10 Adventurers enjoyed a long hike (10.5 miles) on a short winter's day through some very wooded areas of Fairfax County. The trails were mostly level or on gently rolling terrain; as expected, there were some muddy stretches, especially when we were near Colvin Run. But by far our biggest problem all day was lousy signage, starting with getting to and finding our way around the parking garage for the Wiehle Avenue Metro Station. The signage problem peaked inside Lake Fairfax Park, where we took several wrong turns because of missing, misleading or mislabeled signs. Once we were outside the Park on the final leg to Colvin Run Mill, we encountered no problems at all. We spent 45 minutes at the Mill for lunch and for snooping around the good stuff inside their historic General Store, a relic of the 1920s, prices included. (Where else can you get nickel candy anymore?) We made good time on our return to Metro, now that we knew which turns to take (or avoid). We noticed a lot more cyclists on the trails in the afternoon than in the morning, no doubt reflecting the milder temperatures.
Well, the five of us didn't actually go to Signal Knob, since we feared it might be too difficult to do in light of all the recent snow. So we switched instead to the nearby Dickey Ridge Trail, which begins at the northern end of Shenandoah National Park in Front Royal, also the lowest point in the entire Park. Not much snow on the ground at first, but as we climbed, so did the snow depths, up to maybe 10 inches. The trail became an obstacle course for its upper half, as many branches were blocking the trail, requiring us to negotiate our way carefully through or around them. We reached the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center about 2 hours after we started, and enjoyed a sweeping panorama as we lunched in bright sunshine and comfortably cool temperatures, without any winds to chill us down any further. We returned by walking along the shoulder of the nicely plowed Skyline Drive, closed to the public when we started out but re-opened while we were heading downhill. We switched back to the trail for the last leg of our 8-mile round trip, but meanwhile we had already saved ourselves a good 20 minutes by avoiding the obstacle course.
Winter's sudden onset, combined with the beginning of firearms hunting season for deer, scared away some Adventurers, but the ten of us who showed up were glad we did. Though temperatures were well below normal for mid-November, they proved bearable thanks to light if not nonexistent winds, almost cloudless sunshine and the warming effects of our own exertions. We enjoyed sensational views both east and west from the ridgeline of Great North Mountain for much of our hike, since the absence of leaves opened up vistas normally closed off by a Green Tunnel the rest of the year. The Big Schloss outcrop itself gave us the day's best views, which we savored along with our lunches. We continued north along the Mill Mountain Trail another mile after lunch, giving us some unique perspectives of Big Schloss as we worked off some more calories. Then we turned around and headed back to our cars in the very popular Wolf Gap Campground lot, where it seemed all of today's hikers had parked to avoid the hunters . Speaking of which, we never did spot any hunters or deer, though we heard lots of salvos, especially during lunch, making us wonder if maybe the deer were firing back.
When we hiked the Bull Run Mountain in September, we were greeted with layers of rain and fog, which made us think we had stumbled into the Scottish Highlands or an outtake from “Lord of the Rings.” This time, though, we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful fall day: Sunny and brisk, with a chill in the air. Five Adventurers trekked up to the White Rocks Overlook, where the views were spectacular. We expected to see the stunning views of the Blue Ridge, but what we didn’t expect was the glorious display of fall colors. After a couple of October “Fall Color” hikes, where the color was middling at best, we figured the leaves were past peak for any autumnal display. But rely on Mother Nature to provide the unexpected. The valley below the overlook was resplendent in orange and red, while the paths below the peak dazzled us with displays of yellow and gold. Our one moment of unwanted drama came near the end when the confusing trail markings that the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy, for some reason, has chosen to adopt had us (along with a number of other hikers) backtracking to get back on the correct path. Fortunately, this just meant we could experience more of the magnificent autumnal weather and display, so no one complained. The hike was followed by a stop to a nearby Adventuring favorite, Pickle Bob’s, where the combination of eating ice cream and sitting down rather than hiking made us realize just how cold this November day really was.
16 Adventurers gathered at the big parking lot at Snickers Gap on a cloudless if gusty day with plenty of fall colors still up on the trees. The first half of our journey took us up and down a couple of hollows along the AT, much of which was rocky and leaf-covered, so we had to pick our way carefully. A Wardrobe Malfunction en route was quickly resolved thanks to the cooperative efforts of our resourceful crew. Lunch at the Raven Rocks overlook was a stunning experience, not only because of the fall colors engulfing us but because the clear dry skies let us see at least 50 miles past Signal Knob to Kennedy Peak on the Massanutten. As we headed back, we were astonished to see a massive new development is underway along the service road connecting the commo tower near Raven Rocks with Route 601. Our road walk back towards Snickers Gap along Route 601 was highlighted by a sweeping view across a broad estate to the Shenandoah Valley; at this point, out in the open, we could really appreciate how well the trees had shielded us from the day's blustery winds. We reached Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in time to enjoy a leisurely hour on its popular deck. A very brief stroll from here took us back to our cars. It would be hard to imagine a more perfect outing than today's.
It was a beautiful day for a hike for our 22 Adventurers and very busy. Not surprisingly, there were many other people on the Billy Goat trail for the well-known Section A. We had lunch at a high point of Section A that overlooked the river with quite a spectacular view; it was a revelation for those of us who hadn't realized that all this beauty exists in our own backyard. By the time we completed Section A, we were down to 19 people. Moving on to Section B we had less traffic from other hikers; the extra elbow room made our experience as a large group more enjoyable. When we completed Section B two more people decided to go home, so the last 17 of us trekked on to Section C. A tiring day but well worth it.
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