Six Adventurers joined a throng of others jamming Sky Meadows State Park on an all-but-perfect fall day, with wall-to-wall sunshine and unlimited viewing conditions; we could even see the spires of Tysons Corner. Leaf colors were a bit short of peak, but at least most of the leaves were still on the trees and not on the ground. We took the longer but less steep South Ridge Trail to access the Appalachian Trail along the crest of the Blue Ridge, where we lunched while warding off the excessive affections of several pooches traveling with another group. We then took the so-called Old Trail (the path of the AT until it was rerouted some years back) down off the ridgeline through a heavily wooded area until it reconnected with the current AT in a couple of miles. Most of our return leg was out in the open, where we could enjoy the sweeping vistas despite the blustery winds. Once we were finished, most of us took a very interesting tour of the Park's historic Mount Bleak House, dating back to the mid-19th Century. Our only regrets were that more Adventurers weren't able to savor the day's splendor with us and that we would not to be able to stay in the Park at night to gape at the unlimited canopy of stars overhead.
Mother Nature was stingy with her colors for this Fall Color hike, with the only spectacularly colorful tree residing in the Visitors Center parking lot rather than on the trail. However, Maryland Heights and Harpers Ferry provide their own stunning wonders, so the delay of autumnal splendor was only slightly missed. Sixteen Adventurers trekked up steep Maryland Heights, most of us making it to the Stone Fort on the top and all indulging in the famous overlook with its one-of-a-kind view of the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers with scenic Harpers Ferry in between. At the Overlook, we also ran into two would-be Adventurers who were planning to join our hike but who got lost on their way to the Harpers Ferry Visitors Center. With those two now added to our group, we made our way down the mountain. Most of our party left for home upon descent, but five of us managed to find a delightful café in a Harpers Ferry B&B where we feasted on pumpkin pie, cider and other seasonal treats.
An astounding 16 intrepid hikers (and one enthusiastic pooch) showed up in gloomy, overcast weather for our annual Columbus Day hike around lower Rock Creek Park. By rescheduling to the afternoon we managed to miss the rain and finished just before the fog rolled in. But spirits were warmed by good conversation and by the trip leader's occasional quotations from the newly-published "History of Rock Creek Park" by park ranger Scott Einberger, including stories of high-level skinny-dipping during the Teddy Roosevelt administration and other interesting bits of park history. Afterward, a few of us repaired to Firehook Bakery for coffee and further socializing. A good time was had by all despite the weather.
The rains began at 5 pm Friday, just as our five Adventurers were arriving at the campsite. Fortunately our chef and resident Macgyver John C. had strung up a tarp, a blue millimeter-thick piece of plastic which saved our a**es and kept the dining hall (almost) completely dry during our stay. We begged John to cook under the tarp with one of the 3 camp stoves at hand, but he cried “Mais Non!! We have a fire ring and we will use it!” So, even while rain and smoke did their best to defeat him, he proceeded to cook two delicious breakfasts and an amazing dinner on the open fire as advertised. Despite Saturday’s rains, we were able to pull off two great hikes. The first, before lunch, was a trip to the historic Ft. Miles area where the Observation Tower, 1940’s cannons, and the (open) barracks were big hits. After lunch the hardiest of us donned raingear and set out on our loop hike, which included a visit to a Native American midden, the amazing new boardwalk through the bogs and dunes comprising the heart of the Park, and the Gordon’s Pond Trail, where we were captivated by a group of at least a dozen great egrets whose bright white plumage was perfect for the “film noir” ouvre of the day. We returned to camp via a beach walk, a full mile of walking directly into a 30 mph north wind, easily the windiest walk this trip leader has ever done in 12 years with Adventuring. The rain ended overnight; those who stayed for the Sunday activities enjoyed a trip to the Seaside Nature Center, where you could touch a live hermit crab and see sand sharks, and a gloriously sunny hike along Delaware Bay with stunning views of Lewes Harbor and the northern dunes. Even in the gloomy weather Cape Henlopen shined, and everyone agreed that that Adventuring should visit this spot much more often.
You know, there’s a reason why they call it Little DEVILS Stairs. At first, the ascent is gradual. Then it gets steeper. Then it gets steeper still. All that would be strenuous enough, but this demonic journey also provides rocks to climb and multiple streams to cross. Add it all together and you have one hell of a hike. But 16 Adventurers literally rose to the challenge as, after no little huffing and puffing, we made our way to the top of the devilish canyon. From there, our day was much more leisurely: A little hill here, a little hill there, with barely a rock in sight. Once our odyssey was concluded, most of us made our way to an Adventuring favorite, the strangely-named Pickle Bob’s, where we indulged ourselves with ice cream, shakes, and (for our one lactose-intolerant hiker) beef jerky from the satellite Sheetz.
A glorious fall day. Two parks with spectacular views. And a delightfully fun group of 10 Adventurers. The Presidential retreat, Camp David, is located in the Catoctin Mountain Park and when we learned on Friday that President Obama was planning one of his infrequent weekend retreats at Camp David, we knew that part of the park would be off-limits. However, Catoctin and the neighboring Cunningham Falls State Park are so full wonders that we had more than enough to keep us happily exploring. Our first stop was the Cunningham Falls, which was a bit of a disappointment because there hasn’t been enough rain to replenish the falls. But from then on, it was one glorious high point after another: Thurmont Vista, Wolf Rock and the always-spectacular Chimney Rock. After Chimney Rock, half of the group decided it was time to go home, but the other half returned to the Cunningham Falls State Park to go up, up, up to the top of Cat Rock. After a day of scaling the heights, all 10 of us returned home somewhat exhausted and probably enjoyed a restful night of sleep.
Mother Nature was up to her old tricks. When six Adventurers embarked on their hike to the White Rocks Overlook on Bull Run Mountain, the forecast was for intermittent showers. Those showers became much more than merely intermittent as we trudged our way up, but the steady rain didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the 18th-century gravestones, the 19th-century ruins of a once-prosperous mill, and the spectacular rock outcroppings we encountered on the way. When we reached the summit, the clouds obscured the spectacular vistas, instead transporting us to the misty realms of Middle Earth (glorious in itself, but also providing an incentive to return to the mountain when weather conditions are more favorable). When we ended the hike and got back to our cars, that's when Mother Nature decided to reveal the sun, and it remained sunny the rest of the afternoon. As those of a certain age will remember from an old TV commercial: “It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature.”
A delightful company of 11 endured a brutally hot day of hiking mostly out in the open on what might have been the last truly summery day of the season. The strangest sight we witnessed as we hiked around the Cornfield was a man with an ungodly contraption towering above his back that looked like something from a sci-fi film. He told us he's filming Antietam's trails for Google Streetview, which is encouraging news on several fronts. After lunch in whatever shade we could conjure up behind Dunker Church, we drove to the Bloody Lane for a short stroll. Then we rode down to the picturesque Burnside Bridge, where an ill-timed shower discouraged any further serious hiking. We attempted to help one man who had locked himself out of his car and hoped we succeeded, little thanks to the Park Service, though. We ended with a long wait for ice cream at Nutters in Sharpsburg, but the yummy quality, generous scoops and incredibly low prices ($2.12 for two big scoops!) made it all worthwhile.
Nine bold Adventurers showed up for this strenuous hike, and we all finished strong in spite of the miles and 2200 feet of elevation gain. We set a good pace on our descent, and stopped about an hour or so in for lunch at one of the many small, enchanting waterfalls along Cedar Run. We then continued over to the big waterfalls near the base of Whiteoak Canyon. There, we switched into our swimming suits and jumped in for an hour-long soak in the pools, while we watched others rappel down the falls. The climb back out was steep and steady, and we made it back to the trailhead at approximately 6 p.m., tired but still going strong. Four Adventurers stopped off for a meal and blackberry ice cream at Big Meadows, while the others started the journey home. Thanks everyone for a great trip! Hope to see you all again soon on another hike.
With temperatures well into the 90s, this was probably the most summery weather we've had during these annual excursions across the Potomac. Perhaps not coincidentally, our turnout of 18 was somewhat below our usual Labor Day numbers. But our journey was unusual in several respects, starting with our visit to the very impressive and moving memorial at the Freedmen's Cemetery, where the dramatic fluidity of the central sculpture evoked Rodin. After a leisurely lunch at Jones Point Park and our stroll across the Wilson Bridge, we reached National Harbor and promptly adjourned to cool off inside Potbelly's. Most of our party begged off riding the 16-story-high Capital Wheel, citing the heat; yet the line was short, the cabs were comfortable and air-conditioned, and the views were fine (if sometimes disorienting) during the half-dozen revolutions we made over a 15-minute stretch. Try it next year, folks!
Even by Adventuring's lofty standards, this outing was a bear: 12 miles and 2600 feet of elevation gain spread over 7 hours on the trails. Yet somehow our select corps of eight managed to survive this Homeric odyssey more or less physically intact and perhaps even spiritually enhanced. Our one disappointment was our lunchtime view of Overall Run Falls, where the word "trickle" would be far too dignified a term to describe the few dewy drops that occasionally condescended to slouch down a very indifferent precipice. But at least the paucity of moisture made our various crossings of Overall Run blessedly less than interesting. Somehow there was still enough water in Paradise Pools to gratify those in our party who jumped in. We were all surprised by the number of others who joined us in enjoying the charms of Paradise Pools; if access from the bottom of the Blue Ridge is now technically illegal, it is a ban more honored in the breach than in the observance. We wisely decided not to retrace our steps back up the very steep trail next to Overall Run but instead chose to take the longer but more gradual circuit route via Beecher Ridge. Along the way back we spotted two bear, both adolescents, paying us no heed. Our final leg was conducted in the midst of a very kind mist that made the top of the Blue Ridge both cool and mysterious.
The Weather Gods were up to their old tricks again, as on so many other similar Big Meadows weekends in earlier years. Saturday's weather was incredibly foggy and gloomy, but the few rain showers we endured gave way to halfway decent conditions as the afternoon wore on. The loop hike on Turk Branch and Moormans River was never too steep or rocky, and a few stream crossings were interesting enough to hold our attention; hiking poles proved themselves invaluable once again here. Saturday night's dinner at Big Meadows Lodge was lavish, and we all had a tres-fabulous time afterwards downstairs in the New Market Taproom with Debbie and her homies. A very generous breakfast buffet Sunday morning fortified all of us for the day's hike, only half as long and strenuous as what we had done the day before. The weather started as badly as Saturday's but improved steadily as we marched down to South River Falls, a sensational Shenandoah Shangri-La bathed in glorious sunlight by the time we arrived. We even had a rare daytime sighting of an owl perched on a tree branch as we neared the falls. 11 Adventurers participated to one extent or another in this year's Big Meadows Weekend expedition, including old friends Arthur & Joe, who drove all the way from MI just to be with us. It is worth noting that, unlike most previous such weekends, everybody who was booked into the Lodge enjoyed the festivities in the Taproom Saturday night (i.e., nobody crashed in exhaustion right after dinner), and everybody joined in Sunday's hike (i.e., nobody had to rush home early for some pressing engagement); much appreciated, my friends.
P.O. Box 23655, Washington DC 20026 USA (202)
Web designed by www.victorrook.com.