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.
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.
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