Friday, October 15, 2010

A couple of trips to the Shenandoahs

It's a quick trip from where I live to Shenandoah National Park: an hour and forty-five minutes at most. Every year I vow I'm going to take more advantage of this nearby hiking wonderland, however I'm ashamed to admit how often I go for extended periods without going there. Well, this Fall I have been true to my vow, having logged two recent trips to the Shenandoahs.

First, just I was really jonesing for a hike, Teddy asked if I'd want to come along on a Yorktown High School Outdoors Club hike to Old Rag Mountain. I felt pretty happy that he asked - not every teenage kid wants his dad tagging along on a school trip with his friends. I was also thrilled because this is one of the best hikes in the area. The hike is about nine miles of fairly steep vertical trails with some rock scrambling to finally reach a great view at the summit at about 3200 ft. elevation. There were as many adults as kids along on the hike: two Yorktown teachers (required), my friends Elisa and Steve, another Dad and I accompanied five high schoolers and one younger kid. A very nice group of kids - I think the kind of kid who would spent a weekend day hiking rather than playing Nintendo or going to the mall is the kind I'm inclined to like. Interestingly, the trail was much less crowded than usual - perhaps because it was at the very early edge of foliage season and most folks were waiting for more intense Fall colors to appear.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks: This past Friday after a crazy week I found myself with a day off and decided to head for the park again to get my own look at near-peak colors. I can make myself crazy second-guessing my decisions and I did so as I drove out to the park - such a long drive, this wasn't a great year for foliage because of a hot, dry September so why am I bothering?, I had so many chores to take care of, I needed to practice for an upcoming bar mitzvah gig, was it even worth the trip? These thoughts dogged me all the way to the park but disappeared the minute I was out of the car and on the trail.

It was a chilly, windy morning but I was properly dressed. The air was crisp and the view was notable even from the parking lot. I parked at Panorama (near Thornton Gap) and hit the Appalachian Trail headed to Mary's Rock. This is another vertical hike to a spectacular viewpoint - albeit a shorter one than Old Rag. I had my GPS with me and the elevation view of my track is pretty entertaining: flat across the parking lot, then a steep steady climb, gaining 1,200 ft in elevation over just 1.8 miles of trail. I had brought my camera along. Between the partly cloudy weather and the aforementioned sub-optimal foliage conditions, the big vistas were not popping with color to extent they sometimes do. However, there was plenty of color at the level of individual trees. I pointed my camera at stands of trees and even individual leaves - some of the leaves had strikingly beautiful multicolored patterns. I think I got some nice pictures.

The summit of Mary's Rock affords a nearly 360 degree view of the park and the Shenandoah Valley. Because of its sweep I think it's actually a more stunning view than Old Rag. I scrambled up the rocks at the summit to get an even better view. The view was so nice that I ignored the cold wind and stayed up on the rocks to eat my lunch. My Spaghettios Thermos (passed down from my children) hadn't kept the Asian noodles with peanut sauce I had prepared very warm but the dish was still tasty and just warm enough to help counter the nippy conditions on the mountain. I had the summit to myself - again, the trail had been fairly empty - though a couple of other hikers showed up just as I was starting down.

On the drive back I spotted a coffee roaster store in Sperryville. I was past the place by the time its presence registered, so I pulled onto the shoulder and drove about 100 feet in reverse back to the store. The place is a true roaster - they roast their coffee in-house. Their bags of coffee all carry roast dates, and the dates of the two bags I bought were the current day and the day before - fresh roasted! I poured a cup for the road (which they comped to me since I bought two bags of coffee!) and headed back home, this time without any inner second-guessing.