Friday, December 29, 2017

193.8 Down, 318.1 to Go!

I recently decided that hiking every one of the 511.9 miles of trail in Shenandoah National Park would be a fine goal for me.  I downloaded a spreadsheet that lists the mileage of each trail, and I've spent several hours today pouring over maps and my blog posts, and figuring out exactly which trails I've hiked.  And the total miles of trail hiked in the park by yours truly are: 193.8!

I'd taken a rough guess that I'd hiked somewhere between 100 and 200 miles of the trail in the park, and it turns out that I was closer to the larger number (of which I am glad).

It will be a challenge to make up the difference.  In many cases, it will mean covering ground I've already hiked to get a tiny section that I'd ignored.  In other cases, the trails are out and back - meaning you hike the miles twice - and in still others, multiple trails radiate and loop through sections, meaning one has to hike through the same areas 2 or even 3 times to get every trail.

Here is a perfect example of this, a section in the Southern district around Brown and Rockytop Mountains.  I've hiked the purple trails but not the orange.  (The AT is marked in yellow, and I've hiked some of it here.  The Skyline Drive is in red).  Note how the orange trails meander and merge all over the place?  I'll have no choice but to hike some of them twice or even three times to complete every trail.

SNP is divided into three sections, conveniently enough Southern, Central, and Northern.  I think I will mostly focus on one section at a time, maybe trying to complete the Southern Section first since it is the closest to me.  Doing some backpacking would be a good idea because I can camp in an area of the backcountry and try to bag all of the trails in that area.

Well, I plan on having fun with this goal over the next couple of years.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Rockfish Gap to McCormick Gap - The SNP 500

I can only think of five reasons why someone would want to do this rather mundane hike:

1. They are through-hiking the Appalachian Trail
2. They are hiking the southern half of Appalachian Trail
3. They are hiking all of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia
4. They are hiking all of the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park
5. They are hiking all of the trail miles in Shenandoah National Park

There are about 511 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park, and I have decided to hike them all as a goal, which is known as the SNP 500.  I am tabulating which ones I have already hiked - my guess is between 100 and 200 miles worth - but a section I know that I never hiked is the 3.7 miles between Rockfish and McCormick Gaps along the Appalachian Trail.  It runs a short distance from the Skyline Drive through the southernmost part of the park and through a very narrow section of park land.  Here is the track, starting at the southern point, hiking north for 3.7 miles to McCormick Gap, and turning around and hiking back.  So, to get the 3.7 miles, I had to hike 7.4 miles.  And that is one of the dirty little secrets of hiking all of the trails in the park: to get them all, one has to hike something like 800-900 miles, not 511.

From my topo map, here is the elevation profile.  I started at about 1,900 feet and climbed as high as about 2,600 feet.  Above about 2,300 - 2,400 feet, the trail and woods were mostly snow and ice covered.  When I started, the temperature at my car was 25 F, and when I finished about four hours later, it had shot up to 28!  Along most of the hike, there were light snow flurries going on.

When they say "every trail," they mean every trail.  Even tiny ones like this 0.1 mile trail connecting the AT to the Skyline Drive have to be hiked.  So I did - 0.1 miles to the Skyline Drive, turn around, and hike 0.1 miles back to the AT.  The 500 mile quest is "scout's honor!"

This hike starts by crossing Interstate 64 a hundred feet or so from the parking area.  It's the least scenic part of a generally not very scenic hike.  The sound of traffic on the interstate was noticeable at least a couple of miles up the trail on what was otherwise a very quiet hike.

After a half mile or so, we enter the backcountry of SNP.  There are instructions about dealing with bears and registering for camping, and rules on where you can and cannot camp.

This picture is pretty representative of the Appalachian Trail in this part of the woods.  At this elevation, there was not any noticeable snow.

Pileated woodpeckers have worked this dead tree over looking for grubs.

I started seeing some snow at times as the trail climbed.  Other times, the snow would disappear.

Now and then, I came across large boulders right along the trail.  Wonder how it got here?

Although it would be a miserable night, if you got caught out in a storm and had to hole up overnight, this rocky overhang would offer at least some protection.

For the last 1.5 miles or so, it was continual snow and ice along the trail.  I had to slow down to avoid taking a fall.  It was quite slippery at times.  In the distance through the gloom is Bear Den Mountain.

At McCormick Gap, my side of the road was snow covered, while...

...the other side was not.  I sat on the ground and ate lunch.  By the time I left, my hands were freezing, and it took a good 30 minutes of walking to warm up.  I hiked back to the car, glad when I got out of the icy areas, and headed for home.

Would I do this hike again?  Only if I was doing one of the quests 1-4 mentioned at the start.  It was an unremarkable hike.  But now, I can cross it off the list.  Total distance hiked: 7.6 miles.  Total credit towards the SNP 500: 3.8 miles.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Executing Plan "C"

I had a number of plans for hikes in November and early December, including a short backpacking trip.  Those changed about 6 weeks ago when I went to put down a folding table after a meeting.  Whoever set it up forgot to lock the legs, and when I touched it, it collapsed and slammed into my left foot.  I am pretty sure I broke a toe, but if not, it sure hurt for a while and kept me from being so active.  Two weeks ago, instead of going backpacking (plan A), heading along with a group on a tough mountain day hike (Plan B), I decided that my toe was still too sore, so I executed Plan C - a nature hike in Dutch Gap Conservation Area.  This is one of my go to local hikes.  I always enjoy it, and I usually see wildlife.  It is a fairly mellow hike - level and not too long: from 4.5 to 6 miles or so depending on optional side paths.  As usually, I saw a variety of birds, and I enjoyed getting some exercise.  My injured toe was taped to its buddy, but by then, it was not too painful for this kind of a walk. 

Here are a few photos of the hike:

Looking over the oxbow:

Red berries:

Forested path:

A tranquil pond:

Cormorants at rest:

The last of the fall colors:

Eastern meadowlark:

While it's been disappointing to be off my feet a fair amount during the last of the nice fall weather, I am grateful to be out hiking again, if at a lower intensity for a while.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Hungry for a Hike!

On Wednesday, I drove over 300 miles for a work meeting in Bristol and left for home on Friday.  Being down in the Southwest Virginia mountains in the fall, it seemed logical to take some vacation time and take a hike.  After all this time inside and in a car, I was hungry for a hike, and my "50 Hikes in Southern Virginia" guidebook had just the one: Molly's Knob in Hungry Mother State Park.  I'd never been, and found myself asking "Why?"

Hungry Mother SP is about 50 miles from Tennessee by I-81 near Marion, VA.  On a clear day, one would have a view of Mount Rogers, indicated with a red star, from a high point such as Molly's Knob.  This is where I backpacked a month ago.  The map below shows the location of Hungry Mother with the light blue triangle.

Long ago, a woman named Molly Marley and her little daughter escaped from their Indian captors in the wilderness of this part of Virginia.  They wandered through the forest with only a few berries to eat until Molly collapsed.  The child continued, found a creek, and eventually reached a settler's cabin.  The only words she could say were "Hungry.  Mother."  A search party found Molly, but she had died.  She had wandered over much of the land which is now the park.  In the 1930's, the Civilian Conservation Corps built trails and cabins here, and dammed the creek to form the lake.

My hike was a beautiful seven mile loop, starting and ending at the red star, and traveling clockwise.  I hiked on four separate and well marked trails: Molly's Knob, Molly's Knob Vista, CCC, and Lake.  The purple / yellow star marks the summit of Molly's Knob.

Last weekend in Vermont, I had missed the foliage, but I hit it here.  Colors were at their peak, except for higher up on the mountains.  It was spectacular.  The hike itself involves a fair amount of climbing and descending.  Molly's Knob is over 3,200 feet, and the hike included over 1,700 feet of elevation gain and loss.  It is rarely super steep, but I knew that I was getting a great workout!

At the start of the hike, there is a view over the lake.  The park headquarters are directly across the lake, and there is a swimming beach towards the right.

After about 0.8 miles, I got my first view of Molly's Knob looming above.  It looked like a long ways up there.  I think it was well over 1,000 feet of climbing from the parking area to the top.

As I hiked along, I stopped over and over to admire, and to photograph, the wonderful fall colors.

The trail continued to climb up, up, up.

 Once or twice, I got some partial views but mostly I was in the woods.

When I reached the Vista Trail, I knew I had only 0.4 miles to the top of the knob, along with about 350 more feet of climbing.  I stopped to talk with two park rangers.  They had been told of a large tree down across the trail, and had driven their four-wheelers up to clear it.  The final 0.3 miles had to be on foot, as the trail was too narrow and steep to ride up.  Glad that they were out there doing a good job.

From the summit of Molly's Knob, 3,270 feet, there are great views to the south and east.

 From that point, I hiked a couple of miles through the woods, where I stopped continually in awe of the foliage.

There were also some great sections of the trail going through thick rhododendrons, which would be amazing in June, as the trail descended towards the lake.

Eventually, the trail reached the lake, and for the last couple of miles, it wove in and out of the lake shore and the forest.

What a wonderful hike this was! Can anyone tell me why, after living in Virginia for over two decades, I'd never hiked down here before?  This hike was great, and the foliage was the frosting on the cake.  It left me hungry for more!

Vermont Country Store Nature Trail

After returning from my Lowell Lake hike, I had a bit of time in the afternoon, so I walked over to the Vermont Country Store from our Bed and Breakfast, and took a half mile walk on their nice nature trail.  They had a brochure with about 10 interpretive points showing different aspects of the northern forest.  Here are a few photos from this short, but lovely, walk.

Deep Vermont pine forest...

Old field that will succeed to forest if not kept mowed...

View of distant mountain through the trees...

Open pine woods....

Fallen leaves on pine needles...

Pileated woodpecker snack bar....