Sunday, June 4, 2017

Whiteoak Canyon and Hawksbill Mountain, VA (4011')

Back in April, I decided to treat myself to a backpacking trip in Shenandoah National Park for my birthday. The plan was to hike in from the east via Whiteoak Canyon, swing around to tag the high point of the park, 4011-foot Hawksbill Mountain, and then continue down the Appalachian Trail to Big Meadows Campground, where I'd spend the night. I'd spend the next day making my way back to my car however I felt like it, perhaps by way of the deliciously sinister-sounding Dark Hollow Falls?

I rearranged my work schedule, cleared my social calendar, packed my bags, and waited...

...until the day of, when I checked the weather and saw it was scheduled to thunderstorm every night that weekend. Discretion is the better part of valor; I stayed in town. A project kept me homebound through the next two weekends, and more thunderstorms through a third... would I ever get to leave on this trip?

I finally set out on the 19th, nearly a month later than intended. Despite the delays, I was excited: it would be my first proper backpacking trip, my first chance to use the Osprey overnight pack that had spent four years holding hats in my closet. Whatever happened out there, it would be an adventure.

To get there, I retraced the route I'd taken to Old Rag Mountain that winter; the Whiteoak trailhead was just a few miles down VA-231 from there. The drive was uneventful except for a tense moment when a family of geese waddled onto US-211 right in front of my car. I braked hard and managed to stop just in time. The poor gander wound up three feet from my bumper, honking his head off as if he'd had the right of way.

As I approached the mountains, I noticed that their upper ridges still looked brown compared to their lower slopes. The leaves had come in weeks ago back home; had they not yet up there?

Soon after, I pulled into the Whiteoak Canyon parking lot, which was tucked into a narrow stream valley at the end of Weakley Hollow Rd.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Old Rag Mountain, VA (3291')

Arceus, that last post was long. I'm never going to post a 4000-worder again... and, honestly, I could say the same for crossing a continent by car in six days. But the trail goes on, and the hikes continue.

For a while now, whenever I've told people either that I'm from Virginia (while climbing a mountain) or that I climb mountains (while in Virginia), they've always asked if I've climbed Old Rag Mountain. I'd heard of it, of course: that it was one of the most-hiked trails in Shenandoah National Park, so popular that lines formed on the way to the summit on clear summer days, and that it ended in a mile-long rock scramble (over what, little crumbly rocks? How tough could it be if it was below treeline in Virginia?). But until recently, I'd never felt the urge to climb it, mostly due to those notorious crowds. What made that mountain any better than the several dozen other peaks in SNP? All that praise had to be hype, and all those hikers just a bunch of trend-following, day-tripping yuppies too lazy to look up other hikes in the area.

But when I finally pushed myself out to see Old Rag this (unseasonably warm) January, I learned I was wrong... oh, boy, was I wrong.

(New readers: that's kind of a theme of this blog, me being wrong about things.)

The trail up Old Rag begins at the mountain's dedicated trailhead/parking lot, three quarters of the way up VA-600 on the east side of SNP, just south of Sperryville. My middle brother (still on break from college) and I arrived around noon to find it nearly empty:

Note the huge capacity.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Driving Across the Continent in December (~100-6329')

After all that fuss over the mold in my car, I knew I couldn't make it through another five months of Redmond rain. It was time to head home to the East Coast, where I could cuss my way through horrible traffic underneath blue skies again.

So I packed my stuff and plotted my eastward route. This being December, I figured I'd stick to the interstates--no sense detouring to parks when everything's closed for the season--and take I-90 to I-25 to I-80 to I-29 to I-70 to I-64 to I-81 to I-66 to home. Quite the simple trip, compared to how I'd gotten there.

And then I called my parents to tell them my plans. "Are you going to need tire chains for that?" my dad asked. "And what about the weather?" my mom added. "Is it safe to drive? What if you get caught in a snowstorm?"

Snow? Tire chains? I hadn't even thought of those. Nothing had frozen down in Redmond... but the Cascades were a completely different story. I looked into it and learned that Snoqualmie Pass (I-90's route through the range) had already received dozens of feet of snow that fall. East of there, I'd need to cross three major passes through the Rockies: Lookout Pass on the Montana-Idaho border, Homestake Pass over the Continental Divide, and Bozeman Pass east of Bozeman, MT. And, as I'd learned on my westward trip, the Great Plains were prone to blizzards and ice storms as far south as Kansas. Snow and sub-freezing temperatures were a certainty; the only question was how much I'd get... and whether my little front-wheel-drive sedan could make it through.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Rattlesnake Ledge, WA (~2040')

My friend and I did eventually make it out to Rattlesnake Ledge, and it was exactly what you'd expect of the North Cascades in late autumn: foggy, wet, and covered in moss.

The trail began in Rattlesnake Lake State Park, 45 minutes southwest of Redmond and just off I-90. There was no obvious hiker parking, so we followed the loop road through the park and wound up in a boat trailer spot. It was cool, though; the place was practically deserted, despite it being a Saturday.

From there we moseyed down to the lakeshore to get our bearings:

and got our first look at the Ledge.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Adventures in Moisture Management, or How Not to Store Your Gear

So the friend I stayed with up in Redmond has a nifty little place by the shores of Lake Sammamish:

It's in a pretty nice neighborhood (if a bit crowded for my tastes), and there's a huge park a mile or so up the road with just about everything one could ask for: playgrounds, sports fields, historic buildings, a birdwatching trail, a leash-free area for dogs (they briefly coincide, which leads to some interesting interactions), a velodrome, and even a climbing wall:

Which I... erm... can't quite get up in my sneakers. Yeah. That's it. Totally the shoes' fault.

All in all, the place was quite lovely for my first month and a half there:

But as September drew to a close, the days grew overcast. To the east, the Cascade Range hid itself in a heavy haze. Clouds rolled in from the Pacific, clustering above us like schoolchildren after a summer apart.

And then, at the stroke of midnight on October 1, the rain began.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy Holidays!

And a special thanks to all of you who've shared my work with others, whether they be friends, family, climbing buddies, coworkers, students, strangers on the street, aliens with whom you've made first contact, travel editors with big budgets... you get the picture. When I started this blog last April, I never would have guessed it'd run any longer than a summer's worth of highpointing, but if you all are still getting a kick out of it, I can certainly keep going.

In fact, I've been sitting on three or four posts' worth of material for a while now. I'll get those written up for you just as soon as the holidays slow down and let me off. Check back in a couple weeks for more Larvitar shenanigans!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains

Remember that huge anti-Smokies rant I posted back in May? I'm sure it sounded like I wanted Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville to go up in flames--and in the moment I just might have--but now that it's actually happening, I've entirely reconsidered.

When a friend of mine in Chattanooga informed me of the fire there this morning, I was surprised. Wildfires in November? Shouldn't those hills be covered in snow? But it turns out that the Smokies are at the center of a severe drought afflicting the entire Southeast. As my Chattanoogan friend said, "[L]ast night was the first rain of measure here for something like a hundred days." Wildfires have blazed throughout the Blue Ridge for the past month, including this particularly nasty one near the west entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The fire began on Chimney Top Mountain: