Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Wind Rock

I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know if this is the first time that I've been to wind rock during the day.  During my college years, my friends and I would make frequent nighttime trips to wind rock to look at the stars and talk about life, but I don't recall ever visiting this little overlook during daylight hours.  To be fair, wind rock does make for a pretty perfect nighttime hike because it's hardly a hike at all.  In two tenths of a mile from the parking area, you've already reached the overlook.  No rock scrambling is required, and if you wish to camp, there's ready-made, free campsites available right next to the overlook.  Granted, during the nicer season, these campsites are often occupied if you arrive late, but still, it's a nice after-dark destination.  Just now did I learn that it's also a pretty nice daytime destination.  Casey and I encouraged his family to accompany us on a detour before going to the Cascades so that we could show them mountain lake and wind rock.  The road was as treacherous as ever, but we made it to the parking area and marveled at the views.  If you're looking for a great effort:reward ratio, this one is right up there along with Buffalo Mountain (it's even easier!).

Sign at the beginning of the hike (the hike is all along the white-blazed AT)

The overlook

Casey's family

me and Casey

The whole group of us at the overlook

The Cascades

I've taken two trips here in the past few weeks, so I figure I may as well lump them into one post.  I took the first of the two recent trips with my new coworker who is just becoming acquainted with the area.  Having come from the other side of the state, she hasn't had the opportunity to do much hiking in recent years, so we decided that a trip to one of the most iconic hikes near Virginia Tech was in order!

Sarah and I at the Cascades on my first of two trips up
The more recent trip was just this past weekend when Casey's family came to visit.  They've been to the Cascades before and loved the hike, so we made a return voyage when they were in town.  As always, the hike was gorgeous and felt almost reminiscent of a jungle.  And of course, as is also always the case in the summer, the place was a zoo.  But, if you're willing to overlook the droves of people, it's still a pretty impressive sight

Part of the "jungly" seeming path up

Casey and Max behold the waterfall

Casey and Max at the waterfall

A leap of faith

Friday, July 14, 2017

Trimble Mountain and North River Gorge

Trimble Mountain trail.  This was what most of the trail looked like
I was kind of "meh" about Trimble Mountain, but the North River is a really neat place.  Casey and I took a trip to North River campground in George Washington National Forest outside of Staunton as a weekend getaway and did a bit of hiking on day 2.  Trimble Mountain was a wooded loop (~4 miles round trip), but despite the promise of "3-star" views from Hiking Upward, there wasn't a single overlook point given the tree cover of summer.  As such, we did the trail quickly and decided to find a spot on the river to eat lunch.  We found our way to the nearby paved lot that serves as the start of a steep descent into the new river gorge.  Although steep, the walk to the river was short and the river was beautiful.  There was a campsite right beside the river, which I wish we had found the day before
Salamander friend
because it was a perfect little spot.  That said, I didn't mind having bathrooms (no matter how primitive) at the GWNF maintained campground that we stayed at.  Tadpoles were everywhere, the water was warmer than one would expect, and we even found what I think was a white-spotted slimy salamander.  On our drive back, we had the pleasure of watching a barred owl catch something; he looked quite affronted that we pulled over to watch him eat his meal, so he just sat there starting at us for a while.  Unfortunately, with cell cameras, I don't have even one halfway reasonable photo, but it was a truly neat experience.
The river off of the North River Trail (right at the beginning from the paved lot)
The river directly behind our campsite at North River campsite

Another of the river right beside our campsite

Although it's technically a river, the river came across as more of a large creek.  The North River Gorge trail runs along the river for a bit over 4 miles (and Hiking Upward provides directions for a ~~12 mile loop that incorporates the entire North River trail).  We didn't do more than walk for about a half mile along the river, but I would love to go back and do the full trail or possibly even the loop.  The North River Gorge trail requires several forges of the river.  Online, this notion worried me (I was picturing something just shy of a Potomac river type size), but Casey and I were able to complete one of the fords by simply rock hopping.  I can't attest for the others (we ran out of time and turned around), but in mid-summer of 2017, I think this would have been a very reasonable hike even with the water crossings.

This whole area was especially neat because of the ample free camping areas.  We ended up paying $5 for our site for the luxury of bathrooms, a picnic table, and a fire pit with a grate over the top, but there were many large pull-off areas where it would be easy to pitch a tent (or several).

Buffalo Mountain

This one might just be the best in the way of "effort: reward."  I'm a bit overdue on posting it, but some college friends were back in town for a few days over the fourth of July and so we made a trip to this neat little hike.  It really is a "little hike" for some big views.  At about one mile each way, even though the trail climbs steadily, it's not a tough one.  The gnats were swarming at the top and unlike the last time I did this hike, there was little breeze at the summit.  However, in any case, it was an enjoyable trip.

The group at the summit

Views from the summit

Views from the summit

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mount Pleasant

This hike is located in the same location as the Cole Mountain/Old Hotel Trail loop, but is slightly easier (albeit still with amazing views) and doesn't take you through a grassy meadow.  Although the hike itself is easy-moderate in difficulty, the drive to get there takes you up a bumpy gravel road.  My relatively small, two-wheel drive car made it to the trailhead, but not without a few "oops" moments when I accidentally took a bump too quickly and scraped the nose of my car against the ground.  Going down I was more prepared and coasted down slowly in first gear.

The hike itself is generally easy with a few moderate climbs.  There are two vistas: one in either direction.  Both are beautiful and they're close enough together that you must do both if you visit.

Sign to the vistas

Casey at a vista

Casey and I at an overlook

Another view

Mountain laurel

Casey and Max

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ireland - Gap of Dunloe and Cronin's Yard Walks

I must admit - I didn't do too much actual hiking while in Ireland, but the scenery was too beautiful not to share.  

At Kate Kearney's Cottage before embarking on the Gap of Dunloe Walk
The Gap of Dunloe is a gorgeous stretch of road that winds its way through a mountain pass before reaching the Black Valley.  We parked at Kate Kearney's Cottage and from there walked the 3.5 miles up the road to the "top of the gap."  We then returned by retracing our steps back down the road.  The road is narrow (barely wide enough to allow a car to pass walkers at points), winding, and not recommended for tourists to drive, but you can walk, bike, or take a horse and cart to the top for some gorgeous sight seeing.

Kate Kearney's Cottage
On our walk up, sheep and wild goats dotted the hillside and we enjoyed what may have been our brightest day since arriving to Ireland.  I don't usually think much of walks along pavement, but this was an exception.  It was easily a highlight of my trip.

Jenny and I on our walk through the Gap
Sheep hanging out in the road
Casey and I (view of road through gap)
Wild baby goat
The entire group at the top of the gap
By the time we reached Cronin's Yard, we were running out of time to do the entire "Cronin's Yard Loop," but we walked a ways into the sheep pasture for some views of Carrauntoohil (Ireland's highest peak) before returning to the car.  The road into Cronin's Yard was barely wider than the Gap of Dunloe road and our side view mirrors scraped a few bushes as we squeezed our way in.  I recommend rental car insurance if traveling to Ireland as it seemed there was no way to not scratch up the side view mirrors at points.

Cronin's Yard serves as an entrance to the Carrauntoohil walk and if I should ever make it back to Ireland again, I will make a point to climb the mountain.
Lamb at Cronin's Yard

View of Carrauntoohil from Cronin's Yard

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sharp Top

This past Sunday night was meant to be spent backpacking, but with Casey not wanting to leave the lake (I can't really blame him!) and my mom displaying a rare willingness to go on a short hike with us, I caved and we went to Sharp Top instead.  It's always a nice little hike and this time was no exception.  It was busy, as seems to be usual for Sharp Top, but the views were phenomenal.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, there were hoards of gnats at the top of the mountain, but other than that small damper, it was an afternoon well spent.

Mom and Dad at the top

Casey and I on the rock overlook