Red Creek in Dolly Sods

Saki

Hiking Adventures 2006


Last updated March 11, 2007


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North Carolina
For a trip report of three full days in North Carolina, including Chimney Rock Park and Cold Mountain, see December 28-30, 2006.


Appalachian Trail, Weverton to White Rocks
On December 24, 2006, Sarah organized a Christmas Eve 11.35 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail from Weverton to the Bear Spring Cabin.

The weather was looking ominous on the drive to the meeting place. The forecast called for a sunny day with a high of 54 degrees, a northwest wind of 3-9 mph and gusts up to 21 mph.

After assembling at Locust Valley Church of God, Sarah drove Deanna and me to the Weverton lot at about 400 feet above sea level. We commenced hiking at 0930.

Our first stop was the Weverton Cliff overlook where we got a nice view of the Potomac River. By now, the sun was starting to play peek-a-boo. See first and second photos at left. Note how one can see the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Towpath at the bottom of the second photo.

Continuing north, we kept a brisk pace then stopped for snacks at the Edward B. Garvey Shelter. This is one of many shelters built by and maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). This log shelter was solid, rugged, had an upstairs and a downstairs, and a great view of the lowlands to the east. The log outhouse was pretty solid too.

After a little over 6 miles from the start, we came to Gathland State Park. See Deanna and Sarah (on left and right, respectively) at the Civil War Correspondents Memorial Arch in the third photo at left. Time for another snack.

After another 3.5 miles, we came to the White Rocks overlook at about 1600 feet above sea level. Not as nice a view as Weverton but definitely a nice spot to catch some rays. Maybe a good nap site too if it was warmer.

Sarah led us down the White Rocks Trail past Bear Spring Cabin, then to the cars. We were done by 1515.

With all the stressful preparation for Christmas and all the gatherings, this was a great way to step back and appreciate the simpler things in life...a scenic view, fresh air, and good people.
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Patuxent River Park Recon
On December 2, 2006, Lloyd, Jennifer, Norma, and I did a recon hike at Patuxent River Park. Since this was recon (scouting), we travelled lightly and gathered information along the way. I marked numerous waypoints with my global positioning system (GPS), had Norma write marks on a map, took numerous photos, and used my new Panasonic RR-QR170 digital voice recorder for taking notes. I also spoke to park personnel, checked out campsites, and put together a route for a 7.3 mile hike that I hope to co-lead with Norma in the spring of 2007.

In the first photo at the left, Lloyd, Jennifer, and Norma stand on the boardwalk facing the observation blind in Black Walnut Creek Nature Study Area. The second photo is a view of the Patuxent River from the hill between the Visitor Center and Jackson's Landing boat ramp facing north.

The day was sunny and comfortable as long as we kept moving and stayed out of the wind. No wildlife and not much greenery but it felt good to be outside...or as Lloyd said, "I don't deserve to feel this good."
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Big Savage Mountain Trail
On November 25, 2006, Norma led me on a hike in Savage River State Forest.

I was plenty sore before the hike even began. The previous day, we spend from morning until after dusk splitting and hauling firewood while Norma's sisters and brother-in-law cut the wood with chainsaws. Though we used a gasoline powered wood splitter, there was a significant amount of bending and lifting...enough to make the hips and legs stiff the next day.

We discussed the hike on the previous night. Of all the days to plan a hike in western Maryland, we probably picked the worst day possible...opening day of rifle deer hunting season. We debated if we should even do the hike. We didn't have any day-glow orange clothes but we did have some fairly bright clothes to wear or hang on our packs. We both had red bandanas, Norma had a hot pink shirt and blue coat, I had a red shirt and pink shirt to hang on my pack. We also had a Christmas bell to hang on my pack. After much discussion with each other and Norma's hunter brother-in-law, we decided to go with the plan.

On the day of the hike, the weather was sunny, dry, and probably had a high temperature in the 60s. We each drove a car so we could do a car shuttle and hike the entire 17 mile Big Savage Mountain Trail. I parked one car at the south end near the dam then Norma drove us to the north end to commence the hike at 0850 near Historic Braddock's Road, at 2900 feet above sea level.

Norma led me over some rocky terrain. Within a few minutes, we saw our first hunters. They said there was a small black bear where we were heading. We continued onward. I jumped up and down once in awhile to jingle the bell and make our presence known to both bear and hunter alike. We saw no bears.

We came across the largest growth on a tree I'd ever seen. See first photo on left. We also saw some white fungus on a tree that felt like cheese.

We heard frequent gun fire, though none of it was nearby. Then we heard then saw a large deer about 75 meters away. Not sure if it was a buck but I'm guessing by its size that it was. Less then a minute later, we heard two gun shots that were fairly close, but not in our direction. We stopped, looked around, then I rang the bell a few times. We continued onward and within a few minutes came to a clearing at a power line where we saw about 6 hunters. One recently made a kill. I'm guessing it was the deer we scared.

Picking up the trail on the other side of the power lines was not easy. The white blazes just seemed to stop. After searching the area, we found the trail about 75 meters uphill.

We continued hiking but now our pace slowed down to about 1.5 miles per hour. There was little elevation change and the terrain wasn't terribly rocky but the trail was overgrown with thorns. It was like walking through concertina wire. Fortunately, we both wore long trousers and shirts.

Though we planned to hike the entire Big Savage Mountain Trail, we realized that we could not do so before sunset at our current pace. Hence, we would continue onward just a bit, then pick up a different trail to turn our one way hike into a semi-loop hike.

We reached Avilton Lonacoming Road where we stopped to eat omelet meals ready-to-eat (MREs). Unlike my other MREs, these came with a heater. Can't imagine eating the omelets cold. We saw more hunters then ran across a park ranger who told us we should wear day-glow orange. We assured him we would in the future.

Norma and I resumed our hike, traveling south on the paved Avilton Lonacoming Road then picking up the dirt Red Dog Road. We walked on it heading northeast. There were numerous trucks (undoubtedly belonging to hunters) alongside the road. We made good time on this road which ran parallel to the trail but at a lower elevation.

Back at the power line, we picked up the trail for about a mile, then got off it at Saint John's Rock Road, another dirt road. Again, we saw more hunter trucks. The road started getting pretty far from the trail and I suggested we cut across one smaller path to get back to the trail. We attempted to do so but the path disappeared and we were again left with only thorns. We went back to the road and continued. We saw more park rangers who were cheerful, friendly, and didn't seem to care that we weren't wearing day-glow orange. In fact, they thought we were dressed just fine.

The sun was now low in the sky so we turned on our lights. Norma had a headlamp and I had a crook-neck flashlight which I turned left and right like I was a lighthouse. I wanted to make sure we were seen. It was getting cold.

We finished our hike at 1700, having hiked 14.9 miles. Had we chosen to complete the original 17 miles on the trail, I have no doubt we would have been hiking in darkness for at least an hour...probably more. With little moon and freezing temperatures at night, I'm sure we made the right choice.

Though our hike wasn't terribly scenic, it was challenging and interesting. We learned that bright reds, pinks, and blues don't stand out like day-glow orange. We learned that thorns are usually a bigger obstacle than rocky terrain or elevation change. We also learned that like the Gambler says, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em..." Today was a day when folding was the wise decision.
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Saint Mary's County
For a trip report of two days in Saint Mary's County, including hiking in Greenwell State Park, see October 29-30, 2006.


Quehanna Trail
For a report of the Howard County Sierra Club Quehanna Trail Backpacking trip through the mountain meadows of the Black Moshannon Forest, see October 21-23, 2006.


Ropes Course and Camping
For a trip report of the Maryland Outdoor Club Hemlock Overlook Center for Outdoor Education and camping weekend, see October 14-15, 2006.


Columbus Day Weekend
For a trip report of the fall colors weekend spent with Norma, Annika, and Rotraud in West Virginia, see October 7-9, 2006.


The Kids Shouldn't Be Camping Weekend
For a trip report of the Maryland Outdoor Club camping weekend at Rocky Gap State Park, see September 29-October 1, 2006.


Dolly Sods Wilderness
For a trip report of the Dolly Sods Wilderness backpacking trip with Norma and me, see September 9-10, 2006.


George Washington National Forest
On August 27, 2006, I joined Deanna, Kayed, Kathryn, Colin, KC, Kelly, Lucas, Norma, and Dominic for a Maryland Outdoor Club hike led by Chris.

We met at 0615 at the Vienna Metro Kiss and Ride. After introductions, we left at 0630 for Waterlick, Virginia. I only knew Kathryn and Norma, having done the Old Rag hike with them earlier in the summer. This was Kathryn's last hike before commencing the new semester the next day as a teacher.

After finding coffee, our carpool group came alive. Our next mission was to find a working restroom. This was a much more challenging task, requiring about 3 trips. Deanna and I talked about Speed Racer and punk rock music.

At 0800, we arrived at the Buzzard Rock trailhead of the George Washington National Forest. This forest was established in 1917. Together with the adjacent Jefferson National Forest they combine to form one of the largest areas of public land in the eastern United States.

The forecast was 86 degrees with a 20% chance of rain. The day was mostly overcast with a few brief moments of sun or a light sprinkle. It was fairly humid. At higher elevations, we picked up a nice refreshing breeze. Unfortunately, during the morning, the view from the overlooks was gray.

At the trailhead, there was a sign warning of bears. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), we saw none.

This was a part loop, part yo-yo hike. Dominic (a former Eagle Scout) and I took the lead on a rocky part of the trail that led to a 1200 foot ascent. We stopped at what I believe was Buzzard Rock and climbed to the top. Not much of a view due to the heavy tree cover. We watched as the others caught up and walked near us below, unaware of our presence. I thought of how nice it would have been to have brought water balloons. After making our presence known, a few others, like Deanna, climbed to the top of the rock with us (see first photo on left).

Next, we began the loop portion of the hike. The trail turned downhill. We encountered a big stone structure called Elizabeth Furnace (see second photo on left). Signs in the area mentioned that it was a forge and home to charcoal making.

We took an overgrown, thorny shortcut to the picnic area at the Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area. Norma and I shared an Meal-Ready-to-Eat (MRE). There were toilets and drinking fountains but the fountains did not work. We ate at a covered area with tables. There were numerous wasp nests (see third photo on left) and a fuzzy caterpillar (see fourth photo on left) that called the picnic area home.

There was little in the way of wildlife but I did happen to come across a few lizards (only about four inches long from head to tail) and a walking stick, only the second I've ever seen in my life (see fifth photo on left). I also believe I found the traps of ant lions (see sixth photo on left). Kathryn spotted a dew covered web (see seventh photo on left).

We trekked onward over rocky terrain. I took the lead then stopped for others at a stone field. A mountain biker passed. Throughout the day, we saw very few people, maybe 6 total. As I saw the others approach, I saw some of the group running. Three out of 11 of the hikers got stung by wasps or bees, two in that instance. I wondered if the biker might have angered the wasps as he passed. I was told that baking soda and vinegar would help alleviate the pain. I made a mental note to add that to my first aid kit.

After we finished the second of the 1200 foot ascents, we assembled at an intersection. One of the hikers was falling behind. We made sure he had enough water and gave him encouragement throughout the rest of the hike. Everyone else seemed to be doing well though a few were running a bit low on water. A minimum of one gallon per person would have been sufficient given the terrain and distance. After another break (see eighth photo on left), we were off again.

We walked along Sherman Gap Trail then finished the loop portion of the hike. Now we only had the final yo-yo stretch of about 4 miles. The weather cleared up a bit and we had some nice views from the overlooks (see ninth photo on left). Kayed, Lucas, and I took at break at one overlook (see tenth photo on left).

At one of the overlooks, I contemplated the bee/wasp problem. Good thing nobody was allergic to them. The stings occurred on areas near the opening of clothes. I figured the insects flew under people's clothing then got angry when the wearer tried to remove them. I suggested people (particularly the women) remove their shirts to keep from getting stung again. My advice fell on deaf ears.

Our hike was done around 1740. Needless to say, we were exhausted after our long 16 mile adventure (see eleventh photo on left).

Kayed and Chris headed back while the rest of us headed to Front Royal, Virginia where we at Villa Giuseppe Italian Restaurant on 865 John Marshall Highway. A large number of well earned calories were consumed that night...except perhaps by Kelly who barely touched her pasta.

We headed back to Vienna, exhausted and feeling a sense of accomplishment. It was the longest day hike I'd done in about 12 years. I slept well that night.
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Garrett County
For a trip report of the Garrett County trip with Norma and me, see August 9-13, 2006.


Lewis Mountain
On July 8, 2006, Mike J. of the Howard County Sierra Club led a Lewis Mountain circuit hike at Shenandoah National Park.

We met at the Broken Land Parkway and Route 32 Park and Ride and tossed the frizbee. Then at 0815 we left in two cars. Mike drove Dave (former Marine radioman), Marty, and Jennifer in one vehicle while Stacy drove Andy (frog expert), Jamie (former Peace Corps worker), and me in another. We entered through the Thornton Gap entrance then drove to the Lewis Mountain parking lot near mile 57.6 on Skyline Drive. While waiting for another hiker (who didn't show up), we tossed the frizbee some more.

Our hike commenced at 1130. The weather forecast was a high of 83 with calm wind becoming north around 5 mph. Most of us didn't think the temperature got into the 80s which was a nice considering the previous weekend was humid in the 90s.

We began by heading north on the Appalachian Trail. Almost immediately, we spotted a doe and a suckling fawn.

After less than a mile, we turned right (east) on Slaughter Trail. Andy identified various toads along the way. Eventually we stopped at the scenic Conway River where we had lunch and found some ticks. Up to now, the hike was downhill. It seemed to go down for quite some time which made us a bit apprehensive about the 2400 foot ascent that was sure to follow.

After lunch, we hiked along the river on route 667, a dirt road. See first photo on left for group on route 667. There were a few stream crossings and a few stream fallings. Whenever we stopped near the water, you could be sure Andy was going for a swim. The rocky water areas were without a doubt the most scenic parts of the trip.

As with most of my other hikes in Shenandoah, my careful application of sunscreen prior to the hike was not necessary. Most of the trail was well shaded by thick tree cover. See second photo on left.

We turned right (west) on Pocosin Hollow Trail and began a gradual ascent. We passed a one foot tall white Buddha statue on a tree stump. Passers by left coins near it. Later, we found a tree with some hemlock varnish shelfs growing on it. They were reddish-orange on the top and white on the bottom. See third photo on left for view from below and fourth photo on left for me next to some of these fungii.

Next, we turned right (west) on Pocosin Fire Road. Up to now, we had seen nobody else hiking on the trail. Then we passed two walkers. I hesitate to call them hikers since between them, they only carried a single purse and no pack. Then at the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) Pocosin Cabin, we saw someone operating a grill. Unfortunately, we missed dinner and Dave somehow lost a ham sandwich.

At the Appalachian Trail, we turned right (north) where we finished the last couple of miles. By now our group had definitely started to split up with the three former Marines up front led by Stacy.

About a fifth of a mile from the end, we spotted a black bear. See fifth photo on left.

We finished our 12.3 mile hike at 1800. As we started to head north on Skyline Drive, we spotted another black bear along with wild turkeys, some with poults (young turkeys). Before leaving the park, we stopped to admire the namesake of the road, the skyline. See sixth photo on left.

Mike's vehicle headed straight back to the Park and Ride while Stacy's stopped in Warrenton at China Jade. The food was good but what amazed us most was the speed of service. Definitely a place to go if you have little time. I fell asleep on the way back and don't quite remember when we got back to our cars but I'm guessing it was about 2130. It was a long day but definitely worth the time.
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Old Rag 2006
On June 3-4, 2006, I joined the Maryland Outdoor Club for a hiking and camping trip at Shenandoah National Park.

The rock forming the mountain is called Old Rag Granite and it was formed over a billion years old during a mountain building event known to geologists as the Grenville orogeny. Old Rag was formed when parts of North America, South America, India, Australia, and Antartica slowly collided over tens of millions of years, forming a supercontinent called Rodinia (from USGS Report 00-263). In other words, Old Rag really is older than dirt!

Twenty of us (9 men and 11 women) participated in this hike led by Alvin and Joanne. We met next to the Vienna Metro Kiss and Ride at 1000, went through introductions and waited for stragglers. Many of us had never hiked Old Rag. I hiked it less than a year ago. Joe, however, began hiking Old Rag when he was only five years old. Since then, he has hiked "the Rag" an impressive 15 times. While waiting, Abhay, Duruhan, Joe, and I tossed the flying disc. We left at about 1040. Joe drove Norma, Sarah, and me to the the main parking lot at the Old Rag trailhead. It was a little over a 1.5 hour drive. At the trailhead, we distributed snacks and drained full bladders. Again, some of us threw the flying disc. Joanne encouraged us to stretch out.

Our hike commenced from the parking lot at 900 feet elevation sometime around 1240. At the trailhead, our group quickly split up into various sub-groups based on speed. See first photo on left for the faster half. Our fearless leaders, Alvin and Joanne, walked between some of the sub-groups to check on their condition. We walked up Ridge Trail. Joe kept me company at the front. As we neared the top, the terrain became more rocky. See second photo on left to see me holding up a huge boulder with one finger. Joe and I helped a few of the others at the more challenging parts. See Amy, Abhay, and Kathryn in the third photo on left at what is probably the most difficult rock scramble of the hike.

At the 3268 foot peak, we prepared for lunch and took photos. As is typical for that time of the year, the view was a bit hazy so nearby mountaintops could not be seen clearly. The strong 18 mph winds prompted us to look for a more sheltered rock to eat. See fourth photo on left. The temperatures in the mid-70s kept us comfortable. I bragged about my customized first aid kit having enough equipment to deliver a baby if needed. Fortunately, nobody called my bluff.

Unlike my June 25, 2005 Old Rag trip, we saw no wildlife on or near the trail except for millipedes. See fifth photo on left. However, we did see some large raptors above the trail, floating in the strong winds near the peak. We envied how their trip to the top was so effortless compared to our journey. Fortunately, no vultures circled above us.

After our break, we hiked downhill to Byrds Nest Shelter Number One then picked up Saddle Trail. Continuing onward in a group of about seven, we passed Old Rag Shelter telling jokes along the way. See sixth photo on left. Duruhan kept some of us (but not me) thinking with various math and physics problems. Next, we walked along the wide Weakley Hollow Fire Road back to the trailhead. Feeling a little tired, we returned to the main parking lot completing the 7.2 mile loop, plus an additional 1.6 miles to and from the trailheadfor a day's total of 8.8 miles with a 2368 climb. Only feeling a "little" tired, Abhay, Kathryn, and I tossed the flying disk some more while others ate snacks and questioned the "moderate" rating of the hike.

The vehicle with Joe, Norma, Sarah, and I was the last to leave the area and hence the last in the convoy. But being last isn't necessarily bad. I spotted a black bear in the distance. We stopped the truck and got a better look. Joe estimated the bear to be about 350 pounds but I thought it was much smaller. I dared Joe to take it on but he smartfully declined. Nobody else in our group saw a bear.

Around 1900, we arrived at the five star rated Big Meadows campsite, which lies just east of the Appalachian Trail and west of the 105 mile long Skyline Drive, about midway at mile 51.2.

We set up tents, bought firewood, and cooked hamburgers and hot dogs. A few people with higher cleanliness standards than me took showers. During the night, we told many jokes and got a disappointingly small number of laughs. I am confident our comedians (me included) would have been much more successful had our audience consumed considerably more alcohol. "Four skin divers!!!"

Kate led a thinking game similar to 20 questions. An owl hooted, a baby cried, and a car alarm went off. The night was comfortable and dry with lows in the mid-50s.

The next day, I awoke to a completely dry, dew-free environment. I tried to start a fire and failed miserably. Norma, Chris, and I cooked breakfast for the rest of the group. Eggs and sausages went fast with plenty of bacon and cereal left over. Joanne mentioned how I lacked fear and common sense...which I don't deny. After cleaning up and putting things away, we went to the Byrd Visitor Center. Most of us then went our separate ways with some going to explore The Meadow, some heading to a local winery, and some heading home.

Joe, with his years of hiking experience in the area, led Norma, Chris, and I on an approximately 4.5 mile hike from the visitor center to Lewis Falls Trail, through the campground, then on the Story of the Forest Trail. Chris and I talked about infantry training hikes which neither of us miss. Without a doubt, the most scenic part of our little Sunday hike was Lewis Falls. See Chris, Norma, and Joe at the falls in the seventh photo on the left. Sarah went off on her own to explore Dark Hollow Falls. Again, temperatures were comfortable with highs in the lower 70s and considerably less wind. Amazingly, I lasted the whole weekend without getting a single insect bite and I wore no bug spray.

On the way home, we stopped at Frost Diner in Warrenton, Virginia for a nice lunch. The rest of our drive home was quick and easy with only a light sprinkle of rain.

Though many people were undoubtedly sore and tired from the Old Rag hike, all 20 who started also finished. I am quite confident that the feeling of accomplishment and camaraderie earned that weekend will more than make up for any temporary and mild aches and pains over the next day or two.
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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park; Tri-State Hike
On May 27, 2006, I joined the Howard County Sierra Club for a 9 mile circuit hike led by Tim R. We met at the Bagel Bin and left just after 0830. I carpooled with Stacy (a former Marine and long distance open water swimmer), Gary (works for a government run radio station), and Ellen (an accupuncturist who lived in Colorado). After about 55 minutes, we arrived at the Kettlecorn Lot in Virginia, meeting several others. Tim led the hike through Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia with Mary serving as sweep. Seventeen people participated in the hike: Tim, Mary, Mark, Jennifer, Joe, Nicky, Cindy, John, Jodi, Gary, Ellen, Stacy, Donald, Norman, me, and some others whose names I don't remember...sorry.

The weather was in the mid-80s, overcast, and humid. Up until the last few days, the weather had been fairly dry so for most of us, this was our first taste of summer in 2006. A light, welcome breeze cooled us at the various overlooks, making the breaks all the more enjoyable.

Beginning in Virginia, we walked over the Potomac River into Maryland. We then caught the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath and the Appalachian Trail. A dead deer was seen along the way followed by a large snapping turtle with a 14 inch long shell. Several other smaller turtles were seen. We began heading uphill towards Maryland Heights. A couple of people found this part a little too challenging so they headed back to the main road to meet us later at Harpers Ferry. The rest of us headed onto the scenic overlook. See the first photo on the left. In this photo, on the left is the Shenandoah River, in the middle is Harpers Ferry, and on the right is the Potomac River.

After a short break during which I shared some dried mangos from Thailand, we headed back to the C&O Canal Towpath where we saw rock climbers above (see second photo on left). We then crossed back over the Potomac River into Harpers Ferry in West Virginia where we picked up the two people who skipped the Maryland Heights portion of the hike. Venturing onward on the Appalachian Trail, we stopped for lunch at Jefferson Rock. Jodi shared with us homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. Yum! See third photo on left for me, Stacy, and Jodi the baker.

Mary now took point with Ryan serving as sweep. We continued on the Appalachian Trail, completing the entire Appalachian Trail in West Virginia (only about one mile). Pushing onward, we crossed over the Shenandoah River back into Virginia. With the humidity, narrow trail, and dense vegetation, the area took on a rain forest feel. We took the Loudoun Heights Trail to the Loudoun Heights scenic overlook. See fourth photo on left. On the left side in this photo in the background is Harpers Ferry. Continuing downhill, we saw some interesting mushrooms including one that looked caramel covered...no, I didn't taste it (see fifth photo on left). It was later identified as hemlock varnish shelf, ganoderma tsugae. We arrived back at the kettlecorn lot after about 5 hours.
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Little Devils Stairs, Shenandoah National Park
On May 14, 2006, I joined the Maryland Outdoor Club for a 10 mile loop hike at Little Devils Stairs in northern Shenandoah National Park which included 2800 feet of elevation change.

Leo, Adam, Ian, Kate, Stefanie, Rafey, and me participated in this hike led by Jesse. We met at the Vienna Metro Kiss and Ride then carpooled to the trailhead (1311 feet elevation) in two cars. We drove past a large number of black vultures. The drive was about 1.5 hours. The day began overcast with the sun occassionally breaking through. The high temperature was about 62 degrees.

We commenced the hike at 1010 with a vigorous, scenic climb heading northwest on Little Devils Stairs trail. See first photo on left. Trekking through a rock gorge cut by Keyser Run, we passed by some steep, high rock walls where rock climbers are sometimes found. There were numerous millipedes, some that were all black and some with black bodies, white spots, and white legs. We passed by Fourway, heading southwest on Link Trail. After about an hour of climbing through this attractive river section, we continued northwest via the Sugarloaf Trail which met the Appalachian Trail. Just after noon, we stopped for lunch at Hogback Overlook (about 3400 feet) where we enjoyed a hazy view of Pignut Mountain to the east and motorcycles just below on Skyline Drive, near mile 21. See second photo on left. An unusual tree resembling a backwards letter 'N' was seen near our lunch spot. See third photo on left.

We ventured onward heading south on the Appalachian Trail, passing by Rattlesnake Point Overlook. Our conversations were about various topics including Viagra, high school, break-away pants, hiding dead bodies, and a theory called the Saki Effect. At about 1315, we donned raingear for the impending downpour. Heading east on Piney Branch Trail then north on Link Trail, we completed our loop. Pushing onward in wet, cold conditions, we turned southeast on Keyser Run Fire Road. Later, we passed a historic cemetary then finished at 1520. The drive back to Vienna was wet and slow.
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Jeremy's Run, Shenandoah National Park
On May 7, 2006, I joined the Maryland Outdoor Club for a 14.6 mile loop hike at Jeremy's Run which included 3000 feet of elevation change. Jeremy’s Run is one of the nicer hikes in Shenandoah National Park, running along a babbling stream with rock pools, small water cascades, and a beautiful mix of deciduous trees. The trail is indecisive about which side of the stream to be on, so there are some 14 stream crossings.

We met at the Vienna Metro Kiss and Ride then carpooled to Shenandoah National Park. I drove up with Jim (a tax lawyer from Arlington) and Cindy (a computer programmer from Frederick). I told one of my favorite lawyer jokes on the way up. Ask me to tell it if you run into me. I later got to know Jesse (the hike leader, from Odenton), Parva (from College Park), Tamara (a psychology graduate student), and Tony (a software developer).

We assembled at Elkwallow Wayside Store area at mile marker 24 on Skyline Drive, made a restroom break, and geared up. The weather was sunny, cool, and dry with temperatures in the low 60s. We began by hiking west to Jeremy’s Run Trail, then headed south on this trail. We stopped for lunch at a small waterfall. See first and second photos on left. I found some small pools with hundreds of pollywogs (tadpoles). I also found an interesting mushroom (later identified as a birch polypore or elm polyporeand) and an oak apple gall (made from a gall fly). See third and fourth photos on left. We then headed southeast on Neighbor Mountain Trail, heading uphill for a good distance. Someone saw a black bear down below but it disappeared before I had a chance to see it. We took a short break at the top of Neighbor Mountain, elevation 2725 feet. The temperature dropped and the weather became overcast. We talked and joked about smoking/asthma, "Jackass the Movie," peanut butter, vegemite, special shoes, and teenagers. We headed northwest on the Appalachian Trail near mile marker 27 on Skyline Drive and followed it back to Elkwallow. Along the way, I found an unusual sight; a naturally hollowed out fallen tree whose open ends had curled in on themselves. See fifth photo on left. Towards the end of the hike, the weather began to sprinkle a bit. We finished our hike in 6.5 hours.

After the hike, we ate dinner at Jalisco Authentic Mexican Restaurant. The food was indeed authentic...but not the drinking water. We drove back to Vienna and said our farewells.
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Black Hill Regional Park
On May 6, 2006 I explored Black Hill Regional Park. It was a sunny, warm, dry, windy day. I entered the main entrance and parked near lot 1 on the northeast side of the loop. I ventured out on bicycle, heading south then accessing the paved section of the Black Hill Trail near the boat rental area. I headed north and biked on the unpaved natural surface trail connector to the east section of the paved Black Hill Trail. Heading south, I stopped to take in the beauty of the northeast section of Little Seneca Lake near where it becomes Little Seneca Creek. See first photo on left. I made a slight detour to circumnavigate Lake Churchill. In the process of doing so, I saw two proud parent geese with their goslings. See second photo on left. I then headed south to the end of the trail. After biking, I explored (on foot) the unpaved section of Black Hill Trail, Hark Rock Trail, and part of Field Crest Spur. The terrain was flat and easy. I ran into a 2.5 foot long garter snake along the way who seemed to be enjoying the sun as much as me. See third photo on left. I also found what I believe is a small deer leg bone and two dead vole(s). Not sure what the plural for vole is.
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Billy Goat Trail and Great Falls
On April 29, 2006, Dr. Chuck and I hiked about 10 miles. We parked at Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center near Rockville, Maryland. Our hike included all three sections of the Billy Goat Trail (4.7 miles) part of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Towpath, and a short detour out to Overlook. The weather was a perfect, clear, sunny, dry day with highs in the mid-60s. Section A of the Billy Goat Trail was a 1.7 mile rock scramble where we saw a salamander, tadpoles, frogs, turtles, and two lizards doing the nasty (see first photo on left). Section B was 1.4 miles, much less rocky, less crowded, but still scenic. We saw several whitewater kayakers who launched from Anglers Inn nearby. We stopped for lunch and ate Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs). Section C was 1.6 miles and fairly easy. We saw several rock climbers along section C. On the return trip along the towpath, we saw several turtles, probably about 20 throughout the day. See second photo on left. We also saw a 3 foot long snake (don't know what kind) swimming in the canal. There were several Civil War re-enactors closer to the visitor center. We finished the hike by walking to Great Falls Overlook to watch the fearless whitewater kayakers venture down the rapids. Unfortunately, we saw none. See third photo on left for Great Falls view. We ended the day by eating at Greenfield Churrascaria, stuffing as much food down our throats as was possible...then eating dessert.

On April 30, 2006, Dr. Chuck and I hiked about 6 miles. We explored Great Falls Park in Fairfax County, Nortern Virginia. Again, the weather was a perfect, clear day with temperatures in the mid-60s. We began by visiting many of the overlooks at Great Falls on the Potomac River. This time, we found numerous brave whitewater kayakers. See fourth photo on left. Venturing south on River Trail, we found some rocky areas that just begged for scrambling. See fifth photo on left. We kept heading south, along Mather Gorge, then kept moving southeast on Ridge Trail. Next we headed west on Difficult Run Trail (which really wasn't very difficult). Shortly before leaving the park, we stopped for lunch at a rocky area near Difficult Run. See sixth photo on left. We briefly crossed over into Difficult Run Stream Valley Park then back into Great Falls Park. We walked along Ridge Trail, almost to Old Dominion Drive (route 738). Then we saw a ~50 meter cell phone tower disguised as a tree. We headed north along Swamp Trail and visited the ruins of Matildaville before returning to the visitor center. At the visitor center, we saw entries of the National Park Week Photo Contest and spoke to one of the photographers. By the end of the hike, we saw 3 deer, a 1.25 inch long reddish brown frog, a 2.5 foot long snake, and numerous happy picknickers enjoying the last of what what a beautiful weekend.
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Frogwatch
Frogwatch USA is a federal program that studies frog and toad populations around the country. Amphibian populations are declining worldwide and scientists are studying why. Through this program, volunteers go out in the evening and conduct frog calling surveys at assigned sites. For more information, contact
     Department of Recreation and Parks
     7120 Oakland Mills Road
     Columbia, Maryland 21046
or call 410-313-4697.
Click to send e-mail to Sue Muller
On April 23, 2006 at 1900, about 22 of us gathered at Font Hill Wetland Park in Howard County (page 11, grid G9 of ADC map). Included in our group were numerous bird watchers and Mark, the man who built the park. The weather was partly cloudy, and comfortable. Sue Muller, a Natural Resource Technician with the Howard County Recreation and Parks, had us listen to various recordings of different types of frogs. Some sounded like a person snoring and some sounded like a finger being run across a comb. We then set out walking on the paved trails and boardwalks around the ponds in the park. Ms. Muller explained how frog surveys are taken by listening for frogs in a particular are over a three minute time frame. She explained the difference between toads and frogs. Interestingly, it had nothing to do with warts. We heard numerous spring peepers but had a hard time finding them. Eventually, we found some (see spring peeper in first photo on left). Near one of the boardwalks, we found hundreds of tadpoles, sometimes called polywogs in some parts of the country (see second photo on left). Bird wildlife was also seen in the area (see Canadian Geese in third photo on left). Around dusk, ominous dark clouds moved in. Moments later, a downpour began. Great for the frogs but less than ideal for the frog watchers who quickly dispersed.
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Sproul State Forest
On April 15-17, 2006, Mike J., Pat R. (Patsquach), and I backpacked the northeastern loop of the Chuck Keiper Trail in Sproul State Forest in Pennsylvania.

Mike picked me up at 0630 on Saturday morning. Mike is a wise, experienced backpacker who taught me a few things. The first of which is that Sheetz has much better coffee than McDonald's. Driving through Pennsylvania, I naturally looked for nice places to kayak. The mightly Susquehanna River was huge and I found the Juniata River much more appealing. It always happens...when I hike, I look for places to paddle and when I paddle, I look for places to hike. It took us 3.5 hours to get from Elkridge, Maryland to Sproul State Forest then another half hour to get to the trail head. The weather was a bit ominous on the way up but turned sunny as we neared our destination. We hooked up with Pat who drove from another part of Pennsylvania. We parked at Fish Dam Run Scenic View just off route 144, south of Petes Run Road and north of Shoemaker Ridge Road. We walked across route 144 and picked up the orange blazed Chuck Keiper Trail just to the left of the Swamp Branch Road sign. Our starting elevation was 2198 feet. We headed southeast on the trail at 1100, moving counterclockwise on the loop. The first thing I noticed was how things looked more like autumn than spring. The trees were bare and the ground was covered with dry leaves which made walking on the rocky, hilly terrain difficult at times...especially with a 45 pound pack. We crossed over numerous streams, with some having a simple two log foot bridge over them to keep our feet dry. See first photo on left. We found a red spotted newt. See second photo on left. Then we saw some eggs, either frog or newt, not sure. Definitely not chicken. Later, we were greeted by a ribbon snake, a relative of the garter snake. See third photo on left. We arrived at our picturesque campsite, near Cranberry Run after hiking over 7 miles. See fourth photo on left. We set up camp, then did a two mile sub-loop of the trail without packs, exploring a marshy area. I used by bag of dryer lint to get a fire started while Pat threw logs at rocks to break them (the logs, not the rocks) into firewood of suitable length. That night, Pat made pizza with a crust made from scratch. Quite the chef! Once our fine dining experience ended, Mike hoisted our food on a rope to keep it out of reach of any bears or other critters. I was off to bed by 2120. The night was quite cold and my $10 discount sleeping bag was really feeling like a $10 sleeping bag.

On the morning of Easter Sunday, we were up at 0600. Pat made himself pancakes for breakfast. He disappointed me by not finding a maple syrup tree. We were on the trail by 0845. Mike showed me his high speed, low drag color global positioning system (GPS) with the pack mounted antenna. He was meticulous at marking key points on the trail along with campsites. I guess that's why so many people trust him to lead hikes and backpacking trips. Pat explained how to make paraffin wax balls using a double boiler, lint, and a paper egg carton. These amazing homemade firestarters will get a fire started even under wet conditions, with each burning for up to 20 minutes! Once again, the terrain was hilly and rocky while the weather was sunny and dry. I don't think we could have asked for nicer weather. We finished our 7 mile trek fairly early. We set up camp at a site near Boggs Hollow. It was adequate but less than ideal so we immediately started improving it. We built up the fire ring then installed a new bench. Pat led the effort by organizing us to move a very heavy log about 35 meters to the campsite area. This was done by placing small cylindrical logs under the big log then rolling the big log to the campsite. Then we stacked rocks under it to magically transform it into a bench. Pat explored the area and found remnants of an old building along with some metal fragments. See fifth photo on left to see Pat with a metal whatchamacallit, the bench we created, and the fire ring we improved. I spent a little time pretending I was back in California by soaking in some rays on a big rock near the stream while Mike caught a few winks and Pat played archaeologist. Later, Pat and I explored the valley and found a multitude of other campsites, but none as fine as ours! There were numerous ironwood trees near our site. We saw a mouse or vole that day but nothing else in terms of wildlife. We sat around the campfire, told jokes, and make movie recommendations. I hit the rack at 2140. I dressed a bit warmer that night but still found myself wishing I had brought an extra layer of polypropylene.

I arose on Monday morning at 0615. There is a time when one must choose between the warmth and comfort of a sleeping bag versus the cold, crisp morning air. Quite often, the deciding factor is a full bladder. We hit the trail at 0845, knowing that today would be our toughest hike. We started by walking along the side of a hill with our trail narrow and not quite level. Some parts were a little strenuous (just a bit) and we stopped for frequent breaks. See sixth photo on left. We encountered numerous fallen trees and used Pat's foot long saw blade to cut our way through much of it. We kept running into the problem of the saw blade getting stuck in the branches we were trying to cut. Eventually, we found the most efficient way to cut was from underneathe, while someone (usually me) stood on the branch being cut. My weight helped open up the cut, thereby preventing the blade from getting stuck. I commented on how trail maintenance would be much easier if we used light sabers. We hiked on Boggs Run Trail and Diamond Rock Hollow Trail, then by the South Renovo Municipal Watershed. The uphill sections weren't too bad for me but the downhill parts on rocky, leaf covered terrain was tough. I fell once and I know I wasn't the only one. I was seriously thinking about purchasing hiking poles. We found a skull. Not sure what it was but Pat thinks it was from a small deer. See seventh photo on left. The last part of the hike was by far the easiest. Nice flat dirt terrain. We finished at 1530, with a beautiful view of the valley below. See eighth photo on left.

The drive home was less than ideal and we made it back in about 5 hours. The long weekend was both relaxing and physically demanding...an interesting mix of tastes. Additionally, it felt good to give a little back by doing some trail and campsite maintenance and picking up some trash. The weather was spectacular! Not a drop of rain fell and an overwhelming majority of the daytime was sunny. Though there were many flies out, there were few if any biting insects. The high temperatures were in the mid 60s to low 70s with nightime lows in the high 30s. I think I can safely say we all had a good time. Best of all, I earned my trail name, assigned by Mike. For my Jedi view on trail maintenance, I was named "Skywalker" by Mike.
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Flag Ponds Park
On April 9, 2006, 11 hikers led by Dave and Cathy of the Chesapeake Hiking and Outdoors Society (CHAOS) participated in a short hike at Flag Ponds Park. This is a group I backpacked with on the Appalachian Trail back in November 1998 with Louis, Renee, Gus (a dog), Doug, and Bob.

Our group met at Dave and Cathy's house then carpooled to the park. Bob found a black snake and showed it to the group...at least those not afraid of snakes. See first photo on left. We hiked past some scenic views of the bay from cliffs high above the water. We also walked on boardwalks over various serene ponds. See second photo on left. Stopping for lunch (third photo on left), we saw a turtle sunning itself on a log (fourth photo on left). Later, we walked along the beach, looking for prehistoric shark teeth but found none. See fifth photo on left. Heading back to the visitor center, Vince and I saw a six inch long five-lined skink on the boardwalk.

After the hike, we returned to Dave and Cathy's house where Andrew, Nicky, and I tossed the frizbee. Out on the deck in the back of the house, Dave worked the grill, preparing a meal fit for a "chaotic" hiker. It was a beautiful, sunny day in the mid-50s with a cool breeze coming off the Chesapeake Bay.
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Six turtles on a log

The Howard County Sierra Club hikers

The result of a beaver hard at work


Patuxent River Park (revisited)
On April 2, 2006, 13 hikers led by Ken C. of the Howard County Sierra Club embarked on a 7 mile hike in Patuxent River Park near Jug Bay. With multiple botanists and biologists on hand, our hike was an educational one as various birds, butterfly, and plants were identified. We began by walking on the boardwalk through the Black Walnut Creek Nature Study Area where we saw a snake in the water. Not sure what kind it was. Then we ventured off into the northwest section of the trails. We then headed southeast towards what was once an old airport. Along the way we saw six turtles sunning themselves on a log in a swampy area (see first photo at left). Next, we posed for a group photo taken by the ever so elusive Marty (see second photo. Walking a bit further, we saw the results of a very determined beaver (see third photo at left). We stopped for lunch on the east side of the park, overlooking Jug Bay. Finally, we climbed into an observation blind to take in a scenic view of the Bay.

After the hike, I enjoyed a leisure 16 mile bike ride: 9 miles to Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary followed by a 7 mile return trip which included biking on the Critical Area Driving Tour (CADT). I saw four deer on the ride back. Unfortunately, I got a flat tire about a mile from my car, but it was still a trip well worth my time. The weather was in the mid-60s, sunny, with little wind...perfect weather for hiking and biking.
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Dam at Lake Roland


Robert E. Lee Park and Roland Park
On March 25, 2006, I joined up with the Mountain Club of Maryland for a 10 mile Baltimore City hike led by Howard C. Thirty eight of us (yes, 38!!!) started at Robert E. Lee Park and warmed up with a stroll near Lake Roland where we saw numerous dogs and their owners. Then we ventured off into Roland Park, an upper class neighborhood filled with beautiful stone and brick houses. I learned a great deal about northern Baltimore and the Mountain Club that day including the fact that the club has some extremely challenging hikes, some over 40 miles in a single day! At left is the dam at the southern end of Lake Roland.
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Howard County Sierra Club hike in Patapsco State Park

Cascade Falls


Patapsco Valley State Park (revisited)
On March 12, 2006, after wearing myself out from Tim's hike on the previous day, I decided to give it another go. I joined up with another Howard County Sierra Club hike, this time led by Mary S. (far left on first photo on left). This was a 10 mile hike in the Glen Artney and Orange Grove sections of Patapsco Valley State Park. Thirteen of us walked the Soapstone, Ridge, Cascade, and Morning Choice trails. I had a chance to meet and talk to Bradley (next to Mary) who is a hiking leader with the Mountain Club of Maryland. Our group stopped for lunch at Cascade Falls (see second photo on left). The weather was warm (for winter) and overcast. There were thunderstorm warnings but we managed to stay dry...except for the buckets of sweat we produced while keeping up with Mary's "energetic" page.
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Howard County Sierra Club hike from Washington Monument State Park to Annapolis Rock


Annapolis Rock
On March 11, 2006, Tim R. (in blue cap) of the Howard County Sierra Club led an 11 mile hike from Washington Monument State Park to Annapolis Rock (elevation 1600 feet) and back on the Appalachian Trail. We carpooled from Ellicott City then tossed around the frizbee until it was time to start. Fifteen people participated in this hike with three leaving early. In the photo to the left, we prepare to resume the hike after lunch at Annapolis Rock, a scenic overlook and popular rock climbing area, providing a view of Greenbrier Lake in Greenbrier State Park. Though it was still winter, temperatures were well into the 70's. Except for the barren trees, it seemed like spring.
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Muir Woods
For a trip report of a day hike in Muir Woods, California with Susanita, see February 17, 2006.