-falls."  It is mostly downhill or uphill, with total elevation gain and loss of over 1,900 feet, and an average grade of 10% - so it is a good workout but not nearly as hard as last Saturday's hike to Rocky Mount.  The first 4-5 miles of the hike pass through a steep and rugged ravine, with lovely forests and some huge trees.  After leaving the ravine, one can extend the hike by continuing to hike north for a mile or so, or one can take the "inner loop" and pick up the Brown's Gap Fire Road through the woods, which is what I did.  That choice made it a seven mile hike instead of a nine miler.  And it led to a spectacular wildlife sighting, one I rarely see.  In fact, I saw two great animals on the hike that I rarely see.

Here is the topo map, tracked by my DeLorme PN-60w GPS, so you can get oriented.  The hike is in the southern third of Shenandoah National Park, near milepost 84.  The star (lower left corner) marks my start and end, and the two arrows show my travel direction - counter clockwise.  I was on four trails, roughly corresponding to the sides of the map: Jones Run Trail (bottom); Doyles River Falls Trail (right); Brown's Gap Fireroad (top); and the Appalachian Trail (left).

You can see a few other trails that I marked from prior hikes in this area.  Most notably, the red trail mark coming in at the bottom left (and continuing up the Appalachian Trail to Brown's Gap but covered by yesterday's blue track) was the third day of my Austin-Furnace-Trayfoot Mountains backpacking trip of almost a year ago.  The magenta colored track leaving Brown's Gap was the start of the first day of that trip, over the mountains and into the gap for a very, very cold night.

Here is the elevation profile of my hike.  In the first 2.5 miles, you lose over 1,300 feet in elevation, and you make it up in the remainder of the hike, with some ups and downs for that total gain and loss of 1,900+ feet.

Now, I was not expecting fog on this fall Friday, but that is what I got.  It was so foggy on the Skyline Drive that at times, visibility was less than 100 feet.  So it took me much longer to get there than I expected, but eventually, I was at the trail head, laced up my boots, and hit the trail, dropping down the steep trail towards Jones Run Falls.  The trail loses 900 feet just to get to that point as one drops into that steep and rugged ravine.  The fog made the forest look ghostly:

But Mother Nature is clearly in a redecorating mood.  She is trying out two new carpets.  I like both of them.

I looked under a number of rocks and logs, always replacing them after I look, but this is the only salamander I found.  The camera made him look a little lighter than it actually is.  I am not sure of the species.

This view, just above Jones Run Falls, will give you an idea of the steepness and ruggedness of the ravine that the streams run through.
Jones Run Falls is about 25 feet high, and can be spectacular in the spring.  On this hike, it was more of a trickle.
This is a view of the forest in the ravine from the base of Jones Run Falls.  What a difference six days make!  On my hike up Rocky Mount last Saturday, the colors were near peak.  Six days later, the leaves are falling fast.
I call these "The Twins."  Two huge tulip poplars guard the trail.  They are each nearly four feet DBH (diameter breast height).
As I moved along the trail, something jumped near my feet.  I jumped just a bit.  It turned out to be this large American toad, as big as the palm of my hand.  Also on this hike, I saw many gray squirrels, a chipmunk, many chickadees, a small unidentified woodpecker, and a number of other birds flitting in the foliage.  On the road in the fog, I saw a pileated woodpecker fly by, and I saw a deer vanish into the woods.  Plus on the trail, I saw two other really cool animals - still to come.
The Doyles River Trail ascends as the river itself trickles down the ravine to the right.
I thought that this rock was really cool because it had at least three types of lichen on it, including the one that looks a little like a scraggly beard.
The Lower Doyles River Falls falls in three distinct steps.  Even at low water, it is still fetching.
I've zoomed in a bit on the higher two drops of the Lower Doyles River Falls.
The Upper Doyles River Falls was my lunch spot.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste so good in a beautiful place!
Many miles of this hike are along running water.  I love the sound the streams make as they fall thousands of feet through the wild forest, racing towards the Chesapeake Bay.  This is one of very many "mini-falls" along the way.
Not far from the spot above, I saw the first spectacular animal species of the hike.  I am going to leave that as a mystery for now, and will have photos later in one of my "What am I?" posts.  I'll need to think about the verse for this animal.  Suffice to say, it was thrilling.

And a few miles later, along the Brown's Gap Fire Road shown below, I saw the second species.  As I hiked along, suddenly I heard a crashing just ahead and to the right, coming down the steep slope.  I paused, and as I did, a large, black animal dashed from the woods and across the wide path.  It stopped dead in its tracks on the left hand side of the fire road about 75 feet away, and stared at me.  I could clearly see its shaggy black fir, its tan colored muzzle, and its dark eyes.  Then, as quickly as it appeared, it dashed like a world-class sprinter into the forest and down into the ravine out of which I had been an hour earlier.  After years of hiking without seeing a black bear, I have seen three bears on two different hikes this summer, the other time months ago on my hike to Bear Church Rock.  Had I not been at this exact place at this exact time, I never would have seen this bear.  It vanished into the woods without a trace.  But the sight was very exciting.  I wish I could have gotten a photo, but it happened much too quickly.

Here is one little hint about the other amazing creature I saw a mile or so before seeing the bear: it has one very obvious thing in common with the bear.

After leaving the Brown's Gap Fire Road, it was back on the Appalachian Trail to complete a great hike.  All eastern hikers love the white blazes - it is like coming home!  A through-hiker, heading south, passed me by.  He had started at Mount Katahdin in Maine on July 18, and hoped to finish at Springer Mountain in Georgia before Christmas.  He told me that he had done 34 miles the day before!  Holy cow - 34 miles!  It would take me three days of hiking to go that far.  It is pretty cool to think that between March and October - and even later - there are several hundred men and women attempting a through-hike of over 2,000 miles.  Each has their own reason, and their own goal.
Back at the car, it felt good to put my running shoes back on and change into a dry shirt.  Even though it was a cool day, the exertion of hiking had led me to soak through my hiking shirt.  I'd had a great time going back to Doyles River Falls, kind of like seeing an old friend.  It is a great hike, and I very much recommend it.

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