Icicles at the Blackburn Trail Center


Cooties, Booties, and Snow
February 2007

Last updated February 19, 2007



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three

Norma and I first met KC on August 27, 2006 at the Maryland Outdoor Club George Washington National Forest Hike. But we knew each other by reputation long before then.

Later, we participated in KC's The Kids Shouldn't Be Camping Weekend. Now we would participate in his "Cooties, Booties, and Snow Weekend" at the Blackburn Trail Center.

My previous overnight winter adventure was spent at Canaan Valley and Dolly Sods on January 13-15, 2007. But the weather back then was unusually warm so it hardly felt like winter. That was the last of our warm spell. A few days later, the winter cold hit us hard. More recently, we had quite a bit of snow and ice. I wasn't so sure how the weekend would turn out. But at least we'd be in good company.

Day One: February 16, 2007

Norma, Annika and I left the Washington D.C. area around 1900. One of the first times I met Annika was on Columbus Day Weekend 2006. With her internship nearly over, this would be one of her last adventures in the Washington D.C. area so it was important that Norma and I show her a good time.

The three of us and all our gear was scrunched into my tiny Acura Integra. But despite having little space, we made room for a snow shovel and a box of cat litter to give my car traction on the ice should we get stuck.

Though it was President's Day Weekend, traffic wasn't bad. In the past, we've tried leaving early on a holiday weekend only to find everyone else and their dog is also doing so. This time, we left late and had no problem leaving town.

As we approached the Blackburn Trail Center, the dirt road became icy. We called KC to get directions to where we should meet him. We parked in a snow covered field and he came down the hill in his fully equipped Lexus sports utility vehicle. After transferring our gear to his car, he drove us about a mile uphill to the Center. There is no way my car would have made it. Even the caretaker couldn't make it up the hill.

The last cabin I stayed in was at Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park on November 18-20, 2005. This was a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club log cabin with no electricity or running water. By comparison, Blackburn is quite modern and much larger. The cabin is less than a quarter of a mile off the Appalachian Trail so it becomes a temporary home to many Appalachian Trail through hikers. Many of these hikers left photos of their adventures on the walls of the Center. According to KC, through hikers have cooties. This inspired the name for this event, "Cooties, Booties, and Snow."

In addition to KC were Joanne and Alvin (who led the Old Rag Hike on June 4, 2006), Shelly (who co-led the Ropes Course and Camping on October 14-15, 2007), and Stacia (pronounced "Stay-shee-uh").

We were up for awhile talking (about what I don't remember), then off to bed before it got too late.

The forecast for the night was a harsh 10 degrees. Thankfully, the Center has two large wood burning stoves and with the bedrooms upstairs, we managed to keep warm.

Day Two: February 17, 2007

We awoke to the smell of coffee and breakfast being prepared by KC. The morning was sunny (for awhile) and by comparison to previous mornings, not too terribly cold.

By 1030, KC, Shelly, Stacia, Norma, Annika, and I were hiking north on the Appalachian Trail. KC brought some extra Yaktrax crampons and I had my Stabil-Icers crampons. Norma and Stacia went without. The short walk from Blackburn to the Appalachian Trail was difficult for those without crampons because it was all uphill. It wasn't steep but with the snowing, melting, refreezing, etc., we were walking on a thick layer of ice. However, once we reached the top (elevation 1733, according to my global positioning system), the walking wasn't so bad as long as the trail remained flat.

Near some boulders, we removed some layers and posed for photos. See first photo at left.

Norma and Stacia studied the moss growing on rocks that were covered in a thick layer of ice. See second photo at left.

My last snow hike was about 2 years ago from Harpers Ferry to Gathland State Park on the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath and Appalachian Trail. This was an unofficial 10 mile hike with the Young Sierrans. Back then, the snow was powdery so we didn't slide much. Instead, our pace was slow and each step inefficient since we sank down a bit as our boots pushed off. Additionally, we found that near the end of the hike, those of us without waterproof socks or having leaks in our Goretex boots had cold, wet feet. By contrast, our hike today was on solid (but slippery) terrain and for those of us with good crampons, the walking seemed similar to hiking on hard dirt. In some ways, it was even better since the ice made the trail a little more level so we didn't have to worry about twisting an ankle on a rock. Furthermore, the ice made it easy to see what we were stepping on, a luxury that wouldn't exist in the late autumn with leaves covering the rocks.

We stopped at an overlook where I decided to pose with KC's walking stick. Something about a big wooden staff that makes one appear wise. Though I don't know how wise I looked in those 1980s leg warmers...no, they're just gaitors. See third photo at left.

The sun played peek-a-boo with us. But even when it hid, it didn't seem very cold unless we stopped. There was little wind so the day seemed quite pleasant.

On the first part of the hike, there was a good deal of ice in the trees and chunks of ice on the ground which had apparently fallen from some of the trees. As we walked further north, we noticed no ice chunks on the ground but some still in the trees. Later still, none in the trees or on the ground. The fourth photo at left shows how water froze on many of the flowers in the trees.

We passed Laurel Spring, Copperhead Spring, Deer Lick, and Buzzard Rock...at least that's what the map said.

We stopped for lunch at the David Lesser Shelter (see fifth photo at left). Veteran backpackers left devices to protect food from mice (see sixth photo at left). We headed back around 1300.

On the way back, we stopped briefly at Buzzard Rock (elevation about 1550 feet above sea level) for a scenic view at about 1315. See seventh photo at left. There was no sign for the Rock on the trail but we knew the first blue blazed off-shoot (about 0.7 miles) south of the Shelter on the west side was Buzzard Rock. In the eighth photo, you can see a small lake (or large pond) that passes through Furnace Run from the Rock.

KC's Yaktrax broke and everyone else's came off when they weren't supposed to. I suspect having a strap passing from one side of the crampon over the instep to the other side might prevent this though having the rubber break is unforgiveable. By comparison, mine were fine and I felt comfortable walking or running uphill or downhill in my Stabil-Icers.

The rest of the group completed the 7 mile hike at about 1500. I continued south.

Along the way, I spotted some trees with large holes, the lowest about 4 feet above the ground. See ninth photo at left. They were too big for woodpecker holes so I can't imagine what would have done this.

I returned to Blackburn at 1550, having completed a total of just over 9 miles. It felt good to get outside and breathe the crispy, fresh air but I also felt weak towards the end. Just a reminder that I need to get back in shape.

Kathryn and Sarah arrived at the Center while we were gone.

Joanne and Alvin spent part of the day buying tire chains so they could drive up the hill to the Center.

We played Pictionary. It was Norma, Kathryn, and me against Joanne, Alvin, and Annika. My team was getting our collective asses whooped but we managed to make a comeback and win by the narrowest of margins with Kathryn guessing my drawing of "vomit."

We ate a fantastic dinner made by KC: squash soup, salad, pot roast, and mashed potatoes. See tenth photo at left.

Next, half the group played Clue while the rest of us played Cranium. This time it was Norma, Kathryn, and me versus Joanne, Alvin, and KC in Cranium. Again, my team won by a sliver. Part of our success was employing our team members in accordance with their capabilities. Kathryn (a music teacher) was put in charge of any category related to music. Norma drew things with her eyes closed. I did the acting.

Now it was time for Jenga. We made an impressive tower which KC toppled. See eleventh photo at left. According to the rules, the person who successfully placed the last piece is the winner and that was Norma. See twelfth photo at left.

We moved out of the kitchen/dining area and into the living room which has more of a "lodge" feel but without the animal heads. This time we played Outburst. Not trying to fiddle with success, I stayed on the team with Kathryn and Norma. This time we also brought on Sarah. KC, Joanne, Alvin, and Stacia comprised the other team. Again, my team won! Feels good to win but I it still would have been fun even if we had lost.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Three: February 18, 2007

We were awoken to KC's loud chopping of vegetables. But who can complain when someone wakes up before everyone else to prepare them breakfast? We had made-to-order omelets.

The sun was in and out throughout the day. Fortunately, I caught it when it was out to take photos of the Blackburn. See first, second, and third photos at left. The third photo is the outdoor shower, which none of us were brave enough to use.

We cleaned the Center, loaded up our gear, then left. Because of the icy conditions, KC suggested his and Alvin/Joanne's vehicles be loaded up with the gear while most of the others walked, just in case the vehicles couldn't make it back up the hill. Good call.

After bidding farewell, Norma, Annika, and I drove to the Appalachian Trail parking lot where route 7 and 679 meet near Snickers Gap. We began walking at 1330, heading north towards Pigeon Hollow. Though we didn't have any nice views, we could see through the trees that a storm was coming in. The snow got heavier and the wind picked up, making the hike less than comfortable. As we headed back to the car, the snow blew almost horizontally. See fourth photo at left. After a few minutes, the snow stopped along with the wind.

We wanted to stop and take in the sights from at least one scenic overlook before heading home so we walked past my car, crossed route 7, and headed south on the Appalachian Trail. Unlike yesterday, where we saw absolutely nobody outside of our group, we saw numerous hikers today. Quite a few were falling on the ice. One was nice enough to take our photo at Bears Den Rocks, about a half mile south of route 7 on the west side of the Applachian Trail (see fifth photo at left). Both the map and a sign at the overlook indicated there was a place called Bears Den Hotel but we didn't bother to investigate. After doing some reasearch, I believe they are actually referring to the Bears Den Hostel.

Norma and I got into a little snowball/ice fight. Once again, she won. I learned that at close range, it is best to wear a scarf to keep your opponent from putting snow or ice down your shirt.

We finished our little hike at 1450. Couldn't have walked more than 3 miles.

We took Annika home. Along the way, we passed over the Potomac River and found much of it to be frozen at Point of Rocks. I thought about some of the hardcore kayakers I know who would still be paddling in such weather. They would don their drysuits, break the ice, launch their boat, then break the ice upon returning to land. No way I'd be kayaking in such weather though I admire anyone who could do so safely and intelligently.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

I know my feet and my boots well. I know that on a long, fast, or very uphill hike, there will be a good amount of friction generated between the back of my foot just above the heel and the boot. Hence, I usually put athletic tape on this part to prevent blisters. This trip was no exception. But unlike my other hiking adventures, a blister developed under the tape. When I went to remove the tape, I lost a good inch of skin on the back of my left foot. Ouch! Looks like I'll have to think of a better way to prevent blisters. Might try BodyGlide anti-friction skin formula. Still, the trip was well worth it and at $35 per person, quite a bargain.

Thanks for organizing it KC!