Friday, February 19, 2021

Some Bird Sketches from Hikes

 While deciding whether to continue the blog, I thought that I would post a few sketches from birds seen on hikes in the last couple of months.

Ring-necked duck (Dutch Gap Conservation Area)

White-throated sparrow (Echo Lake Park)

Brown creeper (Echo Lake Park)

Golden-crowned kinglet (Dutch Gap Conservation Area)

Hooded merganser (Echo Lake Park)

Friday, February 12, 2021

To Blog or Not to Blog: That is the Question

 I finally caught up my blog and am looking at usage statistics.  For my last nine posts, the most recent first, I have the following "hits:"

Powhatan State Park Hike: 13

Mountains in the Snow: 12

January Overnight in the Mountains: 19

Starting 2021 Off Right: 16

Final 2020 Non-Mountain Hikes: 14

Hiking to Blackrock Shelter: 18

Final 2020 Shenandoah Hikes: 17

Wrapping up 2020: 15

The Lazarus Woodpeckers: 30

That's an average of only about 17 views per post, and some of those are certainly various web services which automatically look at pages to calculate usage, not real people reading about a hike.  I got a total of 5 comments on the nine posts, so about a half comment for every post on average.  Bottom line is, I am not getting a lot of interest in the blog.  

I have a sore foot right now from new boots rubbing it wrong.  So I probably won't hike for a week or so.  Then I will decide whether to continue the blog or not.  If I see a bunch of comments from people saying that they like reading about my hikes, then I am more likely to continue the blog for the rest of the year, because that will indicate some interest.  Otherwise, I am inclined to shut this blog down after 12+ years.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Winter Hike in Powhatan State Park

 I've hiked a number of times in the last few months at Powhatan State Park, about a 40 minute drive from my home.  I hiked a 7.5 mile loop yesterday, and decided to write about it.  The loop was hiked clockwise, starting and ending at the red circle, where a picnic shelter and bathrooms are located on the drive in.

This trail - actually about 5 or 6 different trails - goes through open areas,

as well as forests.

About a half mile of my route went along the James River, where I came across these

raccoon tracks in the mud.  I saw plenty of deer tracks as well.

Moving up from the river, the trail goes through thick hardwood forest.

Fungi are hard at work breaking down dead wood and returning its elements and molecules to the ecosystem.

It's always a bit sad to see small graveyards in the forest.

I saw and heard a number of birds, including downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jay, Carolina chickadee, Carolina wren, and mourning dove.  The only one I managed to get a photo of was this turkey vulture.

I really like the nuthatches.  I could not get a good photo, so I did a sketch of the white-breasted nuthatch.

Moving back into forest for the last couple of miles of the hike, I crossed this stream using the logs.  The park service should put in a bridge.

This trail is named the Pine Trail.  Can you guess why?

In this stand of trees were a number of dead pine with all the bark missing.  These snags become important wildlife habitat for a variety of creatures, starting with woodpeckers excavating cavities and hunting for insects.

Trails in the state parks are very well marked.

The Cabin Trail leaves the Pine Trail and drops sharply to a forest bottom with a nice stream running through it (with a nice, fairly new bridge to cross the stream).

Upstream a bit, I found this great skunk cabbage flower blooming.  This plant is one of the earliest plants to flower in the woods.  They are always found in wet areas, and generate their own heat to bloom in mid-winter.  The grown plant is very pungent, but a number of animals, such as deer and bear, eat the shoots when they are young.  Many kinds of animals also eat the seeds.

About a mile from the end of the hike is the remains of a cabin, which gives this trail its name.

I always enjoy the trails in this park.  I was supposed to join a group for a hike but slept so poorly that I didn't get up to join them.  Instead, doing this hike solo turned out to be a good alternative.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Mountains in the Snow

I caught up my two January backpacking tales, so wanted to add this day hike from last week. 

A few guys were hiking in the mountains last Thursday, and asked if I wanted to join them.  "Sure," said I.  As we assumed, the Skyline Drive was closed, but we parked at Swift Run Gap and started the hike up the Appalachian Trail to the top of Hightop Mountain.  It is about three miles each way, and climbs nearly 1,100 feet.  To make it more challenging, there was significant snow up there.  People had broken trail, so it was only a few inches deep on the trail, but every step required extra effort to push through the snow.

The weather was gorgeous.  Temperatures were in the low 30's (F), and the sky was crystal-clear, one of the clearest days I have ever seen in the mountains here.  I'm displaying some photos from this very fun hike.  It felt great to be out in the snow!

You can see the trail with the packed down snow.

On the hike up to Hightop.

Pat in the snow.

Snowy rocks...

The trail goes continually uphill, graining about 950 feet in the last 1.6 miles of the hike.

Views from Hightop...

Just a few hundred meters from the summit is a nice spring, a rarity for mountains ridges here.  You could actually camp up here and have plenty of water.

There is something beautiful about the woods in the snow.

I brought along a thermos of tea, which stayed hot all day.

Once we got back to the Skyline Drive, we cheated by walking back to the car on the road, rather than repeating the snowy walk along the AT.

Snow in the mountains?  No problem!  This was a very fun hike.

Friday, February 5, 2021

January Overnight in the Mountains

 A couple of weeks ago, my friend Beth emailed a couple of us, asking if we were up for a one-night backpacking trip to the Paul Wolfe Shelter on the Appalachian Trail five miles south of Rockfish Gap.  The weather was not going to be brutally cold, maybe down to about 30, and it seemed like a good idea.  "Sign me up!" I said.  The other person couldn't make it, so it was just Beth and me.  My backpacking hike of a week and a half ago to Belle Isle State Park had been short and flat.  This hike is much more strenuous than that trip, and would be a good assessment of how I am doing with my conditioning.

We met up about noon on January 13, and headed out in separate cars to stay socially distanced.  Before 2PM, we were headed south on the Appalachian Trail from Rockfish Gap.  I looked at the map at the information kiosk.  This is the first part of the AT south of Shenandoah National Park.  My trail club, the Old Dominion AT Club, maintains the next 19 miles, including the Paul Wolfe Shelter, which is super-nice!

Every now and then, we would get a bit of a view.

When I come on these old homesites in the mountains, I try to reflect on how the lives of the people that built the home were.  Think of all the work that went into building the chimney and the long-gone wood cabin.

I forget the name of this long rock (it might be Long Rock), but we are more than half way to the shelter here, and it was a good place to take a pack off break.  Beth is a hiking machine!  She seems to hike 4-5 days a week, including some really tough and long hikes.  We went at my pace, because there is no way I could keep her pace going!  I'm still trying to get my trail legs after being so ill for much of 2020.

We passed a tiny mountain cemetery.  I wonder if anyone alive today remembers these folks?  It's poignant.

On a rock was this oddly shaped scat.  I joked that it was a Canadian lynx because of its "L" shape, but it was almost certainly a coyote or a bobcat.

We reached the shelter after about 2.5 hours of hiking, mostly down hill.  We had it to ourselves, although a man from North Carolina had set up his tent nearby.

First order of business - get the sleeping pad blown up and the sleeping bag fluffed.  A cold night is ahead!  With just two of us in a big shelter, it was easy to stay socially distanced.  I had packed a tent in case the shelter had a bunch of people in it.  Beth, who is going to be hiking the John Muir Trail in California this year, was carrying all kinds of extra stuff (but not a spoon, as it turned out) to make her pack extra-heavy.

Next order of business: get drinking water.  Nearby ice-cold Mill Creek fit the bill.

I was thinking of gathering firewood, but in the remaining light, I just didn't feel like it, so we each cooked our meal and ate at twilight.  This is when Beth realized that she forgot her spoon, so she ate with her toothbrush.  Note - when I got home, I threw a spork into my cook kit so I will always have an extra for someone who forgets it.

Beth hit the sack well before "hiker midnight" - it gets cold and dark quickly in the mountains this time of year.  But our NC neighbor, John, had gotten a nice fire going at his tent site in a fire pit, so I went and chatted with him until about 7:30, at which point if was probably about 36.  Even though it was still well before "hiker midnight," I took my pills and got in my sleeping bag, and fell asleep almost immediately.  I slept like a log - until 8PM, when my phone alarm went off, reminding me to take my pills!  This was the equivalent of falling asleep watching TV and then not being able to sleep when you go to bed.  I lay awake for hours after that.  Eventually, I got to sleep again,

Just after 7AM, the sun was starting to come up.  I didn't want to get out of my warm sleeping bag, so I lay there and got some pictures of the sunrise from my bag.

Oatmeal for breakfast!

We packed up, and I took a photo on timer of the two of us.  This is the first time that Beth and I backpacked together.  I look forward to future trips.

On the climb back out, I had to brag on my trail club.  They maintain this section of trail with masterful skill!

I was back home by 1PM, so this was a nice, short trip in cold weather.  I enjoyed doing a mini-"Freezeree" in the shelter.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Starting 2021 Off Right!

So far in 2021, I've been hiking six times and for 33 miles.  Now that I caught up blogging about my last hikes in 2020, I'm going to write about a few of the new year hikes while deciding whether or not to keep the blog going.

My first hike was January 2-3, backpacking at Belle Isle State Park.  I went with a group of 11: nice people, a number of them first time backpackers.  It was a short hike, only about 1.5 miles each way in this coastal park that is as flat as a pancake.  The weather Saturday was amazing - highs of around 60 degrees F.  During the night and Sunday, not so much - lots and lots of rain, and lows around 42.

Here is some of the crew on the flat and short hike in.

Arriving at camp, first order of business is to set up one's tent, so we each did that in quick order.

Second order of business - a mug of hot tea and a cookie.

The hike-in camping area was on a little point on the Rappahannock River, with some nice water front views.

Soon enough, the sunset started to roll in, and it was time for dinner.  The sunset quickly progressed to spectacular.

Backpacking is a lot more fun with a group and with a campfire (and a dry place to sit).

We chatted around the campfire until well past 10:00, and eventually turned in.  
Out in the river, huge flocks of Canada geese loudly chatted until well past midnight.  Eventually, I fell asleep, although my feet never quite warmed up.  At some point, rain was pouring down for some time, and when I got up, some of the areas had big puddles.

I think I had an energy bar for breakfast.  The rain had stopped, and several of us packed up early and hiked out before it began again.  Plenty of time and opportunity at home to dry everything out.  This was a fun place to hike and camp, and I shall be back!!!