Eight Adventurers braved a surreal spring day, peppered not only with record-breaking lows due to the last gasp of the polar vortex, but also with early blooming wildflowers, snow showers, sunshine and wind chill. But it was all worth it. Bundled up with hats and gloves, we were warmed by the intermittent sun and protected most of the time from wind by ridges.
Our 10.5-mile hike covered areas in both Shenandoah National Park and the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area near Stanardsville, Virginia. We began at the South River Picnic Area just north of Swift Run Gap. After a steep descent and a couple of rain drainage crossings, we arrived at the South River Falls overlook (83'-high falls, 3rd largest in the Shenandoah National Park) for an impressive view of the falls. Then we proceeded down to the base of the falls and its gorgeous pool and ate our lunches there. We were surprised to see the beautiful trillium wildflowers in bloom at the base. Next we followed the Pocosin Horse Trail, passing the South River Cemetery, the Upper Pocosin Mission ruins and PATC's Pocosin Cabin. After some breath-catching switchbacks, we reached the summit of Bald Face Mountain with a vista view of the west. A group of migrating scarlet tanagers had just arrived a few weeks early for breeding season and were foraging for insects on the forest floor under some oak trees. We finished the hike via the Appalachian Trail for two miles back to the South River Picnic Area. Half our party stopped for dinner at our favorite Warrenton-area restaurant, the Northside 29 Diner, for cocktails and good eats before returning to the East Falls Church Metro.
The weather was close to perfect. The high winds that had started the night before had diminished by the time we began the hike. Views of the Shenandoah Valley and Fort Valley were great since the trees hadn't leafed out yet. The trip leader (yours truly) hiked at a decidedly leisurely pace (especially after the trip leader's elbow had an unfortunate encounter with his walking stick), while the three others patiently waited for their "leader" at every trail junction. This 10.7 mile hike is both scenic and a very respectable workout.
Ten Adventurers gathered at Balls Bluff Battlefield Regional Park near Leesburg, VA on a very pleasant spring day with a nice gentle breeze, which made for an ideal day to hike. The forest still had the look of winter, and the leaves and flowers were in the early stages of blooming. We did see some a few barely-emerging bluebells and what appeared to be white violets.
Craig gave us a very fascinating and informative history of the Civil War battle which took place here in October 1861, a study in how not to fight a battle. Despite having nearly 10 times the troops of the Confederacy in the surrounding area, the small Union force actually here was decisively beaten because of poor planning and leadership. Craig’s detailed description of the positions and strategies of the two opposing forces really brought the battle back to life as we visualized the movements and struggles that took place.
There is a very interesting military cemetery on the site, with the remains of some Union troops killed in action here. It is one of the smallest national cemeteries in the country and is meticulously maintained.
The main drama of the hike was our fording of a deceptively small stream that appeared to be about 5 feet wide and very shallow. Unfortunately, as we started to cross, one of our members mis-stepped and sunk into mud that seemed to be bottomless. Once we finally got through this obstacle, the hike proceeded with a pleasant stroll back to the parking lot. Total length of our stroll was probably around 3 miles, with some steep sections along the way, and took us about 3 hours.
The waterfalls along Whiteoak Canyon and Cedar Run were flowing nicely, and while it doesn't quite look like spring in Shenandoah yet, the weather and conditions were with us: Cloudy skies and warm temperatures, and no treacherous ice along the trail. As a group, we all traveled at about the same pace and kept together well. We had a great lunch break along the Whiteoak Canyon Trail and stopped at all of the prettiest cascades and waterfalls to catch our breath, snap some photos and enjoy the scenery. After the hike, eight of us made our way to Northside 29 for a hearty meal and good conversation.
On a whim, nine Adventurers took off late on an unexpectedly warm late winter Saturday afternoon for Calvert Cliffs. Throughout our 4.5 mile hike, the weather was warm, the scenery was beautiful, and the company was stellar. Even though it was early in the season, we saw some ducks and other birds, and the wetlands along the trail were starting to show a few signs of the coming spring. The beach was nice, if a bit crowded, and we struggled to find a comfortable spot for snacks and a quick break. We departed from New Carrollton Metro at noon, which is late for an Adventuring hike, but it seemed to work well for a shorter hike close to DC.
22 Adventurers showed up on a typical winter's day for a quick if sloppy jaunt from Bethesda to Silver Spring. The Georgetown Branch Trail still had plenty of snow, ice and/or mud in Snowzilla's wake, so we had to watch our step. We were sorry that the benches have been removed from the trestle over Rock Creek, but we still enjoyed a leisurely lunch there, either standing or sitting on the wood planking. We paused to remember the 20th anniversary of the tragic train accident that killed 11 people near the point where we crossed the railroad on the edge of Silver Spring. At the end, most of our party headed directly to the Metro station or the Transit Center, but some of us whiled away a pleasant hour over hot drinks, soups and pastries at the nearby Panera.
13 Adventurers showed up at Manassas Battlefield Visitors Center, but three swiftly became casualties and dropped out as what was supposed to be "conversational snow" threatened to become something more serious. The rest of us soldiered on through the vigorous flurries that relented about halfway through our main 3-hour hike. But with relatively mild temperatures and light winds at worst, we really weren't uncomfortable. What was a bit uncomfortable was our footing on some of the muddiest and sloppiest trails I've ever encountered. We focused today on the experiences of Jeff's great-grandfather Charles Stark, who labored here under the command of one of the worst Union generals on the field, Robert Milroy. Stark had the added misfortune of having to battle against the indomitable Stonewall Jackson for much of his military career. Stark suffered from what we call PTSD after the war and died an early death. Freedom Is Not Free; our hats are off to him and his comrades.
Ten Adventurers ventured forth on a drizzly but seasonally mild January morning to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. We were looking forward to seeing the spectacular vistas from Annapolis Rock and Black Rock Cliff atop South Mountain. Well, it’s something we can still look forward to, since both vistas were gripped in a London-style pea-soup fog, limiting visibility beyond a few feet. The National Weather Service had predicted that the fog would lift by the time we got there; however, when there is a conflict between the Weather Service and Mother Nature, we know who always wins. Keep checking this space for the (hopefully sunny) day when Adventuring will return to Annapolis Rock and Black Rock Cliff.
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