Sunday, June 17, 2018

Loop Hike: Nicholson Hollow, Stony Man, Whiteoak Canyon, Berry Hollow, Weakley Hollow (~1000-4011')

For the last of my spring-training hikes, I went big: a base-to-summit, dawn-to-hopefully-not-dusk loop from the Old Rag parking area to the summit of Stony Man, the second-highest peak in Shenandoah National Park, and back. As planned, the loop would cover 15 miles; a route change on impulse bumped it up to 18 miles, in which I gained and lost at least 3500 feet. If I could handle this hike, I figured, I could handle anything the southwestern highpoints would throw at me in a single day.

To make sure I could fit the whole loop into one day (because I kind of hate backpacking), I showed up at the Old Rag lot around 7:30 pm on June 15, the day before the hike. The place was quiet then, but the fact that the hand-sanitizer dispensers in all seven of the lot's porta-potties were completely empty testified to the crowds that had come and would soon come again (and cover those rocks in fecal bacteria, I supposed, suddenly glad I'd be hiking the other way. If you want to stay clean, BYOB.)

I tossed my tent into my pack, self-registered for a "backcountry camping" permit, and hiked a mile up the Nicholson Hollow trail until I found a nice flat spot to sleep, in a grove of pines within hearing distance of the river.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Loop Hike: Three Ridges, VA (~1000-3970')

The next weekend, I headed back to the Tye River Gap southwest of Charlottesville to hike the peaks I'd seen across the valley while hiking the Priest. That trio of summits, known as the Three Ridges, is accessible by a pleasantly challenging 13.1-mile loop along the AT and a side trail called the Mau-Har Trail.

Starting from the same parking lot, I crossed VA-56, then crossed the parallel Tye River along a cable bridge:

Enter, it seems to call...

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Loop Hike: Old Rag Mountain and Corbin Mountain Trail, SNP, VA (~1000-3500')

If you've been following this blog, you may have noticed that I've been hiking a lot more this spring than I did last year. There's a reason for this (and it's not that my work schedule has eased up--haha, that'll happen when I'm dead): I'm heading west again this summer to pick off a few more highpoints! The Southwestern ones are all snow-free by July, but they're still serious ascents involving several thousand feet of gain, moderately tricky terrain, and high elevation. I might not be able to train for the last two of those here in Virginia, but I've mapped out some loop hikes along the Blue Ridge that will at least approximate the first.

And so I headed out this Friday for the first of them, which would take me back up Old Rag Mountain and some of the nearby trails in Shenandoah National Park.

As you might recall, Old Rag is one of the few genuine Class 3 scrambles I've seen in Virginia. The top quarter of the mountain is covered in huge, smooth granite boulders, which the trail to the summit takes you over, around, and through. The mountain's unusual terrain and proximity to the DC metro area leave it quite crowded in warm months, so if you prefer to hike without a bunch of randoms breathing down your neck, I recommend you get there early. By the time I arrived, at 9:30 a.m. on a Friday in late May, the (huge) parking lot at the base was already two-thirds full.

The first few miles of my ascent were uneventful, though much greener than the last time I'd been there:

Friday, May 11, 2018

Tar Tales, Part II: Crikey! It's Angry!

If you know me, you know how I handle particularly tough problems. I consider them carefully from all angles, develop a detailed plan of attack, assemble the materials I’ll need to proceed… and then shove it all into a corner of my room and ignore it for months. Not until a distant date, when forced by some elaborate chain of reasoning (I need to do this so that I can do that in order to do some third thing with a deadline), after just enough dust has accumulated on the materials to set me sneezing, do I pick them up again and actually deal with the problem.

This approach isn’t entirely without benefits: sometimes I learn things in the intervening months that improve my eventual approach to the problem. But more often than not, when the solution ends up taking much less effort than I’d feared, it just leaves me feeling sheepish that I spent six weeks putting off five hours of work.

What does all this have to do with the Lars? Well, what problem could be tougher—or bigger, or more likely to break loose and terrorize the county—than an angry feral Tyranitar falling into my care?

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.

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.