Friday, March 27, 2020

The Beat Goes On!

On March 8, a Sunday, I hiked nine miles in the mountains.  While it was not a steep hike, there was continuous uphill one way and downhill on the return for the two out and back hikes.  I had no problems or shortness of breath, or feeling tired.

On Tuesday night, two days later, I had pretty severe chest pain about 11PM and went to the emergency room.  The ECG - all three of them - showed no heart attack, but they admitted me about 3AM for more testing.  As things turned out, they decided they needed to look inside my coronary arteries and found that two of them were blocked!  One was 100% blocked and one was 90% blocked.  Three stents later, they were open and blood was flowing again.  The cardiologist told me that he believed I had had a minor heart attack with no permanent damage.  I spent another night in the hospital and then got sent home Thursday afternoon.

I'm not overweight, not a smoker, never do drugs, and drink very moderately.  Plus, I get a lot of exercise.  My diet is not perfect - butter, cheese, ice cream, and salt have been my pals.  But my diet is not horrible either.  In the hospital, my cholesterol was about 180.  Despite all that, I had major blockages.  I now have enough medications to supply a pharmacy in a third-world country.  I am trying to eat very carefully.  And I got permission to start walking again, starting slowly, about a week ago.  I was going to participate in a cardio rehabilitation program and had my orientation earlier this week, but then they shut the program down yesterday because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  I was looking forward to being monitored while exercising, so that is a bummer.

My dad needed a triple-bypass in his mid-50's so maybe I have some genetic risk factors.  That seems to be the most likely thing that caused this.  The cardiology nurse told me that all my walking and hiking probably delayed something that was almost inevitable, given that I do eat a certain amount of saturated fats.  And my blood pressure was high, which was never a problem before, so now I am taking my BP at home a few times a day.

I won't do any serious hiking until May, when I have another cardiology appointment.  But I am walking and am up to about 2 miles.  My goal will be to get to three miles in a few more days and four by the end of next week.

A few weeks ago, I was planning on hiking strongly the rest of March and into April.  Now, I feel grateful to be healthy and look forward to hitting the trails in about a month, assuming they don't shut the parks down.  Shenandoah is still open, but camping anywhere in it is off limits, and certain really popular trails are closed, all due to the pandemic.

Happy trails, folks!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Oh, What a Beautiful Moorman (River)!

About two weeks ago, I set out to complete hiking on the Moorman River Trail in Shenandoah.  The trail is about 9.5 miles long and runs along the eastern side of the park, following the North Fork and the South Fork of the Moorman River, a beautiful small river with waterfalls and trout.  I'd hiked part of it in a couple of earlier hikes, but wanted to complete it.  My original goal had been to do about a 20 mile circuit and camp out along the river.  However, about a mile of this trail would have been through private property, and I had heard that the owners had posted their land, so I decided to do the remaining miles as two out-and-back day hikes.  Each hike was about 2 - 2.5 miles, each way, for a total distance of about 9 miles.

Here's a map.  I started and ended at the purple circle, the Sugar Hollow Reservoir.  The North Fork, which I did first) involved hiking north (pink arrows), and the South Fork involved hiking south (sky blue arrows).  You can see the Appalachian Trail marked to the west.  That would have been part of the longer 20 mile loop, and was the same portion of the AT that I had hiked with the group just a few days earlier.

Hiking the two trails both involved multiple river crossings.  Most of these could be rock-hopped, but in a couple of spots, it looked like I would be setting myself up for a potential fall, so I waded.  Here is the first crossing, on the North Fork:

The trail was very pleasant.  I saw a few hikers, a few moms or couples with their kids doing a casual hike, and a number of anglers trying to catch the wily brook trout.

Here is the second river crossing, just a hundred yards or so after the first.

And here is the third crossing point, which I decided to wade for safety reasons.  It was quite cold, and of course, I waded it going back as well.

My goal was to reach Big Branch Falls, which I had approached from the north a couple of years ago.  There is a water slide at this point.

And there is a beautiful waterfall...

And a deep pool that would be great for a swim on a hot summer day.

Here is another view of the waterfall.

From here, I back-tracked to my car.  When I had arrived, about 9:00, the parking lot was already filling up, but there was plenty of space left to park.  Now, not so much.  People were parking all over the place!  I started hiking south.  Like the earlier hike, this would involve about 2 - 2.5 miles each way and 400-500 feet of climbing, and several stream crossings, including wading one time.  At the beginning, I climbed steeply for a while and had this view of the South Fork Moorman River through the forest.

Along the trail were some old homesite ruins.  I always reflect on what their lives must have been like - incredibly difficult, I would imagine, but hopefully with some joy along the way.

Look at the quality of the work in this stone wall, which must have been part of a cabin or out-building at some point.

By walking steeply down from the trail, I reached this small cascade and swimming hole.  Someone told me that it is called "Blue Hole."  It was a pleasant day, but not pleasant enough to be tempted to take a swim.

This trail was very easy to hike.

Spring is early this year, as noted by all the wildflowers on March 8.

When I got back to my car, the parking lot - and the road  coming in along the reservoir - were jammed full of cars.  I could barely get my car out.  On the two hour drive home, I stated making plans for my next hikes.  I was thinking that in one really long day, I could complete the remaining trail miles in the Southern District of the park.  But life has a way of interfering , as I learned a couple of days later.  Did you ever hear the saying "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans?"

More about that next time.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Last of the AT in Shenandoah

I had two little sections of the Appalachian Trail left to hike in Shenandoah National Park - from Blackrock Gap to Riprap Hollow Parking, and from Wildcat Ridge to Turks Gap.  So, on March 5, I organized a hike with the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club to hike the eight miles from Blackrock Rap to Turks Gap.  The map below shows the route, starting from the top of the map and hiking to the bottom edge.  There was about 1,000 feet of elevation involved.

Ten of us went on the hike, and it was a merry group.  We had a big enough group to allow multiple cars, and this allowed a car shuttle so we could hike one way.

A little bit of the trail went through pine forest.

Taking a short break...

I always like seeing the woodpecker holes, and I always wonder what family dramas have taken place in the nests over the years.

Here is one of the few views we had of the Shenandoah Valley.

Lunch break at the trail junction with the Wildcat Ridge Trail.

In early March, the park is still in late winter.

On the last couple of miles of the hike, we had a partial view of the Sugar Hollow Reservoir, which was the starting point of my next hike in a few days.  I wished I'd taken a photo but there were trees blocking the way, so I kept hiking, waiting for a better view - which didn't happen.

Other than the fun of hiking with a group again - which may not happen for a while with the COVID-19 virus running all over the place - it was good to be in the mountains and actually hiking up and down, and it was good to check off these last little sections of the AT in the Park!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Back in the Mountains

I have some catching up to do on this blog, and will start with a quick post about my first mountain hike in months.  On March 1, I had a chance to head for the mountains for a couple of short hikes.  I was looking for trails that I'd never hiked on in the Southern District of Shenandoah National Park, as I have hiked almost every trail in this section and wish to finish these trails soon.

I hiked two trails: the Stull Brook Trail (northern trail on the map), which was a little more than 2 miles each way, and the "backdoor" entrance to the Paine Run Trail (southern trail on the map), which was about 0.6 miles each way.

The approach to these trails is from the west, rather than from the Skyline Drive.  I tried to find a third trail, but gave up after about 45 minutes of trying to get there. 

There was nothing spectacular about these trails, but it felt great to be back in the mountains, even though both of these were pretty flat.

Here are some photos from the Stull Brook Trail:

The trail is a pleasant walk, kind of an old woods road going from one park boundary to another for about two miles.

Clearly, the trail maintainers have some work to do.

I like the forest in the late winter / early spring.  I heard a few birds, mostly woodpeckers - pileated, red-bellied, and downy - but also a few chickadees and Carolina wrens.

The hike to Paine Run from the west is the only part of a longer trail that I hadn't hiked.  Coming from the west saved me miles of hiking.  I had to do several stream crossings here, which were easy enough to do with my trekking poles.  I camped near this spot a number of years ago.

Not too long ago, a raccoon left proof of his existence in the mud.

This trail was a nice and easy one.

There were a lot of lovely stream views along this trail.

I enjoyed being back in the mountains, and will try to catch up my additional hikes soon.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Counting the Birds

Every year, the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology coordinates the Great Backyard Bird Count.  This year, it went from Friday the 14th through Monday the 17th.  You can record birds as little or as much as you wish, and in your backyard or anywhere else.  I did backyard counts, as well as counts in five other areas.  Although these all involved some hiking, I really only kept track of the mileage for my hiking records on the last hike, which was Monday at Dutch Gap Conservation Area.  I hiked 6.2 miles there, and I probably hiked close to another six miles or so at the other four sites.

I saw and/or heard 51 separate species, including this beautiful pileated woodpecker.  You can scroll down past the species list to see some more photos.  Count data is entered in eBird.

The six areas, and the species counts are:

Around home - 18 species
Ginter Botanical Gardens - 11 species
Three Lakes Park - 14 species
Gaines Mills Battlefield - 15 species
Malvern Hill Battlefield (Crewes Channel) - 27 species
Dutch Gap Conservation Area - 41 species

Here is a list of the 51 species of birds I saw and/or heard during the four days of the count:

Double-crested cormorant
Great blue heron
Canada goose
Wood duck
Ring-Necked duck
Northern shoveler
Hooded merganser
Green-winged teal
Turkey vulture
Black vulture
Cooper's hawk
Red-shouldered hawk
Bald eagle
American kestrel
Mourning dove
Barred owl
Belted kingfisher
Red-bellied woodpecker
Downy woodpecker
Northern flicker
Pileated woodpecker
Eastern phoebe
Blue jay
American crow
Fish crow
Tree swallow
Tufted titmouse
Carolina chickadee
Carolina wren
Golden-crowned kinglet
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Eastern bluebird
American robin
Hermit thrush
Northern mockingbird
European starling
Yellow-rumped warbler
Pine warbler
Northern cardinal
Eastern towhee
Field sparrow
White-throated sparrow
Song sparrow
Eastern meadowlark
Red-winged blackbird
Common grackle
Dark-eyed junco
American goldfinch

Here are some pictures of some of the birds I saw, and some of the natural features on my birding hikes, starting with this great blue heron at Three Lakes Park:

Nearby, was this group of double-crested cormorants.

At Gaines Mill, it looks like spring is in the air.

At Crewes Channel at the Malvern Hill Battlefield, while I didn't see any beaver, they were surely in evidence, and seemingly had been very busy.

The rest of these are from Dutch Gap...

Canada goose

The trees are well into bud all over, even though it's just mid-February.

Dutch Gap has a wide variety of habitats, including seasonally flooded swamps like this one.

The ducks on the left are gadwalls.  I am not sure about the one on the right.

Northern cardinal

Northern mockingbird

A pair of northern shovelers.  The drakes are so beautiful!

Ring-necked ducks - I love the yellow eye!

Birds are in terrible trouble in North America and all over the world, unfortunately.  Participating in citizen science projects such as the Great Backyard Bird Count can help scientists gain valuable information about bird populations and trends.