Sunday, March 12, 2017

Calf Mountain Group Hike

I had Friday off and led my second group hike in a week (the other being in the Great Dismal Swamp on Saturday, March 4) for the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club.  This one was from McCormick Gap to the Calf Mountain Shelter and back, a total distance of 8.7 miles. Here is the track, starting and ending at the bottom at the little blue arrow head.  The purple arrow marks Beagle Gap, and the red arrow marks Little Calf Mountain, the only real view point on the hike.  The Calf Mountain Shelter is at the purple star.  I don't know the exact elevation gain and loss, but it is a bit like a roller coaster - up and down, up and down, over Bear Den, Little Calf, and Calf Mountains, but with no extreme slopes.  I'd not hiked in the mountains for a long time, and have a lot of work to get into "trail shape."

I almost always learn something when I hike.  Friday's lesson was to double check that I pack my rain shell.  Doh!  I was lucky that it was sleet and not rain for the first mile of the hike.  The weather was all over the place, but mostly winter-like: sleet at first, then clearing skies with brutal winds and temperatures in the 30's.  Every now and again, the winds would slow and the sun would make it feel very comfortable for about two minutes.  I tried multiple combinations of clothing and could never get comfortable.  When I wore my puffy jacket, the exertion of climbing would make me soak right through my shirt.  If I took the jacket off, I would freeze in my one layer of a merino wool shirt.  The best combination was jacket on but unzipped, gloves on, and hat on and off periodically.

When I hike with a group, I take far less photos than when I am solo.  I am not fast enough to catch up with everyone if I stop too often.  With this hike, I took the sweep - the last position.  The fastest hikers are in front, and know to stop at trail junctions.  I am one of the slowest ones, and bring up the rear, and as trip leader it is my responsibility to make sure that no one gets left behind.  We started with six, and ended with six - well, one guy, a very experienced hiker, drove separately and had places to go, so he left us at the lunch break and hiked back alone.

Here is the group heading through Beagle Gap, up towards Little Calf Mountain.

I couldn't find a place to stand my camera for a remote photo, so it took two shots to get all six of us on Little Calf Mountain.

A year ago when I did this hike, the weather was socked in.  But it turns out that there are decent views from the open summit of Calf Mountain.

At the shelter, we ate lunch.  Two of us brought stoves, so any one who wanted got hot drinks.  On a cold and windy day, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a mug of hot tea, a dark chocolate bar, and a shelter out of the wind feels pretty good.

I inexplicably didn't take any photos at the lunch break.  Me, the shutterbug - I know, right?  But it was a good break, and then we started the 4.35 mile hike back, returning the way that we had come. A group of six young people - three couples - were hiking in with extremely heavy backpacks for at least one night, probably two.  I was thinking that they were going to have a cold night, certainly with temperatures near 10 degrees F.  There are times that it is really fun to camp out.  There are other times when getting home, getting a shower and a hot meal, sitting in a comfortable chair watching college basketball on TV, and sleeping in a warm, comfortable bed with a bathroom nearby feels like a better option, and for me, Friday was one of those times!

It was a fun hike with a nice group of people. The only misfortune was that one of the group sprained an ankle.  It hurt enough that he went to an urgent care facility, but let me know later that it was not broken and needed RICE - rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

I have a better sense of my only fair level of conditioning to get ready for more mountain hiking, and for a longer backpacking trip planned for the fall.  I'd better get busy!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Group Hike in the Great Dismal Swamp

A week ago Saturday, I led a group hike for the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club (ODATC) into the Great Dismal Swamp.  Sure, far from the Appalachians, but we are about hiking anywhere.  Four of us went on the hike:

This was my third hike this year to the Great Dismal Swamp.  The other two were to scout out this hike by seeing if I could find a better hike for the group than the Washington Ditch Trail to Lake Drummond.  But all of the other hikes I scouted, three in total including a hike in November, were not as appealing as the Washington Ditch, so that is the one that I chose.  Here are a series of maps showing the route.

This gives the general location of the hike, in Southeastern Virginia.  The dashed line is the state line between Virginia and North Carolina.  The arrow points to Lake Drummond, and the red circle is the location of last Saturday's hike.  The blue circle shows the location of my last scouting hike on the Hudnel and Williamson Ditch Trails.

Here is the track for the hike along Washington Ditch, to and from Lake Drummond.  Below that is the same track as a satellite image.

One of the nice things about this hike is that you can see the water in the canal and swamp for most of the way.  Here are typical views.  Much of the time, it is a fairly narrow canal with some swampy areas beyond that, but there was one portion that had been flooded by beavers that was quite wide.

Violets are already in bloom, and we saw many of them.

The day of the hike, March 3, was quite chilly.  But the recent weather has been very warm, and trees are budding and flowering all over the place.

Speaking of beaver (the second largest rodent in the world, and the largest in North America), we saw plenty of evidence.  Here are three photos - fresh beaver cuttings, a dam that is nicely convex to the upstream side (almost like an arch), and a beaver lodge:

Our turn-around point, and lunch spot, was at Lake Drummond, one of only two natural lakes in the whole state.  It is large and beautiful, and also very shallow, with an average depth of just three feet.

Along the trail, Theresa was a good citizen, and picked up the trash left by uncaring citizens:

The hike to and fro the lake is almost 10 miles, counting a little circuit we did on a boardwalk through the swamp.  I highly recommend it.  This was my third time on this trail, and my sixth time hiking in the Great Dismal Swamp.  I think our entire little group enjoyed it.