Wednesday, May 20, 2015

SNP: Saturday

From the "okay, this is getting ridiculous, just finish the goddamn trip report already, the trip was six weeks ago" file.

Wow, what a cold, wet, miserable night. Did I mention cold? There was heavy rain and wind all night long, and the temperature had to be just above freezing. I wasn't too cold with my layers in my sleeping bag, but I drifted in and out of sleep all night. The sound of the wind and the rain was always there.

I'm reasonably rested and feel pretty good. Eric is a different story.  He had a very bad night - he's sick, and water got into our tent on his side and got pretty much all of his clothes and gear wet. The rain stopped around dawn, and it looks like it's going to be a nice day - but it's still frigid cold, and still has to be very close to the freezing mark. Eric is cold and wet, and wet gear is bad news. We'll go get breakfast at the camp store/grill and talk about options.

I see how his side of our tent got water in it. The ground cloth shifted when we were setting up the tent, and his half was mostly on bare (and soaking wet) ground. Very unfortunate.

Rose River Falls
So I mentioned a few times in yesterday's trip report how unhappy I was to have not packed my rain pants, and how badly I missed them last night. Well guess what? They were in my duffel the whole time. I found them this morning, sitting right there under everything else I'd packed. Not sure whether to laugh or cry. I guess I'll just shake my head and roll my eyes at myself.

Two thumbs up for breakfast at the wayside grill. We all got big plates of eggs, pancakes, sausage, and gallons of hot coffee. After discussion of options, Eric is going to pack up and go home. He's clearly sick, and all his clothes and gear are wet. He feels badly, but there's no reason to. We all feel badly.

We helped him pack up and wished him safe travels home. I'll now be going home with John and Ted, so we've sent all non-essentials home in Eric's car, and we'll sort things out after we all get home. Sadly, my guitar had to go - though it's been so cold that playing it has been out of the question.

Falls Hike
When planning this trip, I had the Three Falls hike in mind for today. We talked to the ranger yesterday when checking into the campground, and she confirmed that it's a great hike. The hike is detailed here, and we opted for doing the "two falls" option (6.1 miles vs. 9.3). It turned out to be a perfect hiking day - sunny and blue sky, warm in the sun, cool in the shade. Both falls were beautiful, and we rested for a while at both. There was some up and down, but nothing terrible (except maybe one stretch of the last climb back up to Skyline Drive.)

For extra convenience, we didn't even need to drive to a trailhead - the loop went right through our campground. After walking through the campground, we see the campsites we'll try to get next time we're here (because there *will* be next times.) The sites on the "E" loop are secluded and have a view out over the valley.

Dark Hollow Falls
Yes, the campground has portable showers. With hot water. Hallelujah. Boy did a hot shower feel good after a cold night and a good hike.

Steaks on the Grill
As the afternoon went on and the sun started to get lower, it started to get significantly colder. It was still clear, and the forecast wasn't calling for rain, but it was clearly going to be another very cold night. We got a fire started, and cooked the steaks we originally planned to eat last night. They were amazing, as campfire steaks always are.

We talked around the campfire until the fire got low, and then it was time to hit the sack. I bundled unto my layers and crawled into my sleeping bag. Nite nite.

(To be continued)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

SNP: Camp Night 1

(Continued from here)

Entering Skyline Drive (riding in Eric's car, with John and Ted following in Ted's car.) The sun is actually out, and the views are fantastic. We'll go up the drive about 20 miles to Big Meadows campground.

We're here and have checked in, picked a site, and set up camp. The sun we saw on entering the park didn't last long, and it's gotten progressively grayer, windier, and colder. We have the two tents set up - my tent for me and Eric, John's tent to share with Ted. The bathroom is close by, which has toilets and sinks (with hot water!), but no showers. There are showers up by the ranger station, but it's too much trouble to walk up there now. I've washed up and changed in the bathroom, and that's good enough.

I already have a couple of layers on, and I'm wondering if I've brought enough layers. An evening in the low 40's with rain and wind will feel very cold.

We've set up Phil's canopy (i.e., "the party tent"), and I expect it to blow away any second. It's a big heavy thing, and we have it staked into wet ground with four little tent stakes. If a gust of wind gets under it, those stakes will never hold. But so far it is, and we're keeping an eye on it.

The evening continues to get colder and windier, and rain seems imminent. To no one's surprise, the party tent met a spectacular demise. A big gust of wind pulled it out of the ground and took it for a ride. It crash-landed a short distance away, and is broken beyond repair. There goes our shelter on what looks like it's going to be a rainy night. General merriment over the flight of the canopy, and what we'll say to Phil when we get back.

Eric prepared two meals: steaks to cook over the grill, and a chili which he pre-made and froze, to be thawed and cooked on his portable camp stove. The original plan was to cook the steaks tonight, but it's so windy that a good campfire isn't looking possible. Another possibility is driving 10 miles back to Skyland, where we could get dinner in the restaurant and drinks in the bar. But that's crazy talk - we'll stay here and suffer like real men.

It's cold, very windy, damp...and cold. I have all my layers on and can't keep warm. Part of the problem is that when packing, I went back and forth on whether to bring rain pants. I had them packed, and then thought "nah, I won't wear them." Not too smart. I'm wearing jeans, which are now damp and just making me colder. The bathroom is very well heated, and there's joking about spending the night in there.

Eric managed to cook his chili on the camp stove, and it was delicious (as always.) We're sitting around the (fireless) fire pit, talking and trying to keep warm. Bed will be soon - and sooner if the rain starts in earnest, as we have no where else to go but our tents.

Bedtime. The wind has never let up, and it's now raining hard. What a miserable evening. This isn't a surprise - rain was in the forecast. But it feels colder than it was supposed to be. Oh well. I've cursed myself all night for not packing my rain pants. Oh well.

I should be warm enough once I get in my sleeping bag. I can get out of these damp jeans, into a dry layer of long johns, heavy socks, wool cap (Canada Hockey), and I'll be fine. At least that's the hope.

Nite nite.

(Continued here)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

SNP: Old Rag

Friday's hike of Old Rag Mountain, in diary format.

We're in the Old Rag parking area, making final preparations to start our hike. I slept well and feel good. We were up before 7:00, had the motel breakfast, then checked out and hit the road. We had a 30-40 minute drive to get here.

The forecast is calling for showers this morning and possible thunderstorms this afternoon, and we drove through a steady rain on the way here. It's still misty/foggy, but it's pretty much stopped raining. We're planning to do exactly this. The weather means I won't be documenting this hike like I normally do. I'm not going to take my phone and risk getting it wet, so that means no GPS track and no pics (though others may have a camera, and Eric may have a GPS.) The parking lot, which we've heard can fill up completely on nice days, is pretty much empty - likely a combination of it being Good Friday and the weather forecast.

The first 0.8 miles was along a rural road to the real trail-head. It's fairly warm and feels good to be moving.

We've taken a rest, and Eric says he's not feeling well and is going to turn back. We feel badly, but it doesn't make sense to continue on if you don't feel up to it. The trail so far has been a gradual though steady climb. We'll gain 2,500 feet of elevation in about 3 miles, and there's a section of "challenging rock scramble" - though we're assuming that, as with most hike write-ups, they've over-exaggerated the difficulty. There's a very light mist, but it's not really raining.

We've continued climbing, did a very short stretch of easy rock-climbing, and we're at the summit. At least we think so - we're pretty much fogged in, but the trail seems to go level or descend ahead. We stop for a drink and a sandwich and feel good - though we have zero visibility at a spot that famed for its vistas. This makes us reminisce about other supposedly spectacular vistas that we got to with zero visibility - our first climb of Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks, and Charlie's Bunion in the Great Smokies.

Rest break is over, we're ready to continue hiking. Conditions are the same - maybe a very light mist, but it's not raining, and we're grateful.

What do you know, that wasn't the summit. After a short stretch of level ridge-line, we can see that the real rock climbing is just beginning. We wouldn't have made that mistake with better visibility...but we still feel plenty foolish.

Okay, now we're at the summit. Yes, really. The last hour was very slow and difficult rock climbing - the trail description wasn't exaggerated at all. None of it was *horribly* difficult, but it was slow going. We pretty much had the trail to ourselves on the lower part of the mountain, but we caught up with some groups on the rocky stretch, and there's nothing to do but wait your turn - kind of like playing golf on a busy hit your shot, then wait for the party in front of you to clear, so you can hit your next shot.

Happily, the mist has stopped, and it's even clearing some - enough to see some of the spectacular views. It really is gorgeous and worth the climb.

We're back at the car. As the guide said, the descent was much easier - longer in distance, but no rocky sections, just a gently descending trail, and then a fire road. At one of the junctions, we found Eric waiting for us. He's feeling okay, but still not great. He hiked on the lower trails, took some pics, and had a good time (his trip report is here.) We hiked the last 3 or so miles with him, and now the hike is complete.

We'll clean up, change out of our sweaty hiking gear, and make will make what's probably an hour drive to Big Meadows campground. We lucked out with weather - conditions may not have been ideal, but they were much better than the forecast. We didn't hike in any real rain, and we actually saw some vistas from the summit. We did the 8 miles in just over 5.5 hours. I feel great.

(Continued here)

Monday, April 13, 2015

SNP: Getting Away

Our Shenandoah National Park long weekend has now come and gone, and it was mostly a success. There were a couple of hiccups, but overall I had a great time.

Thursday came quickly, and I decided to take a half day of vacation (to do the packing and preparing I hadn't had a chance to do more in advance.) There was e-mail discussion among the guys about departure time and travel route. The shortest route from here to SNP is south on 95 to the D.C. area, then west on 66. But D.C. traffic is nightmarish anywhere around rush hour (which in my limited experience seems to be from 6am-9pm.) The longer-distance/lower-traffic route is straight west on the PA Turnpike, then south on 81.

Our choices were depart at 7pm and go 95 to D.C., or if everyone could get out of work early, we could leave at 4:00 or 4:30 and go west on the turnpike. That was my preference, and it's how things worked out. Everyone met at my house, we loaded up two cars (John's and Eric's) and hit the road. It's unfortunate that we couldn't all fit into one car - but as we painfully learned on last June's W.V. trip, that requires renting a full-size minvan - which doesn't make financial sense for a 3-day getaway that's 3.5 hours away.

The drive was uneventful. We stopped for a Wendy's dinner in Carlisle, took 81 South, then got off the highway and set the GPS for the last half hour to Culpeper, VA. It was dark by that point, and there was a bright moon and plenty of stars visible - I watched Orion for a while as we drove.

John had given us the reservation he'd made at the Comfort Inn, Culpeper - but when the GPS told us we'd arrived, there was no such thing. We drove around for a bit, then we pulled into a motel parking lot, and I went in to ask. Apparently between the making of the reservation and now, it changed from a Comfort Inn to a Quality Inn. So we had arrived.

We had two rooms, and Eric and I settled into ours, then went to John and Ted's room. I had my travel guitar with me, and we watched some TV and some YouTube while talking, and I took some requests on the guitar.

Tomorrow morning's plan has been to get up early and do the Old Rag hike. It's supposed to be a fairly strenuous hike - and also such a popular hike that it's recommended to get to the trailhead early, as the parking lot can fill up on nice days. The weather forecast isn't good - rain in the morning, a chance of a thunderstorm in the afternoon. We talked it over, and there aren't any good options for rescheduling it - so we're planning to do it, barring absolutely terrible weather. I'm fine with that - I don't mind hiking in rain, and it's supposed to be warm.

Bring it on. (Famous last words? Stay tuned and find out!)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Almost Shenandoah

To be specific, it's less than a week until we depart for our boys' long weekend hiking/camping trip to Shenandoah National Park. As Brother Eric notes in his recent blog post, we've done basically nothing in terms of planning. But that's okay, a trip like this doesn't need a lot of planning.

It's a car camping trip, and we've done this often enough that it's pretty much a matter of tossing our gear in a duffel, throwing it in the car, and off we go. Between Phil (who won't be there this time) and Eric (who, thankfully, will) we always eat very well on these trips. They both enjoy making good meals, and I'm grateful. Left to my own devices, meal planning for camping would be a very simple thing: one jar of all-natural peanut butter, one jar of raspberry jelly, and one loaf of bread. And I'd honestly be fine with that. But having actual meals in the evening is a wonderful thing.

We'll leave Thursday night after work, drive to the vicinity of SNP, and get a cheap motel room. Friday morning we'll plan to be up early and hike Old Rag Mountain. This is one of the signature hikes of SNP, and none of us has ever done it. It's a 7 mile loop with 2,500 feet of elevation gain, and the scenery and the vista at the top are supposed to be among the finest in the area. Hike descriptions are here and here.

We want to spend Friday and Saturday nights at Big Meadows campground in the park. I looked at the park's website, and the campground opens on March 27, but it's first come/first served (i.e., no reservations) until May 5. So we'll hope for the best. It's Easter weekend, and I hope that will keep some people at home.

A hike for Saturday is still to be determined. I have some rough ideas, but I have to get out my big map and my trail guides and come up with some more specific ideas. That's my project for this weekend.

I think Sunday we'll go to Stony Man - the vista that was the destination of all our youthful trips to Shenandoah. We can spend the morning there, then think about heading for home.

I'm purposely not looking at long-range weather forecasts. First of all, anything more than 2-3 days out is little more than a guess. Second, it doesn't matter. We're going, and it's going to be fun no matter what the weather. Getting away with the guys is always a treat. We'll be prepared with clothing and shelter for whatever weather we get.

Did I mention that I can't wait?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Shenandoah Planning

In my late December hiking year in review, I said that we were going to try to plan a few long weekend getaways instead of one big hiking trip. We've talked about this a couple of times, and all agreed that we need to put something on our calendars as soon as possible - otherwise normal busyness will fill up every weekend, and our trips won't happen.

A flurry of e-mails went around in the past week, and I'm very happy to say that weekend getaway #1 is written in stone on the family calendar. Four of us will camp and hike in Shenandoah National Park the first weekend in April. We'll leave Thursday after work, get a motel room in the vicinity of the park - which will give us three full days of hiking and two nights of camping in SNP. We'll be home Sunday night, so we'll only have to take one vacation day.

I'm very excited. First of all, we're currently in the midst of the coldest weather in over 20 years, with daytime high temps in the single digits (F) - so it's nice to have thoughts of Spring and getting outside. Also, I simply adore Shenandoah N.P., and we've barely scratched the surface of the hiking trails there.

Eric refers to the many many weekend trips we made to SNP in the post-college years - and he's right, we drove down there many weekends. But none of those trips involved any serious hiking. We drove Skyline Drive, got out at the overlooks, and did the one-mile bunny trail to Stony Man Peak. They were wonderful trips - but they weren't hiking trips.

We *have* done a couple of hiking trips to SNP in the past decade - but we're in no danger of running out of new trails to hike in any of our lifetimes.

Darling Wife was quick to point out that early April could mean cold nights, rain, or both. She's right, of course, but that doesn't dim my excitement. We'll hope for the best, and bring gear to deal with whatever comes.

I can't wait.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Susquehanna S.P., 1/1/15

John and I talked over Christmas week about the possibility of a New Year's Day hike. That's something we've done before, and I always like when it works out. It's a nice feeling to be up and out early on New Year's Day when no one else is out, and it feels good to start the year active and outdoors.

We had both agreed that we were free and wanted to hike, and tossed around some ideas as to where we'd hike, when I texted Eric to see if he'd also be interested. He was both interested and available, so we just had to settle on the question of "where." One place John mentioned struck my fancy - Susquehanna State Park, on the Maryland side of the river, and just off of I-95. I'd never been there, and it looked to be about an hour away (i.e., not *too* far), and I like hikes that go along the shore of a body of water.
250+ year-old oak tree

The map on the park website showed a number of trails which could be made into a loop of 6-8 miles. I suggested it to the guys, and no one had any objections, so that became our plan.

We met at Eric's at 9:30am on a bright, sunny, and very cold morning. Perfect hiking weather. I had a few light layers with me, but I knew that I'd be plenty warm once I got moving on the trail. We found the park and the trailhead with no trouble.

We hiked north along the banks of the river. The water views were beautiful, and Conowingo Dam was visible in the distance. We'd been going for a while when someone (I don't remember who, just that it wasn't me) realized that we'd missed a turn we intended. We were off the state park loop and on a trail that would take us all the way up to the dam. We backtracked, found our turn, and continued on our intended route.
Stream crossing

We made a big counterclockwise loop, with a bit of up and down - though nothing overly punishing. We got back to the car, and my GPS track had us at about 6.8 miles. I decided that it should be a 7-mile day, and hiked a tenth of a mile south up the river bank. Silly, I know. :-)

Beautiful day, great hike, great companions, great start to 2015.

(Brother Eric's take on the day, with pics, is here.)

Distance: 7.07 miles
Elapsed Time: 3:20