2015 got off to a great start as 52 Adventurers shattered our all-time record hike attendance of 41, set just last New Years Day on the MD side of Great Falls. Weather was sunny though brisk and breezy at first, but the winds calmed down as the day progressed, much to our relief. We reached the Falls in just 45 minutes and spent about the same amount of time lunching at the overlooks while admiring the skillful kayakers making their runs through the Falls. Our return leg was more adventurous than planned, as the closure of some old trails forced us to discover some new ones that were plenty interesting in their own right. One of these trails, for example, has been named the Madison Escape Trail in recognition of the ignominious flight of James & Dolley Madison through what is now Riverbend Park on their way to Conns Ferry. Here the Madisons re-crossed to the north side of the Potomac after they had fled to the Old Dominion when the Brits burned the White House during the War of 1812. Our whole expedition only took 3 hours, time exceptionally well spent.
Has it really been 17 years since we’ve started having these hikes marking the Winter Solstice? New and old faces keep this celebration of the onset of winter and a new year fresh and interesting and far from growing stale. This year the weather helped as a chilly grey morning evolved into a sunny and bright afternoon. And the trails of Sugarloaf always yield the same familiar appeal and the same great views. (Thank you, Stronghold Corporation, for sharing your land!) Sixteen Adventurers took part in this year’s walk, shortened a bit because the shortage of parking at the base of the mountain forced us to begin from the upper parking lot. At White Rocks, we overlooked the Potomac while we lunched and read poems. These varied from old chestnuts by Wordsworth and Whitman, to contemporary odes to winter, to an original arctic chant (ayaya?) by one of our company. At the cairn we once again deposited our rocks, representing the shedding of the “baggage” of 2014. At the summit we seemed a quiet group on a quiet day, pausing for pictures and great views before descending the old stone steps to our cars. Some things get better with age. Next year, join us on the adventure!
10 Adventurers enjoyed a long hike (10.5 miles) on a short winter's day through some very wooded areas of Fairfax County. The trails were mostly level or on gently rolling terrain; as expected, there were some muddy stretches, especially when we were near Colvin Run. But by far our biggest problem all day was lousy signage, starting with getting to and finding our way around the parking garage for the Wiehle Avenue Metro Station. The signage problem peaked inside Lake Fairfax Park, where we took several wrong turns because of missing, misleading or mislabeled signs. Once we were outside the Park on the final leg to Colvin Run Mill, we encountered no problems at all. We spent 45 minutes at the Mill for lunch and for snooping around the good stuff inside their historic General Store, a relic of the 1920s, prices included. (Where else can you get nickel candy anymore?) We made good time on our return to Metro, now that we knew which turns to take (or avoid). We noticed a lot more cyclists on the trails in the afternoon than in the morning, no doubt reflecting the milder temperatures.
Well, the five of us didn't actually go to Signal Knob, since we feared it might be too difficult to do in light of all the recent snow. So we switched instead to the nearby Dickey Ridge Trail, which begins at the northern end of Shenandoah National Park in Front Royal, also the lowest point in the entire Park. Not much snow on the ground at first, but as we climbed, so did the snow depths, up to maybe 10 inches. The trail became an obstacle course for its upper half, as many branches were blocking the trail, requiring us to negotiate our way carefully through or around them. We reached the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center about 2 hours after we started, and enjoyed a sweeping panorama as we lunched in bright sunshine and comfortably cool temperatures, without any winds to chill us down any further. We returned by walking along the shoulder of the nicely plowed Skyline Drive, closed to the public when we started out but re-opened while we were heading downhill. We switched back to the trail for the last leg of our 8-mile round trip, but meanwhile we had already saved ourselves a good 20 minutes by avoiding the obstacle course.
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