It would seem foolish to be out in the mountains on what was the first freezing day of the season, but no mere chill can stand against the tenacity of two Adventurers. A 15-mile hike through Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Mountain Park melted away the cold in our bodies, while the visual smörgåsbord of the Maryland countryside vistas under a soulful blend of the retreat of fall and onset of winter nourished our spirits. If it is indeed foolish to be out on a day like this, then we are not alone: the Catoctin Visitor Center was full of revelers of Nature seeking a slice of the beautiful day and the remnants of fall colors. The hike was one fitting for the closing of this season, for we completed the hike just as dusk invaded the skies, and we hastened to the warm comforts of dinner with a hearty course of mouthwatering dumplings.
Five well-bundled Adventurers defied the sudden onset of wintry cold by strolling several hours along a six-mile stretch of the C&O Canal about halfway between the Paw Paw Tunnel and Cumberland. Since there was little if any wind to aggravate the effect of temperatures in the 30s, we were comfortable enough most of the time. After a lecture on the rich history of the Oldtown area (e.g., George Washington slept here many times and decided to become a surveyor here at 16), we started downstream along the towpath. Much of the Canal prism alongside us has been kept watered for many years to serve as fishing holes for the locals. Probably the most interesting sight along our way was the confluence of the North and South Branches of the Potomac, a union heavily dominated by the former. We finished our journey at the Town Creek Aqueduct early enough to drive back to Hancock in daylight. Dinner at Buddy Lou's was marked by yummy food, fast service, generous portions and fair prices--a winning combination.
Eight Adventurers (plus one canine) set out on a cool autumn morning to ascend the steep and rocky Buck Hollow trail in Shenandoah National Park. After considerable huffing and puffing, we made our way to Skyline Drive. After a short rest, we climbed further to behold the spectacular panoramic view of the Page Valley and much of the Park from Marys Rock. The autumn leaves were out in their full glory but also, alas, were the rain clouds. After a short stay on top of the mountain, the rains started and we began our hastier-than-normal retreat downhill. Fortunately, the rains pretty much stopped by the time we reached Skyline Drive, so our steep descent downhill on the Buck Ridge trail was largely uneventful. However, because of the threat of further showers, we finished the 9+-mile hike in record time.
Five Adventurers set out on a perfect fall day in the George Washington National Forest. The rocky trail made for a more strenuous hike than the official distance and elevation gain -- 10.2 miles and 2,100 feet -- would indicate. The views, however, were among the best in the region and more than made up for the extra work it took to get to the two major rock outcroppings. Duncan Knob is the more scenic of the two but the route to Strickler Knob features a very fun half-mile rock scramble. It was one of the best hikes of the year and we will definitely be back.
Eight Adventurers began our day by taking in some of Gathland State Park's history, including the War Correspondents Memorial Arch, a monument dedicated to journalists who lost their lives in the line of duty. We proceeded through the rocky, wooded trails towards Weverton Cliffs, enjoying the changing foliage and jovial conversations along the way. The group stopped for a lovely picnic on the cliffs overlooking the Potomac before heading back to Gathland.
On a welcomely cool late-September day following two unseasonably warm weeks, four Adventurers found their feet wandering in northern Shenandoah, romping through the famous Jeremys Run trail where countless stream crossings await the adventurous soul. Last year's trek along Jeremys Run reported a tepid flow; this year, Jeremys Run was positively constipated due to the recent dry spell. Nevertheless, emergent fall colors and an unexpected but wondrous view of the valley midway through the hike provided much delight. All four Adventurers blazed through the hike with alacrity, completing the full 14.4 miles (including lunch and breaks) in an exemplary 6 hours.
On this uncommonly warm September Saturday, five Adventurers set forth to explore Signal Knob, which is ranked fourth on Hiking Upward's top hikes in Virginia. A completely cloudless day—not even a milky sheen of cirrostratus was visible—greeted the Adventurers in the northern end of the Massanutten Range. Despite its fame, Signal Knob was surprisingly devoid of hikers; but truth be told, all regular hikers can perhaps concur that there are many peaks in Virginia that offer better views than Signal Knob. Regardless, it was a nice day well spent.
It may have been a repeat, but it was no less successful than before. Despite the formidable difficulty, nine Adventurers completed the entire Whiteoak Canyon—Robertson Mountain hike. Even though challenged with stifling humidity, all of us topped Robertson Mountain the true (i.e., hard) way, earning for ourselves bragging rights of having conquered what is arguably the steepest trail in Shenandoah. We made it back to our cars under rapidly dusking skies, and headed for a much-deserved dinner at the faithful Northside 29, where Fish Reubens awaited.
Seven Adventurers found their way to the western terminus of the C&O Canal next to the historic railroad station and Canal Visitor Center. Our downstream hike began next to the re-watered Canal basin, where we admired a beautiful Irish Cross honoring the Irish workers who died while helping to construct the Canal. Our hike's highlight was a detour onto a new trail that crossed the Potomac into WV and immediately took us through a re-purposed railroad tunnel that was about a fifth of a mile long. This tunnel was quite intriguing: It was smoothly paved and even lit for much of its length, the exposed rock walls looked like a miniature Luray Caverns complete with incipient stalagmites, and water poured down in several spots both along the walls and upon our heads. It even sported some political slogans to pique the interest of future generations. We lunched at the shortest (and perhaps buggiest) aqueduct on the Canal before returning to our base and dining on seafood at Canal Place.
Eleven Adventurers set out for Big Schloss in the George Washington National Forest along the Virginia-West Virginia border on a perfect late summer / early fall day. Our group was remarkably well matched. We stayed together on the trail throughout the entire 13-mile trek, including 2300 feet of climbing. It has been a great summer for Adventuring, with weekend after weekend of Northern California weather -- cool and dry -- in our local mountains. Let's hope that fall will be just as good.
Two dozen Adventurers showed up on a pluperfect Labor Day for a thorough workout, a history lesson or two, and great scenic views. After zig-zagging through Old Town, we arrived for lunch at Jones Point Park precisely at noon. Our subsequent march across the Wilson Bridge was punctuated by a sighting of an eagle overhead on the MD end (not unexpected, since the area is an eagle sanctuary). We landed at National Harbor around 2:30. The water taxi back to Alexandria gave us a wonderful view of the handsome U.S. Coast Guard cutter "Eagle," which had just docked there. I was the only one who stuck around to check out the new MGM Hotel/Casino complex nearby. Much to my surprise, I was favorably impressed. But no Cher sightings, one of the day's few disappointments.
After delaying the hike by one day to avoid all-day rain, seven Adventurers set out on a perfect late summer day to hike one of the loveliest and most scenic trails in Shenandoah National Park. Departing from Browns Gap in the southern section of the Park, our group hiked a short distance on the Appalachian Trail before turning onto the Austin Mountain Trail and the long descent to Madison Run. The many intermittent views afforded by the broken rock slopes along the way did not disappoint. After an easy stream crossing and lunch, we began the long slog up to the viewpoints at Furnace Mountain and Blackrock Summit (among the nicest views in the Park) and then back along the AT to Browns Gap. We hiked a little more than thirteen miles and climbed a total of nearly 2800 feet. After eight hours of hiking, we stopped for dinner at Giovanna's in Madison. We arrived just under the wire, minutes before their kitchen was scheduled to stop taking orders. The food was good, satisfying and cheap. What more can one ask for?
A dozen Adventurers made good time down from our parking lot at the the Hughes River Gap via the Nicholson Hollow Trail to historic Corbin Cabin in ideal, almost autumnal weather. After lunch here, we proceeded further downhill until our advance scouting party discovered a gorgeous swimming hole on the Hughes River, where one of us actually went swimming despite the chilly water temperature. After practicing our Dynamic Lolllygagging (TM) skills here a while, we turned around and soon caught the Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail to take us up to Skyline Drive, which turned out to be a bit of a slog. When we reached the Drive and the nearby Appalachian Trail, we thought the day's ups-and-downs were over. No such luck, as the AT rose and fell a lot more on its way back to our parking lot than we had expected from the maps. The hike took longer than anticipated, so there was no room for us when we arrived at Skyland at prime dinnertime. But at least we were able to get some blackberry ice cream to go. Most of us then had a delightful dinner at an Irish pub in Warrenton.
The one-week postponement of this hike because of inclement weather proved to be an excellent decision. For one thing, the weather was outstanding, a stark contrast to last week's: a cloudless day with low humidity and cool temperatures throughout the hike. For another, all four Adventurers demonstrated remarkable tenacity in this extremely strenuous hike, notwithstanding the underestimation in the hike description by 1.3 miles in distance and 900 feet in elevation gain. And it was a pleasant solitude, away from the throngs of Whiteoak Canyon and Old Rag, that we Adventurers savored atop Robertson Mountain while recounting the three separate encounters we had with the same juvenile bear on the way up. This bear, clearly not a responsible hiker, was witnessed skulking between the trees, trampling over the undergrowth, and defecating near the trail. Leaving this delinquent behind, we made it back to East Falls Church Metro with daylight to spare.
(This trip was postponed to August 5 because of predicted rains. Here is Jackson's trip report for what he substituted on July 29, an 11-mile hike on Catoctin Mountain.)
For a hike put together and posted in less than 24 hours, this last-minute replacement was quite a success by many measures. For one, we avoided the rains elsewhere in the area for a mostly dry day at Catoctin, with remaining precipitation wrung out of the departing stratiform clouds while we were well sheltered inside our car. For another, it was an uncharacteristically cool summer day, with temperatures low enough for us to comfortably prance through the palette of Catoctin overlooks but not so frosty that we had to snuggle inside our jackets. It was still in the afternoon that four Adventurers returned home, a mission well accomplished for an adventure on so short a notice.
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