AT -VA Gravel Springs Gap to Elkwallow Wayside 

I led this hike for the Maryland Trail Dames.  Seven women had RSVP’d and I knew for sure that four were coming because three were riding in my car and another was following in her own car.  Twenty-four miles south, after entering the northernmost gate at Shenandoah National Park, I pulled into Elkwallow Wayside.

I saw MamaPuma waving at me as she stood beside her big ass awesome pick-up truck. I pulled around, and we all quickly worked out who would ride with who back to our starting place, Gravel Springs. BUT WAIT! We must all go to the bathroom! Jees, is it at all possible for a woman to need a public restroom and NOT END UP waiting in line?!! ūü§Ē

Okay, now in the cars, we headed to Gravel Springs.  “Just after mile 18, look for mile 18!” I called out.  Several minutes later, just after mile 18, cars ahead of us slowed. “Look! Look! Look!” I exclaimed jabbing my finger at the right windshield.  A mama bear lumbered slowly across the road, stopping to look over her shoulder.  I followed her gaze. Oh, there are cubs!  Her babies still cowered on the opposite side of the road clinging to a tree! 

A bear! Right before Gravel Springs! Maybe we would see them again! ūüėÄūüėÄūüėÄ

We parked, and of course, we were all very excited about the bear! I was on high alert as we started down the trail thinking mama and her cubs might cross our path. 

Coming to the first crossing of Skyline Drive, I let a little sigh of both relief and disappointment escape. Oh well, maybe next time bears. 

The AT is very well behaved, with a gentle incline, for the first two miles south of Gravel Springs, with a beautiful view just a bit before Little Hogback Overlook.

Then it was one, two, three, four…whew, five, six, seven, …ugh…eight switchbacks to reach the summit of Hogback Mountain. And no view. Whaaaaat!? A trail post promised a hang glider site which never materialized. That is a crime upon Mother Nature herself!!! No view. Harrumph. 

Still amazing though with fog floating through the tops of trees, the forest floor a carpet of verdant green, and the last of Azalea blossoms clinging together as if protesting the end of spring. Very Hansel and Gretel.

Once more across Skyline Drive to a very cool lunch spot! What a find!

Claiming this as my Spirit Tree!

It was all downhill now! The last mile was an easy slide into Elkwallow where we again mobbed the bathroom, then celebrated with Blackberry ice-cream! Hike on!

Thanks to Overkill for this instaClassic!

‚Äč

‚Äč

AT – VA South River Picnic Area to Big Meadows

Shenandoah National Park seemed a reasonable choice for leading a Trail Dames backpack. ¬†Fool’s Weekend was so apropo for this event! ¬†We had some new backpackers along and this route tested the limits of some. ¬†However, WHAT FUN!!!! ¬†Who better to test limits with but Trail Dames!

DSC01027

On our way! White blaze of the Appalachian Trail.

Clouds moved in and out all day.  One moment we would be basking in the warmth of the sun and the next pulling on an extra layer to guard against the gray sky and stiff chilly breeze.  We hiked about six miles on day 1, and that was quite enough for some of our group.

DSC01049

BoobOnARock skipping down the mountain ūüôā

We all set up our tents around Bearfence Hut, then gathered around the firepit to eat dinner. ¬†AND OF COURSE, there was a fire! Kathleen & Overkill did a fantastic job getting a fire started with wet wood. ¬†Nice! Smoky at first, but worth it. ūüôā

DSC01071

Trail Dames leaving Bearfence Hut – Morning of Day 2

As I sat in my tent, snuggled into my bag for the night, I realized I was exhausted.  Leading a day hike is one thing, but taking responsibility for a group of women on a backpack, is leveling up in a huge way.  Did I pass? I think so.  Could I have been more supportive? Probably.

DSC01089

A welcome break at Hazeltop summit

So I sat there and thought about things that had happened during the day and found myself writing a silly little poem…which I will now share here…remember I am a math instructor not a poet. ¬†ūüôā ūüôā ūüôā

Wind blowing

Fire crackling

Where did the miles go?

Water boiling

Teeth chattering

Listening to everyone’s woes.

Snap of a cracker

Crack of a twig

Make the tea

Take a swig

Feeling the warmth of my insides grow.

Hike On!

Beat the Heat at Little Bennett Regional Park

Can Mother Nature cool her jets? ¬†Everyday brings a new level of heat disgust! ¬†My last hike was two weeks ago and we were chased back to our cars by a thunderstorm. ¬†Since then it has just been oppressive. ¬†I know it’s summer, yada, yada, yada…keep your logic to yourself!

I needed to get out, but also needed motivation. ¬†This is where being a hike leader with Trail Dames is so, so, personally satisfying. ¬†I scheduled an early morning hike at Little Bennett Regional Park in Maryland. ¬†And six other crazy women signed up…so at 6:20 AM I pulled into the Hyattstown Mill trail head parking lot in Hyattstown just across the street from the fire department. ¬†It was already a steamy 80 degrees, but otherwise a gorgeous morning that had surprised me with an amazing sunrise on the way down from Frederick.

img_20160813_123525.jpg

From the Hyattstown Mill Trail Head Parking…with a colorful filter. ūüôā Cute little town.

As soon as everyone arrived, some still trying to wake up, we started down the road to pick up the trail.  The trail used to be the old Hyattstown Road that went from Hyattstown to Clarksburg and it still resembles a road.  Wide and paved with gravel it was an easy walk to the cut off for the Bennett Ridge trail.

There was a 10k going on in the park this morning.  As such we navigated past water stations, yellow tape marking off trails, and eventually the runners.  They had their work cut out for them on this muggy morning!

img_20160813_103333.jpg

Along the old Hyattstown Road

We followed the Bennett Ridge trail to the campground (pitstop), then backtracked to Beaver Valley.  We headed downhill and encountered a bubble of runners from the 10k coming up.  Oh! They looked a little whipped, but were in good spirits as they scuttled up the hill.

 

img_20160813_103534.jpg

A 10k runner in beautiful Little Bennett

img_20160813_111527.jpg

Another runner in the 10k. How can I not love this park? So lovely!

Beaver Valley winds around to the Western Piedmont trail, which we took back in the direction of Hyattstown.  This is also part of the old road, so we were on flat, wide terrain again for a while.  As we approached the section of trail where Pine Grove trail comes in, runners were exclaiming that they were getting stung.  We slowly walked forward.  I watched the next runner carefully, trying to spot the bees.  Runner yelled, another win for the bees.  I saw the bees and following their track I spotted the hive.

img_20160813_103952.jpg

Look closely above runner’s head…the HIVE! Yep, this guy also got stung. It was just easy pickins for the bees.

Holy moly! A huge hornet operation just above the heads of the poor defenseless runners! ¬†I looked around and decided this was a time when it was perfectly okay to go off trail. ¬†I led the women who chose to follow off, up, and around the nest…no stings. ¬†Hooray!

A few women had decided to take their chances and stay on trail…sucked for them, stung!

The final piece of adventure for this trail was wading across Little Bennett. ¬†I chose the deepest part, because, well, it was hot, and I mean seriously, if I’m taking the time to put on water shoes, then dang it, it better be worth it!! And it was! The water came up to the bottom of my shorts and felt so cold and ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

img_20160813_111021.jpg

A good cool off!

Long before the daily heat advisory went into effect, we were back at the cars and ready to head home for showers.

I looked forward to coffee and chilling out in the AC… Hike on!

 

 

Living it Up on the Loudoun Heights Trail

Mid-Week hikes are a luxury.  While the rest of the world shuffles off to work, the Maryland Trail Dames were getting ready to cross the 340 bridge by pulling our gloves, hats, and layers into place.  The crossing of the bridge would be the killer with traffic whizzing past blasting us with cold air and fumes.  A necessary evil in order to start climbing Loudoun Heights on the other side of the Shenandoah River.  At 10 am Wednesday morning it was bitter cold, yet bright and sunny, so we anticipated shedding some of those layers as we climbed almost 1000 feet to ridge!

The parking lot is a fee area, so pay the $10 bucks to support the NPS. ¬†The pass is good for three days, so after I finish this post I might head back for another hike in the area! ūüôā

20160106_143943.jpg

340 Bridge over the Shenandoah River looking towards West Virginia side

Once we crossed the bridge, we climbed the AT up, up, and up and as AnnaMarie would say “Suck it up, Buttercup”! ¬†As expected a few layers came off! ¬†Thelma, a fellow Trail Dame, suggested we take the orange trail first, then loop back on the blue trail. ¬†Great suggestion! ¬†The orange trail was extremely pleasant! It was a nice change from constantly going up. ¬†It is level and well marked which allowed us to make good time with little effort!

In the summer, this hike would have only the views marked on the map…two at power lines, then another at Split Rock. ¬†But in winter? Ahhhh…all the views you could want! ¬†No leaves make mountain hikes even more glorious.

20160106_112545.jpg

Holy crap! I think my lips are purple! ūüôā

The path became more rolling once we met up with the blue trail. ¬†We went to the left, headed for Split Rock. ¬†It all seems so easy…because the trail is going down to Split Rock. ¬†The view here though is worth it! ¬†and the women on the trail with me were so funny!

“Suck it up, Buttercup!” ¬†became a repeated joke as we met each hill with gusto. ¬†At each overlook we had a micromanager or two when it came to picture time…after being asked to tilt the camera this way and that way, and move to the right, then to the left I busted out laughing…”What is your job anyway???” Snorts of laughter permeated the air. ūüôā ¬†and don’t even let me start with the selfie stick…oh jees’…It was a good thing no one else was on the trail!

2016-01-06-15.58.09.jpg.jpg

Looking across at Maryland Heights

20160106_122928.jpg

View of Harper’s Ferry from Split Rock

img_20160107_084114.jpg

Like a Model Train Set!

After lunch at Split Rock, we climbed up to the ridge once more.  There were some sweaty faces in that last push to the ridge!  Then it was easy, a little rocky, but easy sailing on the blue trail and a quick trip down the AT back to the 340 bridge.

20160106_135420.jpg

Looking calm, cool, and collected…like they hadn’t even exerted themselves. ūüôā

In the whole time we were on the mountain, we did not see any other hikers! So if one is looking for solitude on this hike, go on a weekday.  I have heard that on the weekends it can be crowded at Split Rock.  I totally get that because it is such a great place!

We finished at 2:30 and the sun never really made it over the ridge.  Still seemed like morning with the long shadows filling the valley.

Off to more chilly adventures! Hike On!

 

Hiking in Winter by a Chunky Middle Aged Woman

First of all, let me say that I have not always been a fan of winter hiking. ¬†In fact, up until a few years ago, as soon as that first cold wind blew, I went into hibernation mode, staying inside nurturing other hobbies like reading, sewing, drinking hot chocolate…embracing the chunky until Spring came around again.

I don’t know when it changed. ¬†Trail Dames had something to do with it for sure. ¬†I found out I could and would hike in winter IF I just signed up to attend a hike with Trail Dames. ¬†Fast forward to NOW! ¬†I love winter hiking. ¬†The silence, the crunch of snow, the briskness of the air, NO BUGS, NO STICKY HOT HUMID AIR!!!

DSC03177

Along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

And the views! I can see through the trees and see the distant mountains!

No "green tunnel" here!

No “green tunnel” here!

And anyone for waterfalls???

White Oak Canyon in SNP

White Oak Canyon in SNP

But to love it I had to figure out how to happy in the cold.  That was my challenge!

Layering:

Everyone tells you to layer in the Winter, but what does that mean? ¬†Well, don’t buy any cotton layers, that is for sure. ¬†No cotton tshirts, no cotton long underwear…Cotton gets wet with sweat, which will chill you beyond belief and possibly right into hypothermia! ¬†No cotton!!! ¬†Here is how I layer…

  • Start with a moisture wicking base layer on both top & bottom. ¬†I have a lightweight base layer and a heavyweight base layer. ¬†If the temps are 30 – 50 I use the lightweight, anything below 30 and I choose the heavyweight. ¬†It is a matter of choice…and only experience will tell what is comfortable for you!
  • For my legs, after the base layer, I put on wind pants (like gym pants). ¬†This is enough on bottom for 99% of my hikes here in the MidAtlantic. ¬†For the other 1% (when it is God-awful skin lashing¬†cold) I put fleece pants on after the base layer, then the wind pants.
  • For my core (top), I follow the base layer with a typical short sleeved hiking shirt. ¬†Then a long sleeved hiking shirt with a hoodie, then a fleece jacket, and finally a wind breaker. ¬†That wind breaker is a key piece of the layering for me. ¬†Wind can flippen freeze me to death…Do not underestimate the power of wind chill.
  • Okay, now let’s talk about head wear, and yes, you better have a good hat. ¬†Not some chintzy piece of crap made out of fibers that won’t keep you warm. ¬†Try a good wool hat…know why? Because wool will insulate even if it gets wet! ¬†Also, make sure that hat pulls down over your ears, or even better, invest in a balaclava because you are going to need something around your neck!
  • My hands are covered with glove liners as well as a heavy glove.
  • For my feet, I just use my usual wool hiking socks with silk liners and a waterproof hiking boot. ¬†My feet generally stay plenty warm (sometimes they even get hot).

So you are all layered up nicely and ready for your first winter hike! ¬†Where do you go? My advice, so you can try out your layers is to pick a route, either on a trail or in the neighborhood, that is around two miles. ¬†In two miles, you will know whether your layers need adjusting. ¬† You do NOT want to find out that you have inefficiently layered on a long hike!! ¬†If you get too warm, that is fine…because you can shed a layer or two as you warm up. ¬†But if you are too cold, then you need to start off with better layers…either heavier weight or more layers.

View from Washington Monument, Boonesboro, MD

View from Washington Monument, Boonesboro, MD

Water:

Okay, the layers are working, yay! What’s next? ¬†Let’s talk about water and staying hydrated. ¬†In the winter you may not feel as thirsty as you do on a hot summer day. You might need to force yourself to take a drink of water as you hike down the trail. Camelbak has a neat hydration calculator you can use to give you an idea of how much water you should be taking in as you are hiking.

Sidekick Pauli and BoobOnARock at Possum's Rest along the AT in SNP

Sidekick Pauli and BoobOnARock at Possum’s Rest along the AT in SNP

Food:

Yes. Yes, take food. ¬†Yummy stuff high in calories…you get to splurge here! ¬†On a five mile hike I usually take a pb&j sandwich on multigrain bread, trail bar, m&m’s, and something salty, like pretzels. ¬†Sometimes I carry a thermos with a hot beverage, which makes my break extra nice. If you hike with a canine companion, then bring snacks for him/her as well. ¬†ūüôā

Not all winter hikes are snowy...30 degrees...Sidekick Pauli takes a break in Gambrill SP!

Not all winter hikes are snowy…30 degrees…Sidekick Pauli takes a break in Gambrill SP!

Take Breaks:

Definitely! ¬†I usually hike on the Appalachian Trail, so there are shelters where I can stop, get out of the wind and relax while eating my lunch. ¬†Try to plan your hike so there is a good break place in the middle somewhere. ¬†If it is super cold, an emergency blanket can keep you comfortable so you don’t have cut your break short.

Jim & Molly Denton Shelter on the AT in VA...Nice break spot.

Jim & Molly Denton Shelter on the AT in VA…Nice break spot.

In addition, take little breaks along the way. ¬†You might want to take along a pad to sit on…otherwise you could find yourself sitting on an icy log or in the snow!!

Sometimes I get so warm hiking some of the layers come off...like my hat and gloves.

Sometimes I get so warm hiking some of the layers come off…like my hat and gloves.

That’s it! ¬†Seems like a lot, but with each hike out the prep gets easier! ¬†I usually keep many of these items handy, either in my pack or a designated drawer in my dresser so they are ready to go when I am.

Have fun, stay safe and Hike on!

AT – VA Compton Gap to US 522 with the Trail Dames

I will remember this day as hiking through the sky with Dames, then descending into the valley with Angels.

Before all of this, however, was donuts.  Tenacious D was driving and I had hitched a ride to the trail head since my car is no longer to be trusted on long trips.  I felt very grateful to have a ride down to Virginia for this section hike and stopped at Dunkin Donuts on my way to meet Tenacious D for coffee and donuts as a token of appreciation for the ride.

Wow, it was raining. and cold. and windy.  Glad I put gloves and hat in the back pack before I left!

We were the last to arrive at the trail head…Tenacious D says being a bus driver for so many years makes her just drive slow all the time! ¬†I didn’t mind, we weren’t more than 3 – 4 minutes late, and the drive had been lovely. ¬†We pulled over and rolled down the window as Dirigo (the hike leader today) approached. She asked “Can you all help shuttle?” “Sure!” ¬†Another Dame jumped in and away we went up into Shenandoah National Park.

We met up with everyone at Compton Gap trail head, about 10 miles into the park. ¬†Donning our layers, rain jackets, hats, gloves, and grabbing our hiking poles we set off into the foggy woods. ¬†Pretty easy walking, although it began to rain making me wish I hadn’t left my big red poncho back in my car before riding down with Tenacious D. ¬†Oh well, my rain jacket, plus layers did a fine job anyway!

wpid-img_20141101_072122.jpg

Tenacious D enjoying the trail!

The forest was magical with the heavy fog.  Lines between heaven and earth were smudged giving everything a soft ethereal glow.  It felt like we were part of the sky.  Then my eye would catch a tree with its brilliantly colored leaves in the forest reminding me that the sky had descended on the mountain, we had not risen to the sky.

We reached Possum’s Rest, which on a clear day has a beautiful view, without much trouble. ¬†Today, all one could see was the fog. ¬†Coming down from Possum’s Rest was a little tricky! ¬†We were climbing down from the ridge and it was a sharp decline, even with the switchbacks, littered with wet leaves and rocks. ¬†It was slow going…but no one fell, no one slipped!

Just before reaching the Tom Floyd Wayside, we heard barking.  Lake Front Royal is a neighborhood which backs up to the AT, so the dog was probably over there.  Happy to get out of the rain we sat down for lunch at the shelter.  A PB&J and half a bag of cheezits later I was feeling quite content.  I stretched out my legs and sat there looking out into the mist.

Tom Floyd Wayside

Tom Floyd Wayside

There is was…that barking again…louder this time. ¬†We discussed where the dog could be, then brushed it aside as we packed up and left the shelter. ¬†Headed downhill, then all of the sudden there it was, a small older beagle, lost, cold, wet, shivering, and very scared. ¬†She came right up to me. ¬†It was clear she needed help. ¬†At first we got her to follow us, but soon realized she needed to be carried as her paws were rubbed raw. ¬†I carried her for awhile,

then Python cleared out her backpack and together we fit her inside. ¬†She loved that! So cozy! ¬†And that is how Python packed her out. ¬†As we continued towards Rt. 522 we passed directly by a few houses in Lake Front Royal. ¬†Python asked a guy out on his deck if he knew anyone who had lost a beagle. ¬†He didn’t but turned to get his wife. ¬†Turns out the wife¬†works in a vet clinic and offered to take the dog so they could follow up on the license number and scan for a microchip.

So you see, the Dames had become Angels arriving at just the right time and place for this lucky little pup.  I am ever so happy she spent the night inside, safe and warm.

A Journey Taken

A Journey Taken

Hike on.

AT – PA Pine Grove Furnace SP to Trindle Road

This gallery contains 2 photos.

March 16, 2014 Two days and a night at Milesburn cabin with the Trail Dames? ¬†Oh, Let’s go! ūüôā Trail Dames Maryland¬†had rented Milesburn cabin, a PATC cabin, in Michaux State Forest for the weekend. I had signed on for Friday and Saturday with¬†planned hikes on the AT¬†each day. So north on 15, west on […]