Six Adventurers ignored the forecast of constant rain showers and decided to hike regardless. Fog and drizzle enveloped the Blue Ridge in Shenandoah National Park above the 3,000 foot line. We chose to ditch plans to ascend to the summit of Hawksbill (no view to be had there) and headed down the Cedar Run Trail into the valley below. Once we were down out of the rain and fog, the conditions were surprisingly nice. The numerous waterfalls along Cedar Run and the White Oak Canyon Trail were in full force. The three major stream crossings on our route were made more challenging by high water. Once we got back up above 3,000 feet, it was a return to fog and rain. At the very end, right when we arrived back at our cars, the rain turned into deluge.
Under a cloudy sky, 21 Adventurers started out on this hike at Calvert Cliffs State Park under cloudy skies, but at least the weather was rapidly improving. The boardwalk was a delight as we witnessed a vast marshland emerging from its winter sleep. The waterlilies are sprouting. The frogs are croaking. The turtles crowd on fallen logs for the long-awaited spring warmth. Soon, we reached the famous Calvert Cliffs where three intrepid hikers waited no time to take a dunk in the frigid but allegedly refreshing water and could not help thinking the rest looked on with admiration! (They denied it.) Time for lunch and a little fossil hunting. Some hikers found 10-23 million-year-old clamshells and were delighted when the park rangers said they could bring those home. One hiker believed he found a dinosaur vertebra. The group looked on with no little bemusement but, unfortunately, was not qualified to refute the claim.
Back at the parking lot, eight hikers decided to head back home. The rest decided to visit the nearby Flag Ponds Nature Park. This turned out to be a great idea. The hike offers a diversity of landscape from ponds and marshland to deciduous and pine forest. A glimpse of the coastline from the top did nothing to prepare the group for the stunning beach at the end, which appeared decidedly more Floridian. By now, it was hot. It was perfect beach weather. One hiker even swam a hundred feet out to the bay.
After Flag Ponds, four hikers decided to head home. The remaining nine went on to the beautiful Solomons Island for a delicious dinner. The sole blemish was that the ice-cream shop was closed by the time we got there. On the drive home, we watched sunset and reflected on what a gorgeous day it was!
The National Park Service said that this year's peak bloom for the cherry blossoms would be April 1. Although this didn’t turn out to be an April Fool’s prank, Mother Nature decided to play a few tricks of her own. After a gorgeous spring weekend where many of us broke out the T-shirts and shorts, she turned the temperatures way down, so that winter coats were definitely back in fashion. This didn’t affect the blossoms any but did have the fortunate effect of limiting the size of the crowds that usually engulf the Tidal Basin when the blossoms first show their stuff. The 14 Adventurers who braved the cold were rewarded with seeing the blooms in their full glory. We also had two who planned to walk with us but couldn’t find the group, and one who was planning to check it out on his own ended up joining us. It was that sort of night – crazy and magical at the same time.
Ten Adventurers crossed Madison Run and ascended to the summit of Furnace Mountain from the base of Shenandoah National Park, as the southern section of Skyline Drive was still closed because of fallen trees. From Furnace Mountain, we continued to Black Rock Summit, and then returned along the Appalachian, Rockytop and Austin Mountain Trails. This turned out to be a great way to do this classic loop, as the heavy-duty climbing came early in the hike. Also, the Furnace Mountain overlook turns out to be an ideal lunch spot. The day was nearly perfect for a long hike with significant elevation gain -- warm and partly sunny but not too hot. After completing the scenic and strenuous circuit hike, we tried out a Thai restaurant in Front Royal that everyone seemed to like.
Eight hikers started out from the crest of New Market Gap on Virginia Route 211 to traverse a 12-mile circuit hike alongside of and then atop the ridge line of Massanutten Mountain. It was a beautiful sunny day and the trail was quite varied - in a good way. We enjoyed frequent mountain views through the leafless trees and one truly grand view from a rock overlook. One among our number was afflicted with debilitating back pain that struck seemingly out the blue. Accordingly, we walked gingerly down off of the ridge and back to the cars, finishing the hike as planned. Thankfully, our friend felt much better during the ride back home.
Eleven Adventurers set out from Route 211 outside Sperryville, VA on a sunny early spring day to ascend the Blue Ridge via the Pass Mountain Trail. The steady, moderate climb afforded lovely mountain views through the leafless forest. After connecting to the Appalachian Trail, the group proceeded to Double Bear Rocks, a small outcrop with an expansive view west across the Shenandoah Valley to New Market Gap, Massunutten Mountain and Great North Mountain. The 8.9-mile round trip included 1700 feet of elevation gain.
What was originally supposed to be a mid-winter hike wound up getting postponed into March, but at least most of the ground was still snow-covered when we finally got there. What's more, temperatures never warmed up as much as predicted and skies stayed distinctly grey and murky as 15 Adventurers soldiered through crucial parts of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Our walk took exactly three hours, about as long as the actual fighting lasted on a hot July day in 1863. Quite a few other people were out touring the area besides ourselves, but Park Rangers were conspicuous by their absence, except in the cozy Visitors Center. Afterwards we divided ourselves for dinner between a couple of pubs downtown, both of which apparently handled our meal orders with grace and efficiency.
Three inches of newly fallen snow made this hike even more interesting and strenuous than usual for our four Adventurers. The total length and elevation gain were 7.7 miles and 1800 feet, but it felt like more. An heirloom watch belonging to one of the hikers was lost, then found but then lost again in snow that was several inches deep in places. The viewpoints at Tibbet Knob and Big Schloss were obscured by thick fog but winter scenery along the trail was beautiful.
We took advantage of the beautiful spring weather in February, ditched our planned hike, and headed straight for Old Rag Mountain — the best hike in the Mid-Atlantic region. Five hikers quickly ascended the mountain to enjoy nearly unimpeded fun (relatively few other hikers) on the Ridge Trail that traverses the boulder field atop Old Rag. It was a perfect day.
A well-matched group of four hikers ascended to Jenkins Gap on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park via the Mt. Marshall Trail, a former carriage road that is now a lovely hiking trail. There were trees down everywhere, including many across the trail. Despite the obstacles, the group stayed together and kept up a good pace. Despite the lack of scenic viewpoints along the way, the Appalachian Mountain views seen through the leafless forest were very atmospheric. The total trip length was 12 miles, with 1,700 feet of elevation gain. It’s a trail I’d like to revisit in the spring.
Eight Adventurers set off from the Gravel Springs Gap parking area on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park on bright and cold February day for an 8.3-mile hike with almost 1800 feet of elevation gain. We descended into the scenic Big Devil Stairs canyon, hiked back up to an outcropping that overlooks the canyon for lunch, and then hiked back up and over Skyline Drive to another overlook atop South Marshall. It was an excellent group. Everyone was fast and kept together throughout the hike.
Three Adventurers set on a surprisingly warm and spring-like Super Bowl Sunday to hike an easy and well groomed section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the Northern Section of Shenandoah National Park. From Chester Gap, we hiked up to Compton Peak, down a side spur to an interesting formation of hexagonal basalt columns and then back down the AT (and off on another side spur) to the Possum’s Rest overlook. The 8-mile round trip, with 1,200 feet of elevation gain, took 4 hours.
The weather could not have been better for the five Adventurers on the Little Devils Stairs hike. After a bitter cold snap in previous days, we had sunny skies and temperatures well into the 40s. There was still plenty of snow cover in Shenandoah, to the point that the Park Service kept Skyline Drive closed, and we needed to start at the trailhead outside the Park at the bottom of the mountain. We had what seemed like a dozen stream crossings, including ones where we were stepping on snowy and icy rocks and logs, and in one instance on solid frozen ice over the stream. Several of us had minor slips but our feet stayed dry. Overall the trail was snowy and quite beautiful in the bright sunshine. For lunch, we perched ourselves on some rocks right next to Skyline Drive and enjoyed the total absence of vehicles. The trail also featured an almost total absence of other hikers. From Skyline Drive, we had an almost continuous descent along a fire road—a welcome break from the stream crossings on the first half of our hike, and a nice workout for those less used downhill-hiking leg muscles. Here's to winter hikes!
Five fast and sure-footed Adventurers traversed an 11.5-mile loop encompassing both Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Mountain National Park. The trails were alternately icy or wet (flowing water), depending on whether they were on north- or south-facing slopes. We ascended the Old Misery Trail up the ridge to Cat Rock and came down the Cat Rock Trail to do the Chimney, Wolf and Hog Rock circuit in the counterclockwise direction. The entrance to Catoctin Mountain Park was closed in the morning when we arrived (we parked across the street) but had opened by the end of the hike, reflecting the agreement to fund U.S. government operations for another three weeks. Lets hope it’s open when next we return.
Weather-wise, the timing of our winter hike for 17 Adventurers at the very pleasant Seneca Creek State Park was ideal. The winds that had made the previous day so bitter had died down, and the earliest flurries of our first big snowfall of the season held off until we had wrapped up the hike. We had a nice variety of scenery for a relatively short hike, including stretches along Seneca Creek and Clopper Lake and through a bog where our trail was a boardwalk. There was no real elevation gain, but the terrain was hilly enough to give our legs a good workout. We stopped for lunch at the boat center, where one of our hikers seriously contemplated a polar plunge. If only someone had brought a towel!
A dozen Adventurers dragged themselves out of bed early enough on New Years Day (even before the crack of noon!) to join our Shutdown Substitute Hike to the Zoo. We somehow managed to encounter another Adventurer as he was headed down CT Avenue while we were headed up. We had plenty of company at the Zoo on an unusually mild day while we each explored it on our own. Afterwards some of us re-enacted a Keystone Kops routine as we tried to find a trail next to Rock Creek that wasn't closed by flooding. Eventually we succeeded and made our way down to Dupont Circle.
A dozen Adventurers were on hand for the last hike of 2018 on a delightfully mild day. The Capital Crescent Trail was about as crowded as it gets in the winter, with walkers & joggers far outnumbering cyclists, only one of whom was going recklessly fast. Cookies were more than abundant at our traditional lunch spot, and some may actually have gone unclaimed. About the only sour note of the day was encountered at Fletcher's Boathouse, where the public restrooms were locked by the ongoing federal shutdown. We finished our 7-mile stroll precisely at 3 p.m. and then headed for the friendly confines of Mr. Smith's (nee Chadwick's) @ Wisconsin & K Street for refreshments.
When we decided to inaugurate Adventuring's first-ever evening hike through Georgetown on Boxing Day, we had no idea what a fortuitous location we had chosen. Turns out our stroll coincided with the 5th annual Georgetown Glow, a holiday festival when several beautifully-lit modern art installations are scattered through the neighborhood, mostly between M Street and the Waterfront. Even before we 13 Adventurers got to the first of these installations, we heard several fascinating tales of area lore from Patrick, our own resident Georgetowner. We got to the last artworks near the Key Bridge at 7 p.m. and then tried to find a place where we could dine, but had little luck. Eventually, once our numbers had dwindled to half a dozen, we were referred by the maitre d' at Martin's to a brand-new restaurant at Wisconsin & N, the High Street Cafe. They had more than enough room for us, and we enjoyed good meals there, though they still have a few lessons to learn about running a restaurant.
The solstice had hit the evening before, so it was actually the first full day of winter—and a chilly, breezy one at that—when ten Adventurers plus one gung-ho Labrador Retriever gathered at Sugarloaf Mountain for the 21st annual Winter Solstice Poetry Hike. As usual, White Rocks overlook provided a beautiful site for a picnic lunch and a place to share verses. Poems varied from an ancient Chinese reflection to an original sent by fellow Adventurer Ed, who was unable to join us. Lord Tennyson and Emily Dickinson made their appearances, along with that Sage of the Comic Pages, Brewster Rockit. Nearly all offerings reflected themes relating to the season or new beginnings. As is our custom, at the great cairn we ceremonially shed our baggage and burdens from 2018 by adding rocks to the pile. When one Adventurer had difficulty finishing, we had to split up in pace and direction, so only four made it to the summit to enjoy a dazzling late afternoon view. But everyone was able to enjoy that magical mountain (Thank you, Stronghold Corporation, for keeping it open to the public!), the great company, and a healthy and happy way to bring in the winter and look forward to longer days ahead.
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