Ramble On

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

eightyone - last issue

It's only been a few months since we picked up our first copy of this monthly local. I've enjoyed the web page as well as the hardcopy, which we've picked up at Clementines on our bi-monthly visits to H-burg. Turns out, the publication is ending its run with a final issue that is on newstands now - a sad loss for the community, as the commitment the editor and staff showed is a real treasure. There is a link to eightyone's web site at the end of this post.
In perusing the hard copy of the April 2009 edition (the March cover is shown here), the cover story is called "Tough Love" and is about Harrisonburg's Gemeinschaft Home (http://www.gemeinschafthome.com/). This organization provides community services and support for people transitioning from prison back to society, and given the current economic environment, needs funding and contributions. The article is a good example of the extent of eightyone's coverage of the local community in H-burg.

Other stories, highlighted in Editor/Publisher Deona Landes Houff's final column, included an October 2000 story about the 1950's bulldozing of an African American neighborhood in Harrisonburg, and a June 2006 story about the prosecution of four Kurdish men who had immigrated to Harrisonburg.

On-line, I only recently discovered an informal poll called "Three Questions" - and answered a recent one "What is the prettiest spot in the Valley?" Here is part of the answer I gave, which was published in the April hardcopy:

Pretty views are too numerous to count in the Valley. Three come to mind: the view of Page Valley from George Washington National Forest's Storybook Trail, the view of the North Fork Seven Bends from the Woodstock Tower, and the view northwest from Calvary Rocks in Shenandoah National Park.

I like the local press, and eightyone was an excellent example of this kind of community resource. Although I only recently became familiar with it, I'm sorry to see it go. In her farewell column, Deona says she hopes to bulk up the site (http://www.eightyone.info/), with archives - which I look forward to leafing through, and hope to post about sometime in the future.

Thanks eightyone, farewell, we hardly knew you.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Forsythia and an early spring weekend

Despite still battling allergies, Mary and I decided we needed to get out to the cabin this weekend, if for nothing else, to take care of a few pressing errands. I knew there would be at least one highlight in the trip - forsythia are blooming everywhere, and I wanted to check out how the three we put in last year have held up.

First, here is a photo of the small bush beside the house in Alexandria. It's been here since we moved in, but we keep it small. I think that it has a history of being kept pruned, because of how few stems it has. They tend to go wild pretty quickly and get very stalky when let go.

Which is exactly what we have in mind for the plantings we did out at the cabin, shown here. The foilage is strong and bright this year, a good sign that we've got them established. I've had second thoughts about the location - they are planted under a canopy of deciduous trees and so get only filtered light during the summer - but they seem to be doing well. It brightened the weekend - rainy all day Saturday - seeing them in bloom.
For photos of past spring flowers - click the label "spring flowers" associated with this post.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Update from the Cactus League

My friend Yiming and I have shared a number of baseball field trips over the years - when I lived in Melbourne he came down for a week and we caught some games in Kissimmee and Vero Beach; and we vacationed together in Chicago for a week catching an O's game in old Komiskey, as well as a Dodgers' game in Wrigley. Not to mention my first visit to Nationals Stadium in DC last year, which I posted about.

So, I wasn't completely surprised when he texted me last week that he was on the way to LA via Scottsdale, where he was going to stop by the Dodgers, who've moved from Vero Beach this year and train in the Phoenix area. Here's a photo of Don Newcombe greeting fans.

Spring training and the minor leagues...that's really what baseball is all about. Although you get some wonderful pro games during the season, these games that are not "the show" are where the best entertainment can be found. I miss having that nearby, but hopefully can make up for it with a few Valley League games this year.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

You've got to be prepared...

A few weekends back, some friends and I took that Duncan Hollow and Knob hike, which I posted starting with this entry: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/03/weekend-hike-duncan-knob.html. I reviewed the entire hike over three posts.

For a couple of reasons, we realize how unprepared we were for the hike. Because we dilly-dallied, we should have known we would be getting back to the cars after dark, and more of us should have brought our headlamps...even as a relative novice, I have two of these devices, and they've served me well on the Half Dome and Old Rag, but I failed to bring either of them on Duncan Knob!

Also, both Chris and Andy had altimeter watches with them - and since I am interested in getting one I wanted to see how they work. So as we prepared to start out on the summit spur of the trail I asked for an altitude check. Chris turned on his Suunto and Andy his Casio Pathfinder...

Well, it turns out there is a little chore called calibration that had been neglected in the preparation - you have to peg a current altitude on local barometric pressure (or you can get your actual altitude from Google Earth) so this function will be accurate. Even so, some variation is going to be typical in the instruments, for all sorts of reasons.

Chris had warned me about this, I guess even he, a true gear nerd, found it somewhat challenging. So this morning I did a quick check of Amazon reviews on Suunto and Casio Pathfinder altimeter watches and found that it's a common frustration. In fact, reviewers there often knock the watches down a peg because of the difficulties. There is an even more challenging calibration requirement for the compass features.

I also checked the product web sites...there is extensive information on how to calibrate there. So, I conclude that this is something you've got to get the hang of - set into the pre-hike preparation routine.

Although we don't have the best track record on this yet, it's something we're going to work on.

Here are Amazon product pages for Suunto and Casio watch examples.

Suunto Vector Wrist-Top Computer Watch with Altimeter, Barometer, Compass, and Thermometer

Casio Men's Pathfinder Solar Altimeter/Barometer/ Digital Compass Triple Sensor Watch #PAG50-1V

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The blog's not about this

I saw this post on one of my forums. This one is actually a Yahoo Board where about 200 of my USAF colleagues from Berlin gather - although many of us have moved to the more dynamic Facebook by now. Although I never worked with him, "Jeff" posted some management philosophy, saying that these are things he learned from his experience as an Air Force linguist...

I'd say this is pretty similar to how I've come to think about things, as a consultant in my case. Maybe there was something to the responsibility they gave us back then - I supervised 25 people when I was 23, for example. We never faced hostile fire in the environment I worked in, of course, but we did handle a pretty high profile assignment there during the Cold War. Here's Jeff's list of management tips:

"-What looks like mindless chaos is often entrepreneurial magic waiting to happen.
-Sometimes, the most helpful things managers can do are -- crosswords.
-Generally, the only true limitations organizations have are the ones imposed on them by management.
-Any participative management approach with great potential, when imposed on an organization from above, will turn into a mindless ritual of filling out forms to prove everyone is participating.
-The greatest minds often aspire to nothing more than doing the thing they find most intellectually stimulating.
-People who work for you, if given the simple right to screw up multiple times, will do their best never to do so even once.
-If you give people the right to screw up, they'll do their best to see that no one notices when you do.
-When you're most in a hurry, having the patience to wait for your people to come up with the right answer will save you untold embarrassment when your own inherently inane solution crashes and burns.
-When you find yourself statistically proving that morale is high instead of checking to see if people have smiles on their faces, disaster is right around the corner.
-If your operation is going down the toilet, sometimes the guy who cleans the bathroom is the best source of how to stop it and turn things around.
-Doing things right often looks sloppy, messy, and completely disorganized."

Monday, March 23, 2009

SNP Visitors Statistics

Both the Page News and Courier and the H-burg television station have reported on the downward trend in visits to the Park, which received 1.09 million visitors last year. Annual attendance since 2004 has been:

2004 - 1.27m
2005 - 1.10m
2006 - 1.09m
2007 - 1.11m
2008 - 1.09m

(Photo is from the SNP site on www.NPS.gov)

Karen Beck-Herzog, a public affairs specialist at the Park, has been making the rounds to talk about this - she was recently at the Chamber in Luray, and she outlined a couple of new programs designed to bring more visitors. The PNC article also highlights that the use of campgrounds and interpretive displays has increased, despite the decline in visitors.

The economist in me wants to hypothesize that longer stays by campers, fewer day trips by visitors from further away, and other characteristics of this type of Park use means that fees will go up and services will be stretched to meet demand. On summer Sunday afternoons, it is already unpleasant in the Skyland parking lot due to garbage and litter, for example.

Mary and I buy an annual pass and I write about the Park often - we can see it from the cabin. It's a feature we treasure. But these articles bring to mind some concerns. Time to think about how to make a contribution to conserving the place, and making it better.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday Green Thoughts

Looking at some energy audit RFPs at work these days, and it brought to mind a continuing line of research on what to do about energy consumption at both places - Alexandria and the Hawksbill Cabin. For either place, I'd like to have a program of ideas that we can gradually implement over time, that would whittle away at the carbon footprint of our US lifestyles.

I've been thinking about how to add a solar energy element to the house in Alexandria, and we want to begin doing some things along this line to the Hawksbill Cabin. Today I found information about a solar roof tile product called Sunslates. I was pretty excited to see the installation at www.sunslates.com ... then I read the finer points - 1kw for 100 sf on a south facing roof, and an estimated installed cost of $15K per 100 sf. That's going to take some planning and saving.

While the porch roof in Alexandria faces due south, and there is about 200sf installable surface there, the cabin installation would be more challenging. While the house was built with a due south perspective to maximize natural light in the main room, the roof slopes from front to back making installation of a product like this not feasible - we'll have to continue our research.

Also, a friend at work sent me this. I am not a FiOS subscriber, but I had been wondering about this..."Attention FiOS subscribers: This week we had Verizon FiOS (fiber optic internet and cable) service installed at home. After inspecting the installation, we learned that the central box they install to run the system needs to be plugged in--so we get to pay for the juice. Additionally, the TV set-top boxes cannot truly be turned off. A real energy hog!Using our trusty Kill-A-Watt EZ meter, initial estimates are that each box is drawing about 40 watts all the time. That translates to about $3.50/month. Multiply that by several boxes and it really adds up to serious dollars and carbon. The simplest solution is the Smart Strip--a power strip that kills the power to the set-top box--it really turns it off--when you turn the TV off...from www.amicusgreen.com ."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday and Spring

Due to work deadlines for the both of us, this weekend we'll find ourselves unable to visit the Hawksbill Cabin or our friends in Luray. With the forsythia bush here in Alexandria ablaze, I have to imagine that the ones we planted last year are in bloom - and some of the well established ones in the neighborhood are in their glory...this photo is from last year.

While we are putting together the year's project list, one of the things we have to do soon is some gardening. We have about 10 fern bulbs to plant down the hill in the yard - we want to establish a fern glad like the one you walk through on Stonyman down there. We also have seeds to plant some cosmos, rudebeckia (black-eyed Susan), and daisies in the beds along the gravel path.

For the spring theme photo I've posted one showing our azaeleas in front of the porch off the master bedroom. These will be in bloom in about 6 weeks. Looking forward to that!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

as seen on Wildlife in Photography: Evan's Black Bear Posts

My fellow H-burg blogger has a series of posts up on his Wildlife in Photography blog, detailing his encounters with black bears over the last few years - link below.

Our area - and Shenandoah National Park in particular - is said to have the highest population density of black bears in the country. If that is a frequent destination for you, it is likely you will encounter one, if you haven't already. In fact, last year, Mary and I ran into a mother and cubs once on a hike near Big Meadow, and then I saw another late in the summer sauntering along Skyline Drive.

Evan's put together a great series of posts - highly recommended! http://wildlifeinphotography.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Battle of the Species (Carpenter Bees): The Plan for 2009

At the Hawksbill Cabin, spring means the return of carpenter bees. These bees are the reason we started the whole "Battle of the Species" category...even though we've also talked about snakes, poison ivy, and beavers along the way.

So as we're beginning to think about the project list for the year (likely will post something on this later in the week), I am also remembering some of the steps I need to take to deal with carpenter bees before I see them.

First thing - get a couple more carpenter bee chambers. I trust that these things work (http://carpenterbeechamber.com/) and will be taking down the ones from last year soon (photo is of me installing a soffit mounted version last year.

Next one, go through the carpenter bee ultra-toxin spray application. This stuff is concentrated so that 6ml makes a gallon of insecticide. Professional grade...they mix up 50 gallon batches for chicken coops. Here is an action photo of Chris geared up to spray!

I'll be checking for drill holes and repairing them - the last step. There just isn't much you can do after the steps above...except to keep a badmitton or tennis racket nearby. You'll only get one at a time this way, but it is very satisfying. Here is a bee casualty photo.

There are photos of bee damage in some of the past entries (see the Carpenter Bees label). Thankfully, due to the measures we implemented, no further damage has occured. And with this planning ahead done, we're ready to give 'em hell this year too.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Battle of the Species (Snakes): Prepare for Battle!

It's getting to be about that time where I need to go back and refresh myself on snake identification. This year I found an excellent South Carolina site in a Google search: http://www.snakesandfrogs.com/scra/snakes/brat.htm. The page linked here discusses the Eastern Rat Snake, which we encounter sometimes at the cabin.

In fact, two times last year we had rat snakes in the cabin...once in April, when an adult got into the laundry room: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2008/04/snake-in-laundry.html, with the two highlight photos shown here as part of that post. As the post tells, I'd seen this snake twice before, once when it got into the laundry room on the evening of my Old Rag hike in November 2007, and once when Chris was doing a little demo project by the old shed in the back yard.

I've also linked here to a second post that includes a photo of a dead juvenile in the road outside our place, although at the time I mistook it for another species. We had one of these youngters in the house last year as well, on the day we took a drive over to North Mountain Vineyards' Oktoberfest. http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2007/10/battle-of-species-2-snakes.html

Tomorrow, I'll highlight the carpenter bee episodes and my plan for dealing with them this year.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Day Trip to Baltimore

On Tuesday I gave a presentation at the National Facilities Management and Technology (NFMT) trade show in Baltimore. We were in the convention center right downtown near the Inner Harbor.

Here are a few shots of landmarks around there - the ball park, museum, and Bromo-Seltzer Tower were all visible from where I gave my talk. Old Ironsides (above) was right near the restaurant where I took some friends for lunch. Seeing the warehouse again made me long for an Orioles game - used to come up five or six times a year...and then there was Memorial Stadium, which I liked to visit quite a bit, too.
The talk was a success, there were about 120 attendees in my session, which was called, "A New Leader's Guide to a High-Performing Facilities Organization." I'm serializing this topic on another blog right now - www.iwmsnews.com/research - my blog is called "FM Notes from the Field."
So, I've had day trips for work to Philly, Baltimore, Annapolis, and Patuxent River this quarter. Where are the trips to LA, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas? Some consulting life I lead, eh?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Duncan Knob - summit and final

My guess is there is less than 200 vertical feet to the Duncan Knob rock scramble (if anyone has authoritative information on this, please send it along). Still it is quite intimidating on the first encounter, for a few reasons:

  • There is no indication of what’s ahead until you are there;

  • There are no blazes through the rock field, so you have to pick your own line – which you will constantly second-guess all the way up; and

The boulders are of all sizes and shapes, and some of the small ones are loose, as if they’ve just arrived in their positions. This movement can be unsettling (…because who knows, maybe the whole pile will come down?).

The photo above was taken midway up the scramble, during one of my second guessing moments. I was heading generally up and to the right, but wondered if this inviting flat surface – down and to the left – might be hiding a better line for me.
Finally, at the top, we found our reward. A couple of wide open flat surfaces to have a seat on, adjust our gear, have a snack and a drink, and most importantly, enjoy the views. Here are photos of Chris and Andy just arrived at the summit and a look over into Page Valley. The ridge line of Shenandoah National Park is visible in the distance.

After about a half hour at the top, we began making our way back down.

Andy, Tom and Chris got a little ahead of me and stopped, so I had them pose for this final photo.
All in all, this is a great hike. Our version was 8 miles in all, with the rock scramble coming at exactly the halfway point. That couldn’t have worked out better.

Everyone was invigorated by the experience, and we’re thinking of what’s next. For myself, I want to do Duncan Knob again sometime, probably again next spring or on a warm break during next winter. I’m also thinking of some of the other summit hikes in GWNF – including Stickler Knob, “The Knob,” and Signal Knob, if these are feasible. Some research and planning ahead on this account.

A last note here – my friend Howard at Evergreen Outfitter gave us advice that was the key to selecting this trail – so thanks again, H!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Duncan Knob - part 2

From the first stream crossing until the Duncan Knob spur trail head, shown here in the photo, we had two more stream crossings. I have to admit I was surprised at the lack of traffic on the trails – only one mountain biker, a fire/EMT out with her dog, and another guy walking his two shepherd mixes out there – all these on the Massanutten Trail.
I wanted to include this photo because of all the information that was available to us at this point. The trails in GWNF are maintained by PATC. Here we have a guide post and two visible blazes – orange for Massanutten and Blue for the Duncan Knob spur. Plus, the little tent icon points to an excellent campsite about 200 yards from the sign, creek-side.
At this point in the trail we were three miles in. So far, the path had consisted of gentle climbs, the stream crossings, and some interesting forest views. But with about a mile to the Duncan Knob summit, we knew there was 800 feet or so of climbing ahead, and off we went.
This next photo shows our first view of the Knob itself, from a saddle formation just below. In this area there is another campsite, and the Hiking Upward site mentions it but says there is no water nearby. We noticed a small pond/puddle about a quarter mile from the camp, but I’d estimate that is very temporary and dries quickly.

There is still no indication of what’s ahead at this point…hikers are still about a quarter mile from what’s really interesting about this hike – the rock scramble. This is not a technical scramble, like what’s on top of Old Rag – it’s a field of large boulders strewn about. I think the word scramble fits this experience better – while you’re freelancing your way through, you never touch solid ground, and you are using all fours to get through. And – no blazes here to guide you through to the top.
Here are a few highlight shots of this formation. First, Tom and I as we prepared to began the scramble, the last blaze just behind us; an in-your-face photo of the terrain, and finally a look ahead to the summit.
Tomorrow’s final post on the hike will include views from up there – even though the summit is in the middle of the ridge, there are surprising views of Page Valley from there.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Weekend Hike - Duncan Knob

With excellent weather forecast, we managed to put together the “winter” hike that we’ve been talking about since January. Although our plan at first was to do a two-day hike on the Massanutten and Tuscarora Trails, taking in over 20 miles and shuttling from the cabin, in the end we decided one day of up to half that distance would probably serve, and we decided to try Duncan Knob (Duncan Knob is the rounded peak in the center of this photo, taken from Luray).
There are a couple of reasons for choosing the hike, but one for doing it in the winter – the Hiking Upward site reviews the hike and has two pictures of timber rattlers guarding the trail. Since the destination is reached after a rock scramble, the pictures are enough to discourage me from the summit in summer.
Chris and I used portions of this hike to prep for our Half Dome expedition back in 2005, since it included a couple of steep climbs and totaled 2,200 feet of elevation gain – half the 4,400 feet of elevation gain on the Half Dome. We did the hike three times but never summitted – because of the snake photos.
We talked our friends Tom and Andy into joining us, and with Howard’s recommendation, finally picked Duncan Knob as the hike of the day. We planned to get to the trailhead at Scotthorn Gap at 11 or so, following a few logistics errands in town. We made our way to Chrisman Hollow, running a half hour late, only to find it still closed – despite sunshine and weather approaching 70.
We quickly rerouted through New Market, looking to come up through the northern entrance to Chrisman Hollow – also closed. A short lunch break, and then finally we drove to the spot on state road 675(?) where the Massanutten Trail crosses – putting Andy’s rental jeep to the test with a couple of stream crossings courtesy of the Forestry Service!

At last, the trailhead, finally at 1pm…quickly making it to this stream crossing, with Tom, Andy and Chris getting out of the way for an oncoming mountain biker. The first of three crossings, this one would prove to be a foreshadowing landmark, as we had to cross it in the dark on the way back.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Update on Gracie Dawg

If you are finding this post from a web search and are interested in reading more about this topic, you can click the "canine renal" label to read the previous (and eventually, following, posts on this topic).

It's been a while since I've given status on Gracie's chronic renal failure. She was diagnosed as being in final stage about six months ago, but the symptoms have only been noticeable the last two or three months. Mainly, there is noticeable weight loss and she is losing strength - she can't jump into the car herself anymore, and it takes a long time to climb stairs, for example.

Food boycotting has been particularly troubling. She just won't eat anything, it seems, having gone off her regular diet a few months back. Mary has even tried preparing meals for her using diets found on-line. Gracie would generally try these, but wouldn't come back to a second meal.

Last week, Gracie lost about four pounds overall. She stopped drinking water, and wasn't getting any fluids from her food since she wasn't eating. Mary asked about it during a check up for Sofie, and the vet told her to bring the dog in.

We did, and after diagnostics, they decided she was in a close to dangerous situation. We checked her in for the weekend, where they have rehydrated her, as well as done additional diagnostics for possible kidney damage, calcium deposites, or tumors. Nothing there, the kidney failure is simply because of old age - Gracie is 14 years old (Sofie is older).

Despite the gravity of her condition, you could still wave any toy in front of her and she'd be interested - rising to play, pouncing on the ball. She's a trooper and there is strong border collie instinct here.

We checked her out of the hospital last night, and on the positive side, she is in high spirits. They got her to eat baby food, with chicken, so we're trying that. However, there are new prescriptions and we're going to have to do injections of fluids starting today (see photo).

Along with all of this news, it's clear we are in the final stages. We are not sure how long we'll have her with us at this point. So we'll enjoy the time we have, as it comes.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Valley Landmark: Murray's Fly Shop

Murray’s Fly Shop is right next to Sal’s in Edinburg. I first learned about the place when we drove over the Massanutten Ridge a few weeks back and found the Burnside Dam (http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/02/burnshire-dam-near-woodstock.html); my web research included a blog post that mentioned Murray’s. So I was very pleased that we just happened to find it on another Sunday drive.

Fly shops are the quintessential “do what you love” businesses. You can tell this from the street, but it is reinforced when you read his catalog: “…I am often asked to help select outfits for various types of fly fishing” starts a page about complete set ups, and “...I choose the terrestrial pattern and size to match the naturals I see along the stream” on another featuring terrestrial dry flies.

I’ve been interested in learning to fly fish for some time. Mary and I took a lesson from an Orvis school at the Homestead a few years ago – still have the photos on my desk – and we’ve taken a walk along some nice trout streams over the last couple of years, enough so that I even have a label for those entries here on the blog (trout streams).

Murray’s offers lessons, books and gear. The two-day schools for trout run on weekdays from April to May, and are two days long. They’re conducted on the Rapidan River inside of SNP. His smallmouth bass schools are done on weekends from June to July in Edinburg, and the fishing is done on either the north or south fork.
Besides the web-site (http://www.murraysflyshop.com/), there is a print catalog, and a blog, plus the regular updates are done via pod cast.

I’ll close the entry with a note from his site about the pod casts:
“…The enhanced weekly report covers streams in and surrounding Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, including; The Shenandoah National Park, George Washington/ Jefferson National Forests, the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River, the James River and unique events on other streams i.e. Shad run on the Rappahannock River.”

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Blog Milestone: 5,000 Visits

Just a quick post today on a side note – on Tuesday, this blog passed the 5,000 visits milestone since we began tracking readership in June 2008.

Although it varies from month to month, this averages out to about 20 visits a day (slow months were July and December, at an average of 13 and 16 visits, respectively). On the page view statistic, Hawksbill Cabin readers average about 1.5 pages per visit, which has been consistent over the period we have information for, since last June.

About half the readers are from Luray and Harrisonburg, (thanks to http://www.hbblogs.com/ – readers who aren’t familiar with this aggregator should check it out, because they will be pleasantly surprised by the vibrant community there!). The rest of the readers are folks who know me (family and friends), and then there are those finding the blog through random Google searches.

The Google search finds can be interesting. Last year, after the fire in Stanley, VA, which occurred during the same week two historic buildings burned down in Stanley, England, we had seven or eight visits from there, obviously looking for their local news.

Also, the Old Rag Hike and Half Dome Hike entries generate interest during hiking season. We’re getting hits on the periodic Sherriff Presgraves updates, as well as on Gracie’s canine renal condition (it is comforting to know that others are going through the same thing with their pets, and are sharing information about the experience).

It is a pretty humbling experience to know that folks are finding and reading the blog. And as my friend Brian, would say, “I guess this intro-net thing is going to catch on someday!”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Planning the Season's First Moderate Hike

A few weeks back I posted about putting together a winter hike, inspired by a two-day outing that was described in “Blue Ridge Outdoors.” That hike took in sections of the Massanutten and Tuscarora Trails over in George Washington National Forest. Chris was interested and we thought might try the 20-mile hike , basing out of the cabin and using a car shuttle strategy to make it more efficient.

Winter’s getting away from us, and since I haven’t done any rigorous hiking in a few months (actually, in a couple of years…) we have downscaled our expectations. We now are planning to do Duncan Knob using one of the two routes described on the Hiking Upward site:


The final choice between these two will depend on the weather Saturday, since the access road through Chrissman Hollow closes when inclement weather is expected. Right now the forecast shows a warming trend starting Thursday going through Sunday, high of 71 expected on Saturday, with the possibility of rain.

Chris and I used the Duncan Knob hike as part of our training “regimen” getting ready for the Half Dome Hike we did back in 2005. Because this hike had some good altitude changes, we thought that the climbing would help us – I’m sure it did. But because we were doing that in the summer, and the Hiking Upward site has copious photos of timber rattlers, we never did the rock scramble to the summit, which is our goal this time.

Chris has confirmed, and another friend, Tom, is planning on joining us. There may be one additional hiker. These guys all live in the Leesburg area, where they are close to the AT, but they’ve “hiked out” all the nearby trailheads and were looking for something “extra” to try.

Howard from Evergreen Outfitters is a Duncan Knob enthusiast and suggested that it would be a good season-starting alternative to the longer hike we were looking at. When I chatted with him recently, he shared a photo or two of a group camping at the summit. My group will take its time getting up and back – if we are lucky enough to have good weather for the full circuit on that first hike, we will probably need five hours or so to complete it, as opposed to the four hours shown on the site.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Easy Day Hike: The George Washington National Forest Storybook Trail

When Mary and I went to Sal’s for lunch a few weeks back, we planned to cut through Chrissman Hollow in Massanutten as a shortcut (by the way, I've seen the name of this place written in a number of different ways - the road there is also known by a state number and is called the Forest Development Road, alternatively).
Once we were up on the mountain, we found that the road was closed due to potentially inclement weather and had to turn back. Before we completely retraced our steps back to New Market so we could take US 11, we stopped by the Storybook Trail and took the short hike.

This is an accessible trail, paved with a slight incline. The .3 mile route is populated with interpretive signs that explain the geology of the ridge and Page Valley below. At regular intervals, there are little steps that lead off the trail into what looks like gathering areas where tour groups can stop and listen to guide talks.
Typical of the topography in this area, sandstone layers break through the ridge in places, and layered stones and rocks are visible along the way. But the real prize is at the end, as you crest the ridge.
They’ve built an observation platform up here that looks down to the Valley below – almost 1,500 feet down! Here are a couple of views…looking Northeast and due east. The final one is a view looking straight down from the viewing deck.

I’d seen the trailhead a few times driving through this area, but we never stopped. I am glad I did this time and hope to be able to show this place to some relatives soon.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Winter Scene in Alexandria

I visited with Howard at Evergreen Outfitters yesterday, and he mentioned that we might be in for it over in Northern Virginia...for once the forecast was right, we got about 6 inches of snow this morning.

While I was out shovelling and getting the cars scraped off, took some photos of the neighborhood...this last one is of our "wall" of Leyland Cypress, which are particularly impressive during snow.

"In like a lion," so they say

On Sunday morning we were greated by a light dusting of snow -heavy late winter snow that melts off quickly. So I got outside early to take some fleeting phone cam shots of the cabin with snow on the ground. Here are the photos - indiscriminately uploaded.
Also, I took a little drive down Ida Road - Ida is one of the communities settled by folks displaced when the Shenandoah National Park was formed, and they were resettled in the Valley. This is Grace Church, just a bit off the road there, but a charming little place you can just see through the trees when you drive by - I always thought it might be pretty in the snow.

Finally, as I came back from that drive, a few more random shots of the cabin:

Approaching on the path from the drive (these azaeleas will be beautiful in two months!); a look at the pool (Daris says, "not long now!"); a view of the pine trees and the road (they are just pretty); and a view looking across the brick terrace (that's the fire pit near the front door).
Of course we are getting pounded this morning in Alexandria, 3 inches and counting!