Friday, May 4, 2018

Crabtree Falls, VA (1600-2600')

I must say, Crabtree Falls lives up to its hype.

If you live--or have lived, as in my case--anywhere in the vicinity of central Virginia, you've most likely heard of Crabtree Falls. It's right up there with Whiteoak Canyon and the Cascades on the list of classic Virginia waterfall hikes. On summer afternoons, especially in laurel-blooming season, folks flock to it from all over the state, braving crowds and splinters and scraped knees for the chance to glimpse the 1000-foot falls--the highest* east of the Mississippi--in all its crystalline, rock-slicking glory.

Fortunately, the (commodious) parking lot was almost empty when I arrived that April afternoon. I paid the $3 entrance fee, took my pick of parking spots, and headed up to the trailhead.

The first stretch of the trail was paved--universally accessible, as the sign at the base explained. Here, as elsewhere along the hike, big orange signs warned against careless scrambling:

"Now I'm never gonna climb again/slippery feet have got no traction..."

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Priest, VA (4063')

A couple of weeks ago, I drove south to hike a mountain called The Priest, a 4000-footer in the Blue Ridge a few dozen miles south of Shenandoah National Park (and the high point of Nelson County). The drive down, through Charlottesville on US-29, was a little awkward--they've built up the area north of town so much, over the past few years, that I could barely tell where I was going. But once I turned off the highway and onto the country roads and found myself face to face with this beauty:


I knew I'd made the right decision to come out.

That particular road, VA-56, took me right into the gap north of The Priest, carved by a little river called the Tye. The hills rose up around me, the houses and fields drew in towards the road, and then, a couple miles into the George Washington National Forest, the trailhead lot appeared to my left.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Annapolis Rocks, MD (1700')

About two weeks ago, on the recommendation of SummitPost's Eastern States Climber's Peak List, I ventured north to central Maryland to hike Annapolis Rocks. I had never heard of the Rocks before, but if they'd made it onto that list--in the company of Katahdin, the Presidential Range, and Old Rag Mountain, among others--I figured they must be worth seeing. Even if they were in Maryland.

Maryland Congressional Districts
Remember this map? The Supreme Court just heard a case over whether these districts are unconstitutionally gerrymandered... for reals. I'll keep you posted on their decision.

But what the Rocks lack in elevation, at a measly 1700', they make up for in accessibility. They lie just off the Appalachian Trail on the slopes of South Mountain (a long, flat-topped ridge much like the Massanuttens in Virginia), about two and a half miles north of I-70. East of the mountain, farm country descends to the growing exurb of Frederick, MD; to the west, steep slopes look out upon the Cumberland Valley, northern neighbor to the Shenandoah. In other words, the country seemed fairly familiar to me, right down to the white-haired farmer waving at my car as it passed through the village of Wolfsville.

My original plan had been to approach the Rocks from the north, starting about six miles up the AT at the next road crossing, and make a full-day hike of them. However, I wound up starting late (though not late enough to avoid the tail end of the Beltway's morning rush hour) and arrived around 11 at the trailhead--well, at the mountain gap where Google Maps had claimed there was a trailhead. I didn't see a thing as I drove by.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Savage Gulf, TN (~1800-2000')

Later that week, once my feet had recovered, the Chattanoogan and I drove up to a place on the Cumberland Plateau called Savage Gulf State Natural Area. Not a gulch or a gully, mind you, but a "gulf." Guess that's the local word for them.

But hey--sounds like our kind of place, lar!

The main attraction on the eastern end of the Natural Area (why they don't just call it a park, I have no idea) is a ~4-mile loop trail that wanders through the woods for a bit, then takes you right along the edge of those bluffs.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Southern Sixers: Mt. Collins (6188'), Mt. Love (6400'), Clingman's Dome (6643'), Mt. Buckley (6560')

On the way down to visit that Chattanoogan fellow I've mentioned in previous posts, I thought I'd stop by the Smokies for a bit of February mountaineering. I hadn't hiked through snow since my winter ascent of Mt. Washington in 2016, and the ice axe I'd bought after that trip was long overdue for actual use. Plus, what better time to snag the handful of Southern Sixers along the main drag of the Smokies than in the dead of winter? I'd have the mountains to myself, I figured--my own little ice-encrusted wonderland at the crown of the southern Appalachians.

Now, if you've noticed any trends while following this blog for the past two years, you're probably wondering what's about to go wrong. And the answer, my friends, is...

...absolutely nothing.

The weather on the high ridge of the Smokies that weekend was perfect for hiking: warm, sunny, and snowless. And I looked like a fool schlepping an ice axe all the way to Clingman's Dome.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Tar Tales, Part I: Beware, Beware the Monster Fair

A year after I graduated from college—having both free time and disposable income for the first time in my life—I decided to get a new Pokémon. The income, part-time bookstore wages, wasn’t terribly high, so rather than hit up the fancy shops at Tysons Corner or pay the exorbitant fee to capture one from Shenandoah National Park (the nearest patch of public land where interesting ‘mons could be found), I turned to Craigslist first. Surely someone on there had a recently laid Egg they’d part with for a smile and the assurance of a good home.

Nope. Even those sellers knew their stuff—the pickings were either Pidgeys for a pittance or purebred Piplups for not much less than what the Tysons dealers were charging. With Pokémon, as with anything else, there’s no such thing as a free lunch—especially in Northern Virginia.

I did, however, find an advertisement for a breeder’s fair out in Manassas. Kind of a haul, but there might be some deals there. I’d at least come away with a better sense of the market, of how much those Piplups were really worth.

And so, one hot August afternoon, I found myself inching down I-66 among the weekend traffic, headed for that huge park beside Bull Run.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Urushiol, Scourge of the Forests

But first, a public service announcement about a certain substance found on three-leafed plants throughout North America--urushiol.

If you've done much in the way of hiking, camping, bushwhacking, orienteering, or any other activity that involves tromping around wooded areas, you've probably come across this plant:


If you're one of the 80% of humans who react on contact with it, it has made your life a living hell for weeks after the fact. And if not, then just you wait--one of these days, you will be.

This three-leafed, hairy vine causes millions of rashes and blisters each year. It grows in an impressive range of climates and soil types: from the Caribbean to the Arctic, and from flood-prone bayous to thin-soiled mountainsides up to 5000' in altitude. It and its sister species account for 10% of all lost-time injuries in the United States Forest Service. And as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increase, it's only growing larger and more potent.

I speak, of course, of Toxicodendron radicans, known to most folks as poison ivy.