Although the forecast had threatened rain, nine Adventurers enjoyed nothing but partly sunny skies and refreshing breezes on our hike to the upper falls of Whiteoak Canyon and the Stony Man overlooks. From the outset, we encountered very few other hikers, considering the normal popularity of these trails. Accordingly, we had the falls overlook virtually to ourselves, where we spread out for lunch and took in the spectacular view. With the possibility of rain in mind, we were soon back in action, this time on the Skyland-Big Meadows horse trail, which we followed back to Skyline Drive and the second portion of our hike. With similarly quiet trails, we made our way to our first overlook at Little Stony Man and eventually to the overlook at the peak of Stony Man itself. The humidity was increasing by this point, but strong winds at both overlooks kept us refreshed. We concluded with a stop at Skyland, where most of us partook of blackberry ice cream or cobbler. Another great day in Shenandoah!
It never did clear up or warm up as much as had been forecast, so eight Adventurers got the benefit of an unseasonably mild late spring day as we strolled along the C&O Canal south of Hancock, MD. The mile-long Big Pool was quite impressive, with several boatloads of fisherpeople attesting to its continuing vitality; but why all that water hasn't simply drained away after a century without replenishment from the Potomac River remains a mystery. The sun burst out briefly while we lunched atop the Licking Creek Aqueduct. Our search for a connection between the Canal and the parallel Western Maryland Railroad Trail was in vain, so we returned on the Canal towpath to our starting point at Fort Frederick State Park. Our tour of the reconstructed fort from the French & Indian War was enhanced by the enthusiasm of the several re-enactors/interpreters on site. We ended our day with dinner at Buddy Lou's in Hancock, where our scrumptious meals almost made us overlook the uncharacteristic sloppiness of the service.
Four human and three canine Adventurers meandered at a slow stroll around the two lakes of the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge. Early summer in full swing meant milk thistle, water lilies, and blueberry bushes were dressed for the season. Dragonflies, bullfrogs and other wildlife kept their distance from our human and canine pack containing some 20 legs. With the thunderstorms knocking on the horizon to the west, our hike ended just prior to the first drizzle and thunder roar. A trip to the gift shop turned up some unique holiday presents for aspiring young Adventurers.
Eleven of us hiked about eight miles along the Gambrill Park's Yellow Poplar Trail in about four hours. Elevation gain was around 1200 feet, if the tracking app on my smartphone is to be believed. There were mountain laurel in bloom, but it would be quite a stretch to say the trail we hiked was "bursting" with blooms, as apparently it had been in prior years. Why such a modest display this year, I wondered? Other things you couldn't help but notice were lovely expanses of ferns and, unfortunately, invasive Japanese stiltgrass spreading like wildfire through the Park. When we came upon a forlorn American Chestnut sprouting from a stump I took a moment to talk about the history of this magnificent tree that once dominated Eastern forests but was destroyed by an exotic fungus brought into the US in the early 20th century. A few miles later Peter noticed an American Chestnut that had managed to attain a height of 30-40 feet, an uncommon sight in our part of the country nowadays. There are groups working hard to try to restore a healthy American Chestnut to eastern US forests, but whether they will succeed remains to be seen.
Ten Adventurers and/or Chrysalians enjoyed what was probably one of the last days of gorgeous late spring weather before summer sets in. A Memorial Day Parade was about to begin as we arrived at the Gettysburg Hotel on the Diamond, so we changed our route to walk Baltimore Street last instead of first. Perhaps because of the parade, there were relatively few cars sharing the battlefield park roads with us as we marched to the foot of Culps Hill and then up and over both peaks, savoring numerous monuments en route. By the time we reached East Cemetery Hill, the parade was over, as one traffic marshal gratefully reported to us; he was tired of being blamed by drivers when he told them they couldn't get into town. We ended at the Diamond about 3.5 hours after we had left it. After many of us changed into fresh clothes, we had a great dinner with more-than-generous helpings at the Pub on the Diamond, where our waitress was singularly friendly and efficient. Traffic on the way home was remarkably light for the end of a holiday weekend.
Mother Nature suddenly turned up the heat this weekend as she flirted with 90 degrees for the first time this year. Laughing at the dreaded 3H's, “Hazy, Hot, and Humid”, five Adventurers laced up our best mud-proof footwear, filled our water bottles and headed for Adventuring's first-ever outing to Patuxent Research Refuge, armed with healthy fruity snacks. We rambled nearly 8.5 miles on mostly dry trails, with just enough huge mud puddles to warrant a change of shoes at the end of the hike. Snakes slithered across the trail, butterflies, song birds, and falcons flew in and out of view, and a possible young eagle soared above as it chased away from a nest of a smaller bird. Birds of the metal variety dotted the sky in the wide-open meadow surrounding the serene Blue Heron Lake. After a steamy hot trek, we headed to the historic New Deal town of Greenbelt for a very filling Lebanese feast and a quick history tour of the central Roosevelt Center.
Four determined hikers met at East Falls Church Metro on a Saturday morning despite the gloomy weather forecast. Given the high probability of rain at New Market, VA, the group decided to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail northward off of Route 7 at Snickers Gap near Bluemont, VA, instead of the scheduled Bird Knob hike. The roughly 9.5-mile circuit we chose provided nice views from Raven Rocks and a good workout on the roller coaster section of the AT. Luckily the rain didn't come until after the hike. On our way back we stopped at Hill High Orchard Marketplace in nearby Round Hill and shared a delicious blueberry pie and other assorted desserts.
Defying a threatening weather forecast, eight Adventurers proceeded with their plan to hike Maryland Heights and were rewarded with a beautiful spring day. Unlike previous sojourns up the mountain, all eight completed the entire route, trudging their way up to the top to survey the beautiful vista as well as the remains of a Civil War fort. After that, we hiked to the even more famous vista, which overlooks the restored 19th century Lower Town of Harpers Ferry. It turns out some peregrine falcons also like the view of the Lower Town and have decided to nest and raise chicks there. To protect them from us bothersome humans, the National Park Service has roped off part of the Overlook until August 15: Meaning no selfies while perched at the edge of the Overlook rocks, at least until August. After our hike, we retired to the new Harpers Ferry Brewery where we were all more than satisfied with the beers, the food, and the brewery’s own spectacular views of the Potomac beneath.
The day was sunny, breezy, and pleasant. Our group of 11 began the hike with a steady, gradual climb along a Virginia wildlife management area trail from Thompson Lake up to the Appalachian Trail (AT). That ascending trail had an amazing number of blown-down trees lying across it. We had to weave our way through branches and over or around tree trunks. Information on whether the trilliums are in bloom in this location always seems to be scarce, so I was relieved to see that they were. We started seeing them well before we hit the large concentrations along the AT. Also much in evidence was mayapple, rue anemone, and wild geranium. In marked contrast to the first trail, it was relatively smooth sailing along the AT, and I had a new-found appreciation for the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club's maintenance of the trails under its stewardship, of which the AT is one. We encountered a number of people (and dogs) on the trails looking at the trilliums and other wildflowers or section- or through-hiking the AT. We had lunch just off the AT at the Manassas Gap shelter. Shortly afterwards we began our descent and finished up the hike with a stream crossing where some of us managed to keep our feet dry and others did not. The hike ended on a comical note when we realized that we did not have the key to the car that we had staged at the end of the hike. It was back in one of the cars we had left at the start of the hike! Philip, David, and Ajit were game for adding an additional 3.5 miles to the 8 miles they had just hiked by running down the road to where the other cars were parked, but a kind passing motorist they flagged down agreed to drive them there. All's well that ends well.
Is it possible to Dynamically Lollygag (TM) for nearly 15 miles? A gregarious group of six Adventurers hiked for hours in the full glory of the spring sunshine. Many fellow hikers and dogs of all sizes summited Hawksbill as we lunched upon the warm rocks like so many salamanders.
Crowds thinned as we made the long and rocky trip to Lewis Spring Falls—uphill both ways, of course. A lesson in trail wayfinding delayed the Adventurers. Luckily, cell phone coverage quickly remedied a miscommunication. Finally on the southbound direction on the Appalachian Trail, numerous views through the not yet fully leafed-out trees provided verdant views into the valley below and towards the puffy clouds above.
The descent to Lewis Spring Falls was as wet and muddy as expected from recent heavy rain, providing ample flow to the falls as perfectly radiant rays of sunshine illuminated the falls in a gorgeous display.
In true Adventuring fashion, an April shower let loose as we made the final hump over the Hawksbill summit to return to the parking area. A stop at our old favorite, Northside 29 restaurant in New Baltimore nourished our weary hikers. Peach ice cream served in fancy creations from Effee’s Frozen Favorites was on the dessert menu before a very late return to East Falls Church.
Six Adventurers ignored the forecast of constant rain showers and decided to hike regardless. Fog and drizzle enveloped the Blue Ridge in Shenandoah National Park above the 3,000 foot line. We chose to ditch plans to ascend to the summit of Hawksbill (no view to be had there) and headed down the Cedar Run Trail into the valley below. Once we were down out of the rain and fog, the conditions were surprisingly nice. The numerous waterfalls along Cedar Run and the White Oak Canyon Trail were in full force. The three major stream crossings on our route were made more challenging by high water. Once we got back up above 3,000 feet, it was a return to fog and rain. At the very end, right when we arrived back at our cars, the rain turned into deluge.
Under a cloudy sky, 21 Adventurers started out on this hike at Calvert Cliffs State Park under cloudy skies, but at least the weather was rapidly improving. The boardwalk was a delight as we witnessed a vast marshland emerging from its winter sleep. The waterlilies are sprouting. The frogs are croaking. The turtles crowd on fallen logs for the long-awaited spring warmth. Soon, we reached the famous Calvert Cliffs where three intrepid hikers waited no time to take a dunk in the frigid but allegedly refreshing water and could not help thinking the rest looked on with admiration! (They denied it.) Time for lunch and a little fossil hunting. Some hikers found 10-23 million-year-old clamshells and were delighted when the park rangers said they could bring those home. One hiker believed he found a dinosaur vertebra. The group looked on with no little bemusement but, unfortunately, was not qualified to refute the claim.
Back at the parking lot, eight hikers decided to head back home. The rest decided to visit the nearby Flag Ponds Nature Park. This turned out to be a great idea. The hike offers a diversity of landscape from ponds and marshland to deciduous and pine forest. A glimpse of the coastline from the top did nothing to prepare the group for the stunning beach at the end, which appeared decidedly more Floridian. By now, it was hot. It was perfect beach weather. One hiker even swam a hundred feet out to the bay.
After Flag Ponds, four hikers decided to head home. The remaining nine went on to the beautiful Solomons Island for a delicious dinner. The sole blemish was that the ice-cream shop was closed by the time we got there. On the drive home, we watched sunset and reflected on what a gorgeous day it was!
The National Park Service said that this year's peak bloom for the cherry blossoms would be April 1. Although this didn’t turn out to be an April Fool’s prank, Mother Nature decided to play a few tricks of her own. After a gorgeous spring weekend where many of us broke out the T-shirts and shorts, she turned the temperatures way down, so that winter coats were definitely back in fashion. This didn’t affect the blossoms any but did have the fortunate effect of limiting the size of the crowds that usually engulf the Tidal Basin when the blossoms first show their stuff. The 14 Adventurers who braved the cold were rewarded with seeing the blooms in their full glory. We also had two who planned to walk with us but couldn’t find the group, and one who was planning to check it out on his own ended up joining us. It was that sort of night – crazy and magical at the same time.
Ten Adventurers crossed Madison Run and ascended to the summit of Furnace Mountain from the base of Shenandoah National Park, as the southern section of Skyline Drive was still closed because of fallen trees. From Furnace Mountain, we continued to Black Rock Summit, and then returned along the Appalachian, Rockytop and Austin Mountain Trails. This turned out to be a great way to do this classic loop, as the heavy-duty climbing came early in the hike. Also, the Furnace Mountain overlook turns out to be an ideal lunch spot. The day was nearly perfect for a long hike with significant elevation gain -- warm and partly sunny but not too hot. After completing the scenic and strenuous circuit hike, we tried out a Thai restaurant in Front Royal that everyone seemed to like.
Eight hikers started out from the crest of New Market Gap on Virginia Route 211 to traverse a 12-mile circuit hike alongside of and then atop the ridge line of Massanutten Mountain. It was a beautiful sunny day and the trail was quite varied - in a good way. We enjoyed frequent mountain views through the leafless trees and one truly grand view from a rock overlook. One among our number was afflicted with debilitating back pain that struck seemingly out the blue. Accordingly, we walked gingerly down off of the ridge and back to the cars, finishing the hike as planned. Thankfully, our friend felt much better during the ride back home.
Eleven Adventurers set out from Route 211 outside Sperryville, VA on a sunny early spring day to ascend the Blue Ridge via the Pass Mountain Trail. The steady, moderate climb afforded lovely mountain views through the leafless forest. After connecting to the Appalachian Trail, the group proceeded to Double Bear Rocks, a small outcrop with an expansive view west across the Shenandoah Valley to New Market Gap, Massunutten Mountain and Great North Mountain. The 8.9-mile round trip included 1700 feet of elevation gain.
What was originally supposed to be a mid-winter hike wound up getting postponed into March, but at least most of the ground was still snow-covered when we finally got there. What's more, temperatures never warmed up as much as predicted and skies stayed distinctly grey and murky as 15 Adventurers soldiered through crucial parts of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Our walk took exactly three hours, about as long as the actual fighting lasted on a hot July day in 1863. Quite a few other people were out touring the area besides ourselves, but Park Rangers were conspicuous by their absence, except in the cozy Visitors Center. Afterwards we divided ourselves for dinner between a couple of pubs downtown, both of which apparently handled our meal orders with grace and efficiency.
Three inches of newly fallen snow made this hike even more interesting and strenuous than usual for our four Adventurers. The total length and elevation gain were 7.7 miles and 1800 feet, but it felt like more. An heirloom watch belonging to one of the hikers was lost, then found but then lost again in snow that was several inches deep in places. The viewpoints at Tibbet Knob and Big Schloss were obscured by thick fog but winter scenery along the trail was beautiful.
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