After a long winter of discontent, Mother Nature provided us with one of the most glorious spring days imaginable for the special German edition of one of our Blackberry Ice Cream hikes. A lucky 13 Adventurers trekked up the Appalachian Trail and then around Stony Man Mountain, where each vista appeared more spectacular than the last. However, for one of our group, the curse of the 13 reared its ugly head about halfway through, when his soles decided to secede from the rest of his boots. But despite his Wardrobe Malfunction, he made it to the finish with a little -shoestring, some ancient Boy Scout knot-tying skills, and a lot of perseverance. And what a great finish it was, as most of our party retired to nearby Skyland Lodge for the main attraction of the day: Getting our fill of Shenandoah’s justly famous blackberry ice cream. Alas, the ice cream came at a price. We also had to say farewell to Sarah, who is returning to Germany after a year-long stay on our side of the pond. We’ll miss you, Sarah, and hope to see you again sometime soon.
Long-overdue perfect springtime weather, an engaged group of a dozen Adventurers and/or Chrysalians, and an interesting if sobering place added up to another fine outing. The Park Service has spruced up the battlefield in preparation for the 150th anniversary of the battle in a few weeks. There are new trails, new bouncy coverings on existing trails, new monuments, and improved restrooms, for example, while old exhibits past their expiration dates have been removed. (The nearest Visitors Center, unfortunately, has not yet finished its exhibit renovations because of government shutdowns, uncooperative weather and funding problems.) The ground was not as muddy as we had feared despite lots of recent rains and snows, so we had no trouble completing our circuit hike on schedule. Our only complaint was that spring has been delayed so much this year that the battlefield has not yet exploded into bloom; ordinarily, springtime at Spotsylvania is nothing short of spectacular.
While the steep ascent of Maryland Heights is always a challenge, this time 11 Adventurers had to brave the winds as well as the precipitous climb to reach the summit. There, in the ruins of a Civil War fort, none other than our own resident Civil War veteran, General Craig Howell, gave us a blow-by-blow description of the September 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry. We then made our way to lunch at the justly famous Overlook with its spectacular views of Harpers Ferry, as well as the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. After our descent, half our number returned to Washington while the rest of us explored the historical wonders of Harpers Ferry, including Craig's summary of John Brown's Raid in October 1859 that polarized the nation so badly. We somehow found the energy to climb another steep though thankfully short hill to Jefferson’s Rock, where the future President once enthusiastically claimed that the view was "worth a trip across the Atlantic." We finished our eventful day with an early dinner at a restaurant that was reopening to the public Under New Management that very day. They passed their audition.
The good news is: Spring made a fleeting appearance this weekend! The bad news is: It occurred the day before our hike. But 13 Adventurers came out anyway to begin our wintry trek of all three sections of the Billy Goat Trail on the MD side of Great Falls. As always, Billy Goat's Section A gave us our share of rocky ups and downs, combined with spectacular views of the Potomac. When we reached Billy Goat B, one of our number decided it was time to go home, leaving us with a dozen hikers. We picked as our lunch spot a lovely rocky area near the river, where we were entertained by two Stand Up Paddleboarders (SUPs) who somehow maneuvered their boards to remain in one place as the rapids rushed against them. We ran into the paddleboarders afterwards; one of whom turned out to be an instructor (and quite a marketer) who said he could turn anyone into a first-class SUP and invited anyone from Adventuring to take a class with him. After Billy Goat B, we lost 6 more of our number (going right past the parking lot must have been too much temptation), so we were left with a half-dozen to hike Billy Goat C. All in all, a great if exhausting day.
Five Adventurers braved chilly weather to partake in our combination hike/tour of Northern Rock Creek Park. We saw the official signs warning of “deer control operations,” which may explain why we saw dozens of beautiful dogs and horses but no deer anywhere, not even at Fort DeRussy, where we put on our Confederate Grey and stormed the fortifications; we usually surprise any number of deer in the fort, but none this time. Thanks to a wrong turn, we ended up lunching at the poet Joaquin Miller's Cabin. At least this misnavigation gave us more time to get those smartphones searching for Miller poems to share during lunch. The strangest thing we saw on the hike was what appeared to be a dog’s colorful burial plot, on the Valley Trail a little ways north of Milkhouse Ford. This added one more touch of strangeness to the already strange current events, like an impending late-March snowstorm, and the continued mystery of that Singapore Airlines flight, still not resolved as of this post.
It was a Saturday like we had not had in a long while. Temperatures were in the mid 60’s, and with the breeze it felt like a nice fall day. Once we started we found a set-up for a 50K run on part of the trails we would be using; however, we did not see any runners on the trails. Five of us began our hike up the rocky terrain to Signal Knob, where we ate our lunches and enjoyed the panoramic views. While hiking back down the trail we met one of our fellow Adventurers, who had started out early on the same route we were following. Once we finished the hike, we finally encountered the super-athletic trail runners, chugging their beers and wolfing down their food! Saturday was a beautiful day indeed for a hike.
After being more than a little ornery and uncooperative for most of this endless winter, the Weather Gods looked down upon us benevolently again today and gave us an amazingly beautiful day. We did come across some leftover ice and snow, which required us to take our time. We also had mud and lots of it. Even our resident canine had to watch out while marching down the trail alongside Difficult Run. The views along the ridge overlooking Mather Gorge below Great Falls were just breath-taking. We also encountered other hikers, trail runners, and many families with their pets and kids. The three different views of the Falls at the end of our journey did not disappoint.
Five Adventurers braved the cold, snow, and ice of Catoctin Mountain on a freezing winter day more suitable for January than March. Early on we stopped by to see the waterfalls at Cunningham Falls State Park, and they did not disappoint. There is just something so magical about frozen waterfalls. We then hiked up to the Hog Rock overlook, which because of the leafless trees and clear day we enjoyed one of the best views from that spot that I have ever encountered. Next we hiked to the service road (we were off of the trail and had to blaze our own path for a ways) and headed to the Blue Ridge Vista overlook, which was just beautiful. As we tried to hike towards Thurmont Vista, we encountered even more frozen snow and ice, and we were all slipping and falling. Since I was the only one in our party with traction gear, we all agreed that we should cut the hike short for safety reasons and walk back to the Visitor Center via the road. We still did an admirable 5 miles, which was great considering the wintry conditions we encountered. This was truly a good workout on a good day to hike.
Ten Adventurers enjoyed a gorgeous late winter day with wall-to-wall sunshine and temperatures around 60 degrees. The scenery was spectacular, as we often were walking right next to the raging Potomac (swollen by a rapid snowmelt) on one side and the Canal and dramatic cliffs on the other. Our boots paid the price for all this splendor, though, as the Canal towpath was uncommonly muddy. (One advantage of hiking in colder temperatures is that it's much easier to hike on frozen ground than through the kind of muck we endured today.) After a long, languid and Dynamically Lollygagging (TM) lunch at the mouth of Seneca Creek, we crossed the creek to the very interesting ruins of the Stone Cutting Mill that shaped the Red Seneca Sandstone used to build the Smithsonian Castle, Renwick Gallery and other public buildings in mid-19th Century Washington; we couldn't really see the nearby quarries themselves, however. We finished precisely at 3 p.m., right on schedule, leaving us plenty of time to get home at a leisurely pace to gird our loins for the next Polar Vortex.
On a beautiful Saturday morning nine Adventurers set out on a winter hike through Rock Creek Park. This was a day unlike most other February days, considering the amount of snow and how cold it had been for the past several weeks, and we took full advantage of today's sunshine and warmer temperatures. We encountered joggers, hikers, and trail runners. We hiked through urban areas at the beginning in Dupont Circle and at the end in Silver Spring; otherwise, we endured lots of ice, snow, and mud in the wilds of Rock Creek Park. It truly was a great adventure, although a little too muddy at times, but great conversations were had and new friendships were formed. Oh, did I mention that we came upon a gnomes' little home in a tree? You just had to be there!
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