Monday, October 10, 2016

Driving along America's Roof: Trail Ridge Road

At the end of September Andrew, along with his parents, took a two week road trip through several of the great National Parks of the west. Andrew will be writing something about each one, in the order of their visit. Up first is Rocky Mountain National Park and it's famous alpine highway, Trail Ridge Road.

Trail Ridge Road. Photo by Carol Tate
Many (but not all) of America's national parks have a showcase roadway that goes through much of the park and by many of the most popular vistas, visitors centers, lodges, and campgrounds. Some, like Arches and Bryce Canyon, take you into the interior of the park and dead end, leaving you to drive back through. Others, such as Going to the Sun Road at Glacier, or Skyline Drive in Shenandoah, take you from one end of the park to the other. In Yellowstone, it's not just one road, but a figure eight of roads that connects all of the major sites in the park. Some, such as Tioga Road in Yosemite are seasonal, closing during the snowy winters of the Sierra Nevada. Each of these roads are interesting in their own right, but in many respects they pale in comparison to Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday, NPS!

View from atop Hightop Mountain on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park.

One hundred years ago today, the National Park Service was founded. Although the first national park, Yellowstone, had been created by Congress in 1872, no formal administration of the park was ever set up. Even as other parks, like Rainier, Yosemite, and Sequoia, were created, there still was no one agency in charge of them. In addition, funds were rarely allocated to the maintenance and staffing of these parks, often relying upon the U.S. Army to fill in the void and protect the natural beauty and critically endangered wildlife found in the parks.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

From the Potomac to Pen-Mar: A Hike across Maryland

Looking down into the valley where Boonsboro, Maryland is, from the George Washington Monument State Park.

It's "common knowledge" for AT hikers that Virginia is flat and Maryland is easy. Having hiked 30 miles or so of the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park in Northern Virginia, that first bit of conventional wisdom can be put to rest. But what about the second one? It can't be that difficult, if some people cross the state's 40.6 miles in one day, right?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Hiking the AT in Shenandoah National Park

A view from a Skyline Drive overlook that intersects the AT
I've never hiked more than a quarter mile of the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but from the accounts of Clever Girl and others, it's a true wilderness hike. For seventy miles the trail goes up and down some of the highest ridges east of the Rockies. Between Fontana Dam and Davenport Gap the trail only cruises one road, and comes close to another in a couple more spots. Before Clingmans Dome or after Newfound Gap, the closest way to get to the front country are several miles of steep rocky trails. All in all its a challenge akin to the wild parks of the west.

Shenandoah, however, is not quite as wild.

Yeah, you're still very likely to run into bears, snakes, and other denizens of the Blue Ridge. And sure, there are still rocks, mud, and steep uphill climbs. But on the whole, the part I hiked (roughly Rockfish Gap to Big Meadows Amphitheater) was a veritable hiker highway. Throw in the frequent crossings of Skyline Drive and the campstores and waysides overflowing with cheap beer and ice cream, and the park resembles less a wilderness and more a 100 mile long city park.

Provided a hiker is in good shape and isn't suffering from ailments of the feet or knees, casual 15 mile days are reasonable, and 30 mine days are within reach of the speedsters. Were you to average about fifteen miles a day, you'd hit a campstore or wayside about once every other day, save for your first and last. Even slowpokes like me could run into them every third or fourth day.

Whether you are a hiker, rider, or driver, the waysides are worth a stop just for the blackberry milkshakes. Also good is the blackberry cobbler, particularly with the hand dipped blackberry ice cream.

The one downside to Shenandoah is that you are pretty much committed to staying at either the front country campgrounds, or the huts and their associated campsites. While well maintained, these can be inconveniently placed, requiring alternating longer and shorter days. You can camp virtually anywhere in the back country, but I saw only a few places worth camping. Most of the area along the trail is steep and rocky, or covered in second growth thorny hells. For the through hiker, this shouldn't be a problem, as the longest distance between huts is about 13 miles. But for the novice and the easily winded, it can create a logistical quandary.

If you are looking for a great place to introduce yourself to the Appalachian Trail, then Shenandoah is for you. There's enough challenge to let you know what you're in for, while being more forgiving than other places. Also, it's one of the few places along the trail where you can get $1-2 beers and drink them in the open. For the through hikers, usually with an accompanying ice cream bar.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Trail Update, and a Last Ditch Appeal

Clouds and the setting sun from Blackrock near Big Meadows Lodge.
OK, here's the long awaited trail update. Sorry it took so long, but events that took place left me in a situation where trying to post a blog would have been a frustrating mess. Anyway, on to the update.

For a couple days, the second edition of my hike didn't go too bad. Although my first day was short, it felt good to get back on the trail. Shenandoah is a much easier hiking experience than Georgia, but it still had its ups and downs. I took a zero day on the second day after I said goodbye to my parents at the Dundo Picnic Area because of a heavy rain storm that would be happening overnight. I'm glad I did, because it rained a lot, and I doubt I would have enjoyed the rainy morning.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Nighthawk 2: Back on the Trail

The view from Little Calf Mountain, near the southern end of Shenandoah National Park.
More than two months since I left the trail, I am finally back out along the Appalachian Trail, this time about 800 trail miles to the north. Tomorrow I begin the real deal, backpacking from somewhere in Shenandoah to some point north. How far I will go is a question for another day. 

I started off with two days of slackpacking back into the swing of things. The hiking was slow and the temperatures warm, but I knocked out another 12 miles along the trail. I'm staying in a hotel tonight, but tomorrow night I'll be sleeping out on the trail somewhere. Most likely I'll be starting somewhere to the north of Turk Gap, the place I finished my second day of slackpacking. The bear that I had to scare away in the parking lot can rest easy.

When I begin the trek north I'll do so with a trail name. Thanks to my several nights of night hiking I had to do in Georgia, I earned the name "Nighthawk" by Clever Girl (aka my sister Erin) and others. Somehow I missed this the first time around, but fortunately Erin reminded me of it. It's a really cool name, and I can't wait to sign in to the trail shelter logs as Nighthawk.

Please stay tuned to this blog, as there will be plenty of updates as I move towards Harper's Ferry. Also, please forgive the ducking typos, as the posts beyond this one will be made on my phone. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Glossary of AT Hiker Terms

Here's a picture of a NOBO through-hiker as she heads out north from Newfound Gap. 

In our posts on this blog, our various social media pages, and on Erin's blog at Appalachian Trials, we often use some terms and slang that are common to the AT hiking community, but can be pretty confusing to everyone else. For example:

"Going NOBO across Newfound Gap, I yogied a couple of weekenders for a Snickers and a Coke. Glad I did, I was feeling the hiker hunger real bad, thanks to that green blazing I did."