After Skyline Drive was closed because of an early winter storm, we could no longer do our originally scheduled hike in northern Shenandoah and needed an alternative stat. Our solution was to climb Little Devils Stairs, continuing on up to Hogback Overlook for lunch and then back, for a total of 10.5 miles. Of the 11 Adventurers who braved the cold weather, ice, and snow, only myself and another had dared this trail before. The great thing about this trip was that we had a lot of new members who where enthusiastic about handling the strenuous ascent up the Little Devils Stairs. As we climbed past the beautiful waterfalls and crisscrossed the little stream, we encountered progressively colder temperatures. We first hiked through ice and at the top of the Stairs we finally saw the snow. At a crucial trail junction, I provided an option to take a shorter circuit of 5.7 miles, an opportunity which two of our party took. I was happy that all of us had by then completed the most strenuous part of the hike unscathed and in great spirits.
As the remaining nine of us braved the cold, ice, and snow all the way up to Hogback Rock, we shared stories about our previous hiking adventures. We ate lunch on the Appalachian Trail in a grouping of rocks that actually overlooked the Hogback Mountain Overlook on Skyline Drive, in order to shield ourselves from the freezing wind. Lunch was short (to say the least). We took our group picture here and headed back down the trail. For most of us, this was the first hike of the season under wintry conditions, and yet Mother Nature's charms did not disappoint us, what with several Blue Jays flying around, the snow-covered trails and trees, and the beautiful frozen streams and ice formations. What a great day for a winter hike indeed!
Mad Dogs & Adventurers go out into an Arctic blast, it seems, as 10 Adventurers braved the abrupt onset of winter to visit the fabled battlefield one last time this year. Wind chills in the teens if not single digits stung us most keenly as we marched along the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge into the teeth of the gales for about an hour before we charged into the not-so-historic McDonald's across the street to lunch and thaw out. Conditions improved a bit during our afternoon session, if only because the wind was mostly at our backs instead of in our faces. As we reached the Emmitsburg Road while reenacting Pickett's Charge, we detoured back to Mickey D's for a pit stop (cold weather will do that to you). We ended by reenacting the lesser-known Pettigrew-Trimble Charge, which was no better for the Rebels than Pickett's. After having our group photo taken by the statue of General Alexander Hayes (who was so excited by the Union victory that he kissed his 18-year-old aide squarely on the lips as thousands cheered), we repaired to the Gettysburg Hotel for Irish Coffee and other refreshments.
History was made tonight, because this was the first time that Adventuring has done a sunrise hike at Old Rag (or anywhere else, for that matter). As the five of us started out at 3:30 a.m., our expectations were high to see the full moon and the sunrise. However, things did not work out the way we imagined it. The forecast called for no precipitation, just some light fog, with temperatures around 50 degrees. What we encountered instead was dense fog and temperatures closer to 60 degrees. The heavy fog left lots of moisture everywhere, which made our hike wet as we were negotiating slippery and muddy rocks. We never did see the full moon, and because of the tricky conditions, we took more time to negotiate Old Rag's famed rock scrambles.
Though the hike was not what we expected, it still exceeded our expectations. Having done this hike at night two other times (once in the winter with snow, ice, and freezing temperatures, and the other in summer with warm temperatures and an awe-inspiring sunrise), I was disappointed that we would not be able to experience what I had seen before. But something amazing happened on this hike that had not happened on the others: We Adventurers overcame our fears and worked as a team to help each other get through the process. In the end, we did see the sun once the fog blew away and burned off in the early morning.
As we walked down from the summit tired, muddy, and confident, we chatted with other hikers who were surprised that we had started so early in the morning. We will definitely do this hike again, but next time in the summer.
There is nothing like hiking after a good rain in the fall. The smell of the air is crisp, and the fall foliage on the ground just makes a colorful canvas. As we started our hike we encountered several other hikers on the trail, along with two groups of Boy Scouts. As we four Adventurers sat by the stream and ate our lunches, we talked about the stream and the foliage. After lunch we started back on the trail, enjoying the rock formations and scenery along the way. It was a beautiful day for a hike indeed.
A good time was had by all at our first Trip Leadersí retreat in five years. Special thanks go to: 1) John and Brett for organizing the delightful weekend and for preparing all the delicious food; 2) Karen for literally keeping the home fires burning and for providing special treats like honey-laced bourbon; 3) Craig for organizing the Saturday afternoon hike and the visits to where George Washington was born and where John Wilkes Booth met his maker; 4) Joe Marx for recommending we meet at Westmoreland State Park (even though he couldnít be there himself); and 5) to everyone who participated in the retreat for their productive contributions during our Saturday evening meeting and for their wonderful fellowship throughout the weekend.
Throughout our 12.5-mile hike, we endured the crowds who were also out to enjoy the C&O Canal and the Maryland side of Great Falls. We encountered many families and individuals on the Billy Goat Trail, especially the challenging Section A. After we climbed the wall of rocks on Billy Goat A, we lunched on a rock on the beach of Bear Island. Along the way today we saw deer, mallard ducks, egrets, and other wildlife. All in all, we had one amazing time on this hike.
It was bright and sunny when nine Adventurers arrived at Little Orleans, but it quickly clouded over once we got underway. Temperatures were seasonably comfortable, and wind was seldom a problem. Scenic values were enhanced both because we were right next to the Potomac for most of our 10-mile trek and because there was still plenty of fall color around even up there in the mountains. The aqueduct carrying the Canal over Sideling Hill Creek was unusually interesting because of its asymmetrical arch. (At the end of our hike we found the identical quirk on an aqueduct near our parking lot.) We lunched at our turnaround spot in the not-quite-ghosttown of Pearre, where an interpretive sign told us that a local hunting club used to ship bison in by the now-defunct Western Maryland Railroad so members could shoot them; hardly sounds very sporting. Here we found the western terminus of the 23-mile-long hiker/biker trail that stretches beyond Hancock; portions of this trail might come in handy on future hikes on the Canal in this region. The highlight of our return leg was our discovery of the entrance to the Indigo Tunnel, an abandoned mile-long railroad tunnel we all reached by climbing a short but steep and treacherous embankment on the other side of the Canal. Our intrepid Harris later found the other end of the tunnel on his own. Afterwards all of us spent a fun hour at Bill's, the legendary tavern/restaurant/convenience store that is pretty much all there is of Little Orleans.
Overcast skies gave way to brilliant sunshine as 12 Adventurers (including two from Noo Yawk) hiked the little-known Glover-Archbold Park trail. We picked up the trail behind the MacDonald's at Wisconsin and Van Ness and trekked through the leafy park, bordering the residential areas and condo buildings of Northwest D.C. Our itinerary had us going under an abandoned trolley trestle, tunneling under the C & O Canal (who knew?) and ending up on the Potomac at the Capital Crescent Trail near Georgetown University. We then lunched at the Georgetown Waterfront Park while enjoying the water traffic (including a water boarder and some kayakers), while a panhandling pooch assisted us in keeping the area clean of dropped edibles. Most of us then walked a ways up Wisconsin Avenue behind several nattily-dressed English choir boys, in town for a concert, and caught buses back to our starting point. All in all, a pleasant way to spend a delightful October Sunday.
As we set off on our long and challenging hike towards Big Schloss (German for "castle"), we took note of the delightful fall colors throughout the surrounding George Washington National Forest. The initial part of our hike was rigorous because of the incline to the ridgeline of Great North Mountain, which was approximately 3 miles up. After we got to the top, we ate lunch by Sugar Knob Cabin. On our stroll along the crest we arrived at one unnamed vista which should have been named "Amazing," because the views from here were truly breath-taking. When we finally arrived at the Big Schloss rock outcrop itself, there was a collective sigh at the beauty of it all. The brilliant fall foliage and the approaching sunset accented the sweeping vista over the lovely Trout Run Valley towards Long Mountain. In the end, though we were some very tired souls, we were just overwhelmed by the awesomeness of Big Schloss!
What an amazing day for a Fall Color Hike! We divided ourselves into two groups (one for the relatively shorter and easier route, the other for the longer and more challenging itinerary) to venture up Maryland Heights to savor the fall foliage. Although the colors were not at peak, the views were stupendous for both groups. Once we all arrived at the outstanding scenic overview above Harpers Ferry, we lunched and had great conversations.
At least something good came from the government shutdown. Because we couldnít enter the federally-owned Catoctin Mountain Park, five hardy Adventurers instead went next door to Maryland-owned Cunningham Falls State Park and discovered a glorious trail to which we intend to return. We trudged the steep climb to the top of Bobís Hill, where there were breathtaking views from the north and south. We then made our way to Cat Rock, where most of us acted like so many kids in a jungle gym to scramble our way to the rocky summit. Our final stop was the 78-foot McAfee Falls, where the water was gushing down more furiously than normal because of the Noachian deluges we had endured the week before. After our exhausting 11-mile hike, we retired to the all-you-can-eat buffet at Cozyís Restaurant in nearby Thurmont, where we more than made up for the any calories we might have burned. Here we watched in awe as three busloads of middle school students suddenly arrived and turned what had been a quiet dinner into a lunchroom free-for-all.
After a somewhat chilly start the ride became more comfortable as we and the weather warmed up. The sun made welcome but infrequent appearances. This woodsy trail running alongside pretty streams with their riffles and rapids was a pleasure to cycle. We rode about a mile and a half into Pennsylvania to have lunch in New Freedom. There we saw a vintage steam train filled with passengers out for a fall excursion pull into the station. Our return trip on the Trail was a breeze since many miles of it was a very gradual descent. Although some distance from Washington DC I think the Torrey C. Brown Trail (formerly known as the Northern Central Trail) deserves more of our attention.
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