Saturday, November 16, 2019

1st bike ride


I got a bike (a Surly Bridge Club) about a month ago and finally got a chance to really ride it besides around the neighborhood with the kids.

The weather forecast looked great and I was able to escape from the office, so I headed to the Red River Gorge, specifically Indian Creek Road. This is a longish gravel road that dead ends, so there is not a lot of traffic. I did some hiking here last winter when the road was closed and thought this would be a good first ride.

I ended up riding almost 14 miles with some photo breaks along the way. I find it interesting that I can hike 15 miles and feel fine, but biking, which uses the same muscles, really wore out my legs. By the end, I was happy to be back at the car.

I'm already planning out my next ride.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Mt Rogers NRA

Trailhead: Elk Garden
Nov 1 - 4 (3 nights)
2019 bag nights: 22
animals: wild ponies, turkeys, 1 fox, 1 bear

The weather forecast looked perfect for 3 nights in the Virginia Highlands, but I was a little nervous about "blustery".

I dropped the kids off at school and headed to SW Virginia and the Elk Garden Trailhead. After a 5 hour drive I saw something like below. You can see the trailhead/road in in the middle. Evidently the rainy weather that blew through KY also went through VA. It was interesting driving up to the trailhead because there was a very distinct freeze line in the trees. At the trailhead, all the trees were covered in blown snow, very pretty. The thermometer in my car said 36 degrees.

I started hiking up the Appalachian Trail and soon was into the trees. The sun was melting the snow pretty quickly and the wind was blowing it around a bit, but it was very pretty. I did not take a lot of photos through here because I did not want my camera to get wet from the dripping snow/water.

One stretch of the trail, the sun was hitting the snow covered branches so it looked like they were glowing. The photo doesn't really capture the full effect, but I still like it.

After about 2 hours of easy hiking I was back out of the trees and saw the first ponies. I also had a decision to make. One camp possibility was to stay on Brier Ridge with the ponies and great views even though it was only about 3pm. The other possibility was to keep hiking for a couple hours and hope for views (and finding water up high). I decided to be lazy and hang out with the ponies and wait for sunset.

So I found a nice spot a little out of the wind with easy access to water and then wandered around a bit talking to wild ponies and waited for dinner time and the sunset.

As it got closer to sunset time, I happened to look down the hill and saw a fox who was heading up the hill and then noticed me and immediately froze and then ducked back into the trees. I don't think I have seen a fox while backpacking before.

Waiting for the sunset was worth it, but it started to get cold once the sun went down.

As it got dark, I started hearing voices. A small group had set up camp just over the ridge. I was a little disappointed that my illusion of solitude was destroyed, but they weren't to loud. And then I heard the harmonica and thought I might have to go kill them. Thankfully, it was only a couple notes and then nothing else, so no killing tonight :)

Unfortunately, the moon was almost first quarter and was right over the middle of the Milky Way, so I knew astrophotography wasn't really in the cards. There also weren't any clouds making for awesome sunsets or star trails. So, I took some photos, enjoyed the stars and just to see what happened, left my camera set to take some star trails and crawled into bed to escape the wind.

First quarter moon and the Milky Way

30 minute exposure just to see what happens

I woke up to a beautiful day and a nice sunrise.

Panorama from 5 photos. I'm very glad I stayed here to wake up to this view.

I packed up and headed down the Cabin Ridge Trail to intersect with the VA Highlands Trail and then reconnect with the AT. It wasn't until I got on the AT and close to the state park that I started to run into dayhikers.

I was thinking about lunch as I got up near Wilburn Ridge. I'm not sure why I looked when I did, but all of a sudden I saw a bear cruising up the side of the ridge heading sort of towards me. He obviously did not see me, so I was hopeful for a decent photo, but I had a 21mm lens on my camera. I kneeled down and quickly switched to my longest lens (a 65mm) and hoped the bear would come sort of towards me. Unfortunately, he continued up through the brush and the best photo I got was of his back/butt mixed in the brush. He never noticed I was there and I never figured out why he was in such a hurry.

On to more hiking, I continued on the AT and into the State Park and then past all the day hikers.

Pony on the AT

I continued on the AT and out onto Stone Mountain and another view. This was the night with the "blustery" forecast, but I wanted to see stars again. In retrospect, I should have camped down in the trees and out of the wind. I managed to find a small flat spot sheltered by a large group of rocks, but the wind was blowing a constant 20 MPH and gusts were probably about 40 MPH and the overnight low was about 25 degrees, In other words, it was too cold to enjoy the stars.

I took a couple photos facing north ...

... and then set my camera up for more star trails. I was in bed reading when I realized I had not adjusted the aperture for a 1 hour photo, but it was too windy for me to care.

Still a decent photo.

After sleeping like crap because of the wind, I woke up to another beautiful, but windy, day.

I headed down the trail to the Scales (where they used to weigh cattle) ...

... and then continued on the Crest Trail, where I found more ponies.

It was about 2pm and I had another decision to make for campsites. I could stay near Wilburn Ridge (near where I saw the bear), with easy access to water and great views. Or I could go back to Brier Ridge and the first night's campsite with great views and easy water.

I decided to stay where I was since I was only a couple hours from the trailhead. I could poke around, relax a bit and had a ton of time to find some firewood for my first solo campfire since March. So I read a bit, explored a bit, and generally relaxed a lot and waited for sunset time and stars.

View from my front porch, note the fire on the left near my camp chair that was really being used for the first time this trip.

Nice sunset

Trees reflecting the campfire with the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy on the right

I woke up about a half hour before sunrise, but really did not want to get out of bed. I managed to take a couple photos by sticking my arm/camera out the tent and aiming in an appropriate direction. I'm kind of pleased how well this came out given the half-assed approach :)

I packed up and headed towards the car. Not a many photos today, but I found a shallow creek area with some interesting ice patterns, so one last photo to finish the trip.

In the end, I only hiked about 24 miles over 4 days/3 nights, but other than the wind on the second night, had a great trip. I usually like hiking more, but it was very relaxing to just sit and wait for the sunset and stars. I probably need to do more trips like this in the future.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Roaring Plains Wilderness (WV)

Roaring Plains Wilderness - WV
Trailhead: Upper South Prong
10/4 - 10/6/19 (2 nights)
2019 bag nights: 19

I was looking for a 3 night backpacking trip and was planning on going to Big South Fork to minimize drive time, but the beginning of October was too hot. So, look for somewhere higher up. After a little consideration, I realized this would be the perfect time to check out the Roaring Plains Wilderness that has been on my todo list for a while. The weather forecast looked perfect, highs in low 70s and the coldest night was going to be in the upper 30s.

I got to the South Prong trailhead and the car thermometer said 68. There was not a cloud in the sky and there were only two other cars at the trailhead, perfect day for hiking.

I was hopefully that there would be some fall colors, but the views from the car did not make me too hopeful.

The trail was gentle and easy, but mostly in the trees. Then I took an unofficial trail towards a potential campsite with a view. I caught up with another solo backpacker who was heading towards the same area. I dumped my pack and hiked back about 30 minutes to get water and then set up my tent and waited for sunset.

The white speck above the tree is the first quarter moon.

It cooled off as it got dark, but it was not windy. The other hiker and I talked for a bit and waited for the stars. I knew the moon would make astrophotography less than ideal (the moon was right over the center of the milky way). This is facing north east, the stars were very nice.

Just a hint of clouds on the horizon to make things interesting.

Woke up in the morning and the clouds were right on top of the ridge, not much in the way of views this morning, but still nice.

I had a leisurely breakfast and then packed up and headed down the trail. It was a lot cooler today (about 40) and damp, but still great hiking weather.

All the ferns were tuning brown, it made me wonder if WV had the same drought as KY.

The gas pipeline was nice to walk down towards another potential view.

This thermometer was right next to the cairn marking the next unofficial trail. I ran into a couple dayhikers who had driven up the forest road. From reading, it is usually locked, but the forest service opens it for hunting season in the fall/winter.

Another nice view. Today was supposed to be partly sunny, but the sun only broke through the clouds for about 10 minutes in the late afternoon.

Some late blooming wildflowers

Most of the ridge is dry and the couple places I was hoping to find water were not flowing, so I circled back towards where I started. At this point, I had run into about 20 dayhikers all on an unofficial trail. I decided that I could make a decision in the morning, but I wasn't loving the Roaring Plains. I ended up hiking on the forest road for about a mile. This is the 10 minutes of the day when the sun broke through the clouds.

There was a bunch of Goldenrod blooming along the road, this one was about 4 feet tall, very pretty.

I packed up the next morning and decided to head to my car and then drive further up the road to the Dolly Sods with the idea of hiking a bit and then setting up camp.

Not surprising since it is only about 5 miles from where I woke up, but it is still cloudy. I was hoping the rain would hold off until late afternoon, but it started sprinkling around 11 as I was eating lunch.

Not bad hiking, but the views were a little muted. I got to one of my potential campsites and there was a group of people already set up camp even though it was only about 1:00. I did not want to camp near them and I did not want to hang out in my tent for the next 8 hours, so I kept hiking.

I was surprised to see this beaver chewed tree since I was not in an area that I thought would have beavers. A little later I found a smallish dam and I think I saw a young beaver, but it moved too fast to be sure.

After a bit more hiking, I had a decision to make, set up camp and hang out in my tent for the afternoon or hike another hour and be at my car. Even though I had a book, the idea of hanging out in my tent did not sound appealing, so I headed to my car.

Next time there is rain in the forecast, I'm bringing my tarp, then I could have read and watched the rain vs laying in the tent.

I will go back to the Dolly Sods, but I won't go back to Roaring Plains unless the forest road is gated.