Monday, December 29, 2014

Two Short Hikes in Mid-Coastal Maine

I realized that I never posted accounts of two short hikes that I took back in early October when I was in Maine.  Near the end of our trip to the Pine Tree State, we went to one of our favorite state parks, Wolf Neck Woods, and the next day, I took a little hike at the Maine Audubon Society's Mast Landing Preserve.

Wolf Neck Woods State Park is in Freeport, and is located at the black star:

We hiked the Casco Bay Trail along the bay, a short out and back.

The trail itself is mostly wooded.  This park was a favorite of ours when we lived in Maine long ago.

The Maine Coast is pretty spectacular.  The island is Goggins Island, and a pair of ospreys have nested on it for as long as I can remember.

On our last day in Maine, my wife wanted to return to LL Bean and some other stores, so I took a short hike while she was shopping.  I went to Mast Landing Nature Preserve, located here at the black star.

I hiked a short circuit of a couple of miles, hiking through heavy woods.

These photos are typical of the forests at Mast Landing.  I didn't see any wildlife other than a squirrel and a few small birds.  But I enjoyed one last little trek in Maine before heading to Boston later that day.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Powhatan State Park Trails

I've not had time to hike in over a month - just too much going on.  So when I had a last minute chance to go today, even though it was solo, I jumped at the chance.  You could not have asked for a nicer winter day.  I was hiking without a jacket most of the 7.6 miles.

For my hike, I chose Powhatan State Park, about a 30 mile drive from my house.  It is a new addition to Virginia's great state park system, and I had never been.  I really enjoyed it.  While not spectacular, the trails are broad, easy to follow, and mostly level.  I saw at least 20 other walkers, many of them with dogs or children.

Here is a map of my track.  I started and ended at the red circle, and I went more or less counter-clockwise, in the direction of the orange arrows.  The red arrow shows the direction of the James River as it heads inexorably to the Chesapeake Bay.

I hiked on at least four different trails to cobble together my route.  My first trail was the cabin trail, and it featured the bones of a long-gone cabin.  I wonder what the family that lived here experienced?  If you look at the map above, there are two little blue rectangles on the right hand side.  This cabin is located at the more southerly one.

This shows the trail marker for the well-named Pine Trail, the second part of my hike.

Most of the hiking was in a forest, but a mile or so covered some very open country.

I didn't see much wildlife, but most of what I saw occurred right here.  I saw several dozen small birds flitting around in the undergrowth.

I think this is a red-backed salamander.

This part of the trail is heading towards the river.

The James River is wide and deceptively powerful at this point.

I enjoyed getting out for one final hike in 2014, especially on such a gorgeous day.  This hike put my trail miles for the year for about 195, more than 100 higher than last year.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cold Harbor Battlefield

Yesterday, I took a four mile hike around the Cold Harbor Battlefield.  Like several other places in Virginia, two major Civil War battles were fought here: Gaines Mill as part of the Seven Days Battle in 1862 and Cold Harbor in June 1864.  They represent Robert E. Lee's first and last major victories.  However, the Battle of Gaines Mill was a single major battle in McClellan's seven day long campaign, most of those individual battles being Confederate losses, but Lee won strategically when the Army of the Potomac retreated.  At Cold Harbor, the battle was an overwhelming Confederate victory, but Lee lost strategically when Grant swung around the Army of Northern Virginia and headed for the 10 month long siege at Petersburg that effectively would end the war.

I used my DeLorme inReach to capture my track.  The red arrows show my hiking directions, part of the walk being an "out and back."  You can see that a lot of the ground is heavily wooded, but in June 1864, most of it was open ground that led to wholesale slaughter as large armies clashed across seven miles of battle fortifications.  The battle lasted from June 1 through June 12, but the worst fighting happened on June 3.  After that, the action was nine days of miserable trench warfare in the broiling June sun.

The walk is easy - especially compared with the difficult times that the two armies had.  It goes past lots of incredibly well-preserved trenches and other earthworks that are now more than 150 years old.  It is sobering to walk in this peaceful place now and imagine what it must have been like.  Some of the Union dead, including many unknown soldiers, are buried at the Cold Harbor National Cemetery.  There were 13,000 Union and 5,000 Confederate casualties here.

The guns are silent here now - I call that a good thing!

The Garthright House was used as a field hospital as artillery shells crashed around.  The lady of the house cowered in terror in the cellar as blood from the injured men above seeped between the floorboards.

Here is one example of 150 year old trenches.  In 1862, the armies here clashed in charges across the battleground.  But two years later, one army (the Confederates) dug in as the other charged them.  This was the precursor to the awful trench warfare of World War I.

Since I was last here, they added some more trails and one of them goes past this pretty new battlefield monument, dedicated to the 2nd Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery, which suffered pretty horrific losses in the state.  It is a nice thing to remember those who made such sacrifices so long ago.

Believe it or not, most of this small pond was coated in ice!  That is really rare for Richmond in November.

These trench lines would have been totally in open land at the time of the fight, but now, a park-like forest grows around them.

This steam is named Bloody Run.  It is clear and refreshing looking now, but 150 years ago, it likely ran red with blood.  Something like 7,000 Union men fell in about 30 minutes on June 3, 1864.  One placard talked about a description of a regiment melting away like a snowfall in the summer. 

I enjoyed having the time to take a little hike on a cold Friday, and to reflect on the long-ago sacrifice by so many Americans.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hiking to Two Lovely Falls

It's funny how our brains play little tricks on our memory.  When I hiked the trail yesterday to Jones Run and Doyle's River, I was convinced that I hiked there almost exactly a year ago.  On checking this morning, it was actually two years ago.  I gave a very detailed account of that hike on a foggy Friday at this post, including many wildlife sightings, so I won't go into as much detail here.  Suffice to say, this is one of my favorite hikes, and it felt great to be back.  I was with my Meetup Group, Richmond / Charlottesville Adventurers, and it was nice to hike with a group of fun people who all share a common interest.  This was a particularly fun and lively group!  There were 11 of us - well, a dozen actually, as Indy, a very nice black dog, also came along.  She was pretty funny when all the snacks and lunches came out.  I always say that a dog will give its life for its companion, but let the food supply dwindle to a single morsel, and you won't stand a chance!

My hike from two years ago include an elevation profile and a map, so I won't repeat them here.  The trail loses and gains about 1,900 feet, most of the loss being in the first half and most of the gain being at the second half.  Any reasonably fit person can do this hike.  The distance of the hike is about seven miles.  My very accurate GPS captured it as 7.0 miles a year ago.  Yesterday, I didn't bring my GPS but used my new DeLorme inReach Explorer, and it captured the distance as 7.6 miles.  The both use the satellite network for the tracking, so I am not sure where the difference comes from.

Here is most of our merry little group near the Jones Run Falls.  It looks like three of us, plus Indy, missed being in this photo.  You can tell that it is fairly cool.  I am thinking that it was the upper 30's F when we started the hike.  It never got extremely warm - it is November in the mountains - but it was comfortable enough.

This is part of the Jones Run Falls, as the stream cascades through a steep mountain gorge.

Jones Run Falls was falling fast yesterday.  Note - the rocks are very slippery here.  I actually took a tumble and landed on my butt while approaching the falls.

A waterslide runs down the steep slope.

This crystal clear pool is on the Doyle's River.  All this water is headed for the Chesapeake Bay.  In one pool, two very large trout were swimming - they looked to be over a foot long!  That was the only wildlife I saw yesterday, in sharp contrast to the hike of two years ago here.

The Doyle's River Falls consist of a lower falls...

And the upper falls....

Several of us hiked up to the upper part of the upper falls, and a few even climbed the large rocky area in the background right.

Yours truly with the upper part of the upper falls at Doyle's River.

The waterfall splashes merrily over mossy rocks.

This was a really fun hike.  On the drive out, we stopped at an overlook for the view.  By coincidence, this view is the beginning of my three day hike a few years ago to Austin, Furnace, and Trayfoot Mountains.  Austin Mountain is on the right, the slope of Furnace Mountain is on the left, and Brown's Gap (our first night campsite) is in the middle.

Here's a topo map view of some of the same area, showing Brown's Gap clearly running between Furnace Mountain (foreground) and Austin Mountain (background), and also showing some of the trails.

Friday, November 7, 2014

North Anna River Battlefield Fall Hike

I had today off and had time to do an afternoon hike, so I headed to North Anna River Battlefield.  In late May 1864, as part of Grant's Overland Campaign, a desperate battle was fought here.  Now, it is a peaceful and pretty forest, although some of the original elaborate trench fortifications still are in evidence.  Here are a few photos from my 3.9 mile out and back hike.  I enjoyed reading the historical placards along the way, and flushing a family of ruffed grouse - at least six of them - on the hike back.  Since the last time I was here, they have expanded the trail system to reach the river itself, so that was nice.

At the start of the hike, there is information about the battle, and a painting of some of the bloody fighting.  The Union lost this battle, but the Army of the Potomac kept on heading south to an ever bigger defeat a week later at Cold Harbor.

The trail is nicely graded throughout.

I enjoyed reading information as the hike progressed about the battle.

I bet the soldiers who dug these would be amazed there is still evidence of their work 150 years later.  They might be even more amazed that people still care about what happened here.

Partridge berry, I think.

Fall colors are at peak here right now.  They are long gone in the mountains.

I enjoyed the fact that the trails now go all the way down to the river itself.  This was near my turn around spot, and I retraced my steps for the hike back out.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Through-Hikers and Trail Magic

During my aborted hike along the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, I spent the second and last night of the trip at the Pass Mountain Shelter.

I was hiking alone at that point, since my hiking partner, Hawkeye, had blown his knee out a few hours earlier.  I wondered if anyone else would be at the shelter, and when I got there, I ran into Ozone and Mittens, a father and his young son who we had run into on and off the past two days.  They were getting ready to leave the trail as Ozone was worried about his son's sleeping bag keeping him warm that night.  As it turns out, it was not nearly as cold as the prior night.

Shortly after they left, a through-hiker, Dirty Bird, showed up.  We chatted for a bit, and then five other through-hikers rolled in, one or two at a time: Hydro, Max, String Bean, Toast, and Ducky. They had started hiking in northern Maine, at Mount Katahdin, in July, and had the goal of reaching Springer Mountain in Georgia before Christmas.  I really enjoyed chatting with them and hearing their stories from the trail as we cooked dinner.  One of them reconstituted a campfire from the embers that a big party of picnickers had left, and we talked around the fire for several hours.  A few of the hikers came in well after dark, hiking by headlamp.  They were all lean and fit, used to putting in 15-25 miles a day on the trail.  Most were pretty young but Max was 50, and doing the hike as a way to celebrate the Big Five-O and attain a life-long dream.

As people were starting to cook their suppers, Max said "I need to get a new stove.  I have not had a hot meal on the trail since the 100 Mile Wilderness (which is in northern Maine) when my stove broke."  I said, "You know, I have plenty of food, go ahead and pick out a meal."  Max said, "That's too generous, I could not ask for that," to which I replied "You're not asking, I'm offering.  Go ahead.  My food bag is hanging from that tree over there.  Pick out a meal."  So he did, picking out my "Curry in a Hurry" that I packed since I like it so much.  I fired up my stove, and he just kept thanking me over and over, saying how much he was going to enjoy the hot meal, and how much he loves curry.  And he did obviously savor it!  He said "I never, ever expected to receive 'Trail Magic' at a trail shelter."  His last words to me when he left the shelter in the morning were "Thanks again for the meal, Warrior!"

"Trail Magic" is when someone does something nice for a through-hiker: gives them a ride, offers them a place to stay off-trail or a meal and a hot shower, lets them wash their clothing, hands out snacks or candy or cold drinks at trail junctions, and so forth.  It is a good thing to do, because these folks endure a lot of hardship and discomfort to attain their dream of hiking the 2,180 miles of trail.  So I was glad that, in some small way, I could make a fellow hiker's day a little more enjoyable.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Return to Mount Pleasant for a Pleasant Hike

It was hard being at work all week, because I was supposed to be backpacking.  But I didn't dwell on it and, yesterday being my regular every other Friday off, I decided to hit the trail and return to Mount Pleasant (east of Lexington).  I was there four years ago with some fellow hikers, but yesterday, I hiked solo.  Unlike the last time when it was drizzly and cloudy, it was partially sunny yesterday.

This is a moderately strenuous 5.6 or so mile hike, certainly not a stroll, but nor is it a "quad buster."  There are fantastic views from each of the two spurs at the summit, and those are the highlights of the hike.  The elevation profile shows a gain and loss of about 1,500 feet.  But compared to hiking last weekend with a 40+ pound pack, yesterday felt pretty laid back, even on the uphill sections.

Here is a track for the hike, starting and ending at the purple star, and hiking counter-clockwise on the Henry Lanum Memorial Trail.  At the lower right corner of the map, you can see the side trails to the western and eastern spurs of the Mount Pleasant summit.  You have to climb a very steep rock pile of about 7-8 feet to get to the western spur.  Being by myself, I did that very carefully, especially coming back down.

There was a pleasant little stream for the first part of the hike.

Lady in red

Most of the trail was good footing, but all the leaves made things treacherous at times.  They get slippery when on walks downhill, and they cover all kinds of small rocks that are potential ankle breakers.  You can see that there is some color still in western Virginia, but not a lot.

I decided to do a panorama of the forest from the trail.

On the way to the summit, I talked to two ladies who were backpacking.  They had spend a cold and windy night on Cold Mountain the night before.  A short time after speaking to them, I reached the western spur of the summit:

From there, I went on to the eastern spur.  Can you imagine the views from here at sunrise and sunset, or when the fall colors are at the peak?

I don't get a lot of photos of myself - maybe that is a good thing - but I set my camera to timer on the eastern spur of Mount Pleasant, placed it on a rock, and snapped a "selfie"

I liked the color contrasts - red, white, and blue!  Mother Nature was liking the good old USA!

After leaving the summit, I hiked several miles through the woods back to my car, and then got on the road.  I liked the way the sun hit the trees on my ride back out towards the main road.