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!
Four Adventurers started the born-again Ice Hike on a cold Sunday morning in Shenandoah National Park, shrugging off forecasts of more snow. Although it had warmed up somewhat from previous weeks, we still saw plenty of ice and snow, and few other hikers on the trails. As we ascended the White Oak Canyon trail up to the base falls and onward to the upper falls, we encountered beautiful ice formations, partially frozen falls, and a little bit of snowfall. The view from the top of the uppermost falls was just amazing. As we progressed across the fire road towards Skyline Drive, our original goal was to get all the way to Hawksbill, the highest point in the Park. However, Mother Nature made us reconsider our plans, because we were losing light fast and there would not be enough time for us to get back to our starting point before sunset. Instead, we headed down the very icy and rocky Cedar Run Trail alongside the partially frozen stream. We finally got back to our parking area just as the sun was starting to set. Although we definitely took longer then anticipated, the views and experiences we enjoyed were definitely worth the extra time.
The Black Hills Regional Park has a way of playing tricks on us. Last fall, there was a promise that hundreds of Monarch Butterflies would swarm through the Park, but very few decided to show up. This time, there were widespread predictions of snowfall, but you had to squint hard to see the few flakes that materialized, and even those only appeared near the very end of our jaunt. Nevertheless 10 human(and 1 canine) Adventurers explored the many facets of the park on a delightful winter morning. Highlights included the partially frozen Little Seneca Lake, which one of our group adventurously (or foolishly) attempted to walk on, despite the numerous unsubtle "Ice Never Safe" signs. Being Winter Olympics season, the gold medal for hiking endurance definitely went to our canine companion who, with her constant running to and fro, probably ended up hiking twice as far as we did (yet never appeared breathless). After a bracing hike in the winter chill, six of our number retired to the nearby Woodside Diner for a warm and hearty lunch.
Nine Adventurers (including several longtime MIAs) and one sometimes-reluctant pooch took advantage of a delightful February thaw to tramp through the Wilderness Battlefield 15 miles west of Fredericksburg, VA. We began with a battleground background briefing at the Wilderness Sheetz at the historic intersection of the Germanna Ford Road (today's Route 3) with the Orange Turnpike (now Route 20); Union Army Commander Ulysses S. Grant used this critical area as his HQS, even though there was neither Sheetz nor Walmart there at the time. We began the hike at Saunders Field, where hostilities commenced in the early afternoon of May 5, 1864. After admiring the remaining Confederate trenches overlooking the field, we strolled a short distance to the official picnic area for lunch. Nearby we admired a scenic frozen pond, apparently made possible by the work of eager dam-building beavers along a tributary of Wilderness Run. We walked up the hill that once was the Higgerson farm, where a rising Rebel general brilliantly maneuvered his troops to prevent a Yankee breakthrough. After a couple more miles of strolling along the Park Service's Hill-Ewell Drive, we went to the site of the Chewning Farm; here a Yankee general blew his opportunity to strike a decisive blow against a Southern onslaught. Soon we were on the fields of the Widder Tapp, where Rebel reinforcements under James Longstreet arrived in the nick of time to save his colleague A. P. Hill's bacon on the morning of May 6. We wound up at the intersection of the Brock Road and the Orange Plank Road, a sobering spot where thousands died on both sides (including Yankee General Alexander Hays, the hard-drinking, lieutenant-kissing general of song & story) in a series of futile but bloody attacks and counterattacks. Many wounded soldiers perished here because of the uncontrollable fires that raged through the tangled dense woods.
Four otherwise-sane Adventurers escaped DC to visit extremely picturesque Shenandoah National Park in the very dead of winter. Because of the snow and ice, Skyline Drive was closed. Therefore, we planned to make our way into SNP from the outside. Throwing caution to the wind with enthusiastic chants in the car of “Let’s hike [Marys Rock] as advertised!”, we opted for the challenge. Having barely begun our trek, we quickly arrived at the Thornton River, donned in a deceptively attractive winter coating of snow and ice. Great Hiking Guru Craig had warned that this crossing might be tricky, and his words proved prophetic. A bridge of ice had formed across the rocks here, making our prospects for a dry crossing rather dodgy. Although the river nearly swallowed up our trip leader in the process, we managed to get safely across and headed upwards (a huge understatement) on the steep Buck Ridge Trail towards Skyline Drive. Foot-deep snow drifts made for slow going as we broke trail, i.e., no footprints had been made ahead of us in the snow on the trail.
We arrived at the Meadow Spring parking area on Skyline Drive and declared it a lunch spot, happy to have reached flat ground. Unfortunately, the trip leader neglected to arrange for a hot chocolate truck to rendezvous with us there in time. After a extremely rapid lunch break, we ascended via the southern Marys Rock trail and joined the Appalachian Trail on the crest of the Blue Ridge. Various bird calls echoed loudly through the empty forest. Going uphill again, we were warmed by our exertions, even as the temperature and wind chill plummeted.
After more than four hours of climbing, we arrived at our scenic reward, Marys Rock, under a beautifully mottled sky of blue, grey, white and purple. Looking down upon the mountain we had just conquered, we celebrated with other hikers who had crawled their way to the top and took photos of the snowy valleys and mountains.
On the seemingly-rapid way down from the top, we encountered beautiful ice sculptures along the river and at our few stream crossings, each a unique challenge in itself with small and large stones and deceptive mounds of snow and ice posing as rocks. The water beneath our feet was moving quickly, and the rocks were covered with a layer of ice and snow. Luckily, the crossings were not as tricky as they appeared; inasmuch as we were now experts in the arts & sciences of stream crossings, we suffered no further indignities of free baths. The sun was in its final stages of setting as we reached the end of our journey. After a quick refueling snack, we kept with our post-hike tradition and we dined at the Northside 29 Restaurant in New Baltimore to replace the approximately 3000 calories we had expended.
15 Adventurers and one convivial canine enjoyed a very brief respite from January’s historically cold polar vortex on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. After gathering at the College Park Metro, we transported ourselves to Greenbelt Park’s secret bat cave entrance, where we started our 5.5-mile hike around the Park’s perimeter trail. Despite being a warm and sunny 50-degree day, we encountered surprisingly few other hikers. We first hiked gently upwards to the Park’s official entrance. Nearby we came upon the Sweetgum Picnic Area, where we took our lunch break and soaked up the sun’s rays at the picnic tables, thereby breaking an Adventuring maxim to ‘never lunch anyplace where you could drive to.' Only halfway through our hike, we needed an extra motivational boost to leave the sunny warmth of the picnic tables as we practiced Dynamically Lollygagging (TM). After posing for our group picture, we set off to circle the remainder of the Park as we headed back towards our cars. Regrettably, we realized this kinder and gentler weather was about to be summarily evicted; a snowstorm was in the forecast for the next day, and bitter cold would be our fate after that. We left the Park with Old Man Winter chomping at our heels so we could stock up on toilet paper, milk, shovels, and ice melt, as all good Washingtonians are wont to do under wintry duress.
On a very cold Saturday morning nine Adventurers set out on the Appalachian Trail to enjoy a great but quick hike to the "other" Washington Monument overlooking Boonsboro, MD, completed 60 years before that overgrown obelisk on the Mall. As we hiked along the AT, we encountered other hikers and backpackers on the snow-covered trail. There is something to be said about hiking in the snow where the temperature and conditions are just right; the combination of very little ice and not a lot of snow on the trail makes for an enjoyable winter hike. Once we got to the Monument, we took pictures, ate lunch, and learned about the history of the Monument. Then as quickly as we arrived, we got back on the trail and were back to our cars before we knew it. It was a good, roughly 6.5-mile round trip.
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