Spring Hiking (Part 1)

I already wrote a spring hiking post, but I’ve been fortunate enough to go twice this spring. Here’s what I did for my first trip, which I took with my friend Easter weekend. We were both pretty busy at that point (my friend was in the final stretch of law school, and I was in Budget season), so we decided to make it easy by going to the AT in Maryland. The AT goes through a pretty narrow section of Maryland, has a lot of entry points, and is only an hour or so from both DC and Baltimore, so it’s easy to get to and requires little planning.


***Quick aside: I generally spend a lot of time planning these trips. That was true when we lived in Atlanta (and similarly would plan at least one trip each spring and fall), and it’s true here. I think my criteria are fairly simple:

  • Within max 3 hours drive (here in Maryland, we sometimes stretch this a bit since most of the VA and WVA hiking is juuuust a little further)
  • Reasonable length for two at-least-partial days of hiking (so… anywhere from 8-20ish miles)
  • Has backcountry camp sites

In addition to those essentials, I have some additional preferences:

  • Loop. But out and back is fine
  • Elevation change
  • Water source
  • Campground or other car camping available near trailhead for Friday night
  • Haven’t done before

I have a hard time finding ideal candidates, and then it takes a long time to find ones that meet some of the criteria, to compare them to each other, to find nearby car camping spots, to make sure there are backcountry camping spots, to figure out permits if necessary, etc. If you have suggestions for resources, let me know! I frequently use midatlantichikes.com and backpacker.com.

In any case, I hope this blog can be a resource for you for hikes that generally meet those criteria. Aside over.***


Needless to say, I did not put a lot of time or effort into planning this trip. And you get what you plan for. While the AT in Maryland is nice and convenient, it is not the most memorable nor scenic part of the AT. And the easy access means that it’s easily accessible to lots of people. I wouldn’t say the trail was crowded exactly, but it wasn’t very remote. We were never very far from a road, and our campsite (near the Crampton Gap shelter at mile 1029.4 of the AT, according to cnyhiking.com) was only 0.5 miles from Gathland State Park and its access road – which allowed for our nearby campers (we were one of maybe six groups in this camping area near the shelter) to haul in beer their friends brought for them and have a pizza delivered by one of their mothers.

Still, lovely to be in the out of doors, as always, and to spend quality time with my good friend and dog.

We hiked from South Mountain Inn to the Crampton Gap shelter (with an additional short addition to Gathland State Park), which was a little over 7 miles, and hiked back the following day – we essentially did this hike backwards.

On Saturday, we took a break (after only 2 miles) at the recently renovated Rocky Run shelter. We met a volunteer there who was hiking out from another shelter further down the path that he said was used more by locals for partying and therefore had a lot of crap. We took the same break on Sunday on our way back, this time going further to check out that other shelter (and let Clio run in the water that was down there to cool off – it was over 90 degrees that Sunday!). It was definitely much more rundown. No pictures of that one.

The trail itself was largely on a ridge. There wasn’t a ton of elevation change. It was pleasant and walkable.

The main points of interest were Lamb’s Knoll and White Rock Cliffs. We stopped at White Rock Cliffs both ways for pictures.

After arriving at the shelter and claiming our campsite, we continued on without our packs to Gathland State Park. The land used to belong to a Civil War journalist named George Alfred Townsend, who for some reason was nicknamed Gath. It has a monument to Civil War correspondents. It had a few other buildings and nice open spaces as well. There were some people in costume and filming (I think) in one of the ruins. Or maybe just taking photos. I only got a picture of the monument.

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After that, we relaxed at our campsite. We had a fire in the evening, watched the sunset, and I enjoyed early morning coffee and relaxing by myself before others started to get up.

On Sunday, we hiked back to the Old South Mountain Inn. It was hot. I got sunburned. After the hike was over, we stopped for lunch at Brew’d Pub on our drive home. I had a saison and a local wild boar kielbasa (sans bun). Clio rested her overheated and weary body on the patio. Mm mmm.

Dan and I are booked pretty solid this summer. We’re already talking about when to go in the Fall, but we have been invited to four weddings in five weeks between September and October (prime fall hiking months). At this particular moment in time, I’m feeling way too busy and reluctant to give up weekends at home. Plus, Dan will have just started a new job in August and won’t be able to get so many weekends off. So. We’ll see. Maybe it’s a really good thing I went twice this spring.

Spring Hiking

I want to tell you about two hiking trips I’ve been on recently, but first, a few updates, mostly about my general state of mind:

  • My job is to assist in developing the President’s Budget (or rather, the small portions of it that fall into my portfolio area, which are all health policy related). The FY 2018 President’s Budget (which is a proposal to Congress for how to fund the government and a grand statement of the White House’s priorities) will be released soon. So I have been working more than usual. This time of year is usually in January, but because this is a new administration, it’s now.
  • I ran the Sole of the City 10K (pace: 8:09, although the last five miles were 7:51 – the first was so crowded) and the North Face Endurance Challenge trail half marathon (pace: 9:34) in April. They were both so fun!

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  • I am tired. Not physically so much (though a few weeks ago, I was that too – sleeping better now). But mentally. Emotionally. I haven’t had a lot of recharge time over the past month, month and a half, and I’m feeling it. I’ve been working a lot, busy on the weekends, around people a lot a lot, and just going going going. I haven’t meal prepped since I wrote about meal prepping, and I’ve run out of pre-made meals in the freezer, so this week I’ve been eating lunch out (hallelujah for sweetgreen order-ahead-and-pickup). This week feels a little better, even though I’ve had something every evening which has meant that I’ve had only around an hour at home each night before trying to get to bed. We have guests coming into town for the weekend tomorrow. Next weekend I’ll be in Denver (BolderBoulder and sister visit!) and the following weekend I’ll be in Grand Rapids (family trip and fishing!). The weekend after that is already super-packed. It’s just a lot. I’m trying to figure out strategies to recharge as I go, instead of needing a whole day (or even a whole evening, because those are rare too) with nothing planned and little human interaction.
  • Last week might have been less stressful and busy in the evenings had we not bought a new car! Mine broke the previous Friday night. On that Saturday, we made the decision to get a new car instead of fixing it. And we planned to shop on Sunday… but dealerships (and things like CarMax) are closed on Sundays in Maryland! ARGH. So we spent five hours on Tuesday and four hours on Thursday night dealing with that. And now. New car!! Hooray!

Hiking Trip 1 (most recent)

Despite feeling very tempted last weekend to stay home (see above), I joined Dan and another couple for a short (9-mile) backpacking adventure on the AT outside of Harrisburg, PA to Pulpit Rock and the Pinnacle. We originally planned to drive up Friday night, but due to stress of car shopping (and not being able to pack on Thursday night), we decided to go early Saturday. Our friends were driving down from Rochester, NY and had spent Friday night further north in Pennsylvania. Saturday’s weather forecast was for steady rain, but we met up at the trailhead around 11am anyway. We decided to give the weather a chance to resolve itself, and headed first to Hijinx Brewery then Taqueria Los Amigos in Allentown followed by Funk Brewery in Emmaus, PA.

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We made it back to the trailhead by 4 (still raining), made a plan to hike only to the AT shelter about a mile away and hang out there till Sunday morning, and set out.

Unfortunately, the shelter was super-crowded. So we continued on, hoping the rain would let up soon.

We made it to Pulpit Rock, enjoyed the almost-view, and continued on….

The rain never let up, so around 7pm and maybe 4.5 or 5 miles in, we finally called it quits and set up camp. My sleeping bag and pad had gotten a little wet around the edges (note to self – buy a rain cover for my backpack), but they were fine. It was lovely to take off all my wet clothes. Dan and I ate a sad dinner in our tent (sandwiches he’d made for himself, trail mix and a Larabar for me) and were asleep by 9. The rain ended sometime overnight. I of course work up early and was out of the tent before 6. It was chilly, but nice to just sit and enjoy the surroundings (and coffee with hot chocolate). By the time my fellow campers were up, it had become overcast again. We stopped at The Pinnacle further along our way and again enjoyed almost-views. But as we hiked on, the sun finally came out. We stopped to enjoy a mid-morning coffee (spiked with fireball that our friends brought) in a field before finishing the hike.

So that was that! As tired as I was (and annoyed at the rain), I’m still of course glad I went. This got long, so I’ll write about my other spring hike in another post :-).

Revelstoke

Six or so years ago, my husband and his best friend spent a day skiing with a classmate of my husband’s and her father. They raved about the skiing in this place called Revelstoke in British Columbia, Canada. I think it was a new resort at the time. (Wikipedia just told me it opened in December 2007.) My husband and his best friend have fantasized about skiing there ever since.

The two of them have been skiing together out west at least once a year (and usually more) for the past ten years. For the first six of those years, it was just the two of them and occasionally me and/or someone else who was available for a somewhat random ski hill meetup, like with Dan’s classmate. But for the past four years, it has been a bigger group/reunion, with a core group of six of us that all went to the same college, plus a few other friends or significant others each year. Four years ago, we rented a house outside Park City. I believe there were 7 of us that  year. The next year, we got a house (the best house ever) in Big Sky, Montana. We were… 12? that year. Again, friends from college, Atlanta, a friend of mine from Madison, and friends of friends. Last year was thrown together a little late – we were 8 staying in a not-as-great house in Salt Lake City and driving to ski resorts, but I had one of my favorite days skiing ever at Powder Mountain. And this year, finally, we made the trek to Revelstoke, Canada. This year there were 8 of us total.

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It took 17 hours of traveling to get there, and 17 hours to get home yesterday. Both travel days, we had to wake up at 3 am local time. But it was worth it.

We got to see friends:

 

There were some amazing views of Revelstoke and the Columbia River:

 

And Lake Louise in Banff:

 

Plus I got to go for a short 3-mile hike, all by myself, fresh tracks, in Mount Revelstoke National Park (with snow up to my waist when I accidentally stepped off the path – the pictures don’t quite capture it):

 

And see wildlife. In the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway:

 

And eat good food. Some of which was only good-tasting if not good for me:

As far as eating goes, our MO has become a huge Costco shopping trip as soon as we arrive to purchase food for the week. Each person/couple takes a night to cook and populates a shared grocery shopping list in advance. We spend the last night (or in this case, two) eating leftovers. One or two people also take on sandwich-making duties each morning for everyone for on-mountain lunches. It works out great. Our Costco trip for 8 people this time for the week was under $500. That’s about $60/person for food for the week. Not bad. And everyone makes really good food. In the picture above, Dan is eating a taco filled with mole chicken we made together. For dinners, we ate:

  • Saturday (arrival day): burgers and sausages, salad, and sweet potato fries
  • Sunday: meatballs and pasta (atop kale for me)
  • Monday: homemade pizza
  • Tuesday: chicken in mole sauce, plus taco fixings
  • Wednesday: tofu stir fry
  • Thursday and Friday: leftovers

We did pretty well this time not wasting any food. In past years, we’ve eaten at least one dinner out. This time, we didn’t do any (though I did fill up on that poutine in the picture above on the last day at the Lake Louise ski resort), but we probably should have eaten out the last night. We were really scrounging. But we got back from Lake Louise late after a harrowing 3.5 hour drive through fog and snowy roads along the Trans-Canada Highway and then had to get up at 3 am the next morning to drive 2.5 hours more, so eating out wasn’t really in the cards.

I skied 4 days – 3 at Revelstoke and 1 at Lake Louise. Two friends and I (we are known as the ‘Blue Crew,’ but have sort of graduated to the ‘Blue-Black Crew’) took a private lesson on the second afternoon that was a lot of fun. I like doing stuff that challenges me (i.e., not just the blue groomers), but I like having my hand held when I do it.

Revelstoke was amazing. It has the longest vertical in North America (5,620 feet). The longest run (the green run that goes from the top all the way down) is 9.5 miles long. It was exhausting. We got a fair amount of snow mid-week and had a lot of powder on Wednesday, which was incredible. So fun. Longer lift lines, unfortunately, but worth it.

Lake Louise was okay. It was kind of icy in parts and had less varied/interesting terrain. The view across the valley of Lake Louise was incredible, though. Pictures don’t do any of this justice. And I was sort of cold that day and pretty tired from the week. I only skied about 3.5 hours. Then I went to the pub and drank a hot toddy and ate poutine.

I always try to hike at least one day while on these ski trips. I love hiking in the snow. I’ve been fortunate to find  hikes that are manageable without snow shoes. (Except for that time two years ago in Big Sky when Dan and another friend and I hiked six miles into a canyon and definitely should have had snow shoes.) This hike was easily accessible from town, didn’t feel too remote to make me feel nervous, and elevated my heart rate at times but didn’t leave me exhausted. It was a rest day, after all.

All in all, a very good trip. I’m very glad to be home, though, and back to my routine. Like  most Sundays, yesterday I grocery shopped and made lunch for the week. And I was back at CrossFit this morning at 5:30 am…

The Nearest Outdoors

I’ve been feeling a little stifled by the urbanness of my environment lately, so I’ve been trying to get outside as much as possible. Our backpacking adventure in Virginia a few weeks ago was great, but isn’t getting me through. So I took the opportunity a few weekends in a row to go to Patapsco State Park, which includes several different areas across central Maryland. I most frequently go to the Orange Grove and Avalon areas, because they are the closest, but I’ve been to several of the other areas and they are also nice.

I did the same quick trail on both of these two weekends, once just with my dog and the second time with Dan and the dog. The trail is called Buzzard Rocks, which I got to from the Orange Grove area parking area and by crossing the swinging bridge over the Patapsco River. It starts out very steeply but then evens out and is fairly flat. The leaves were lovely. Afterward, on the first weekend, Clio took a dip in the water.

Weekend 1:

 

Weekend 2:

 

Patapsco is also great for picnics and mountain biking. Last summer, I planned a surprise picnic for Dan to celebrate the end of his residency, and I tried to do it in one of the many Patapsco pavilions. I quickly learned that the largest pavilions start getting rented out in January (or before) for summer weekends, so we weren’t able to do it there. (We ended up doing it in a county park.) There were many smaller picnic pavilions available, but either they were to small or they didn’t allow alcohol (some do, some don’t).

Before the picnic, I surprised Dan with a mountain biking adventure in the McKeldin area, which was a ton of fun. Until Dan got a flat tire and we had to bushwhack our way to a road so that I could uber back to the start and then come back to pick him and the bikes up. Anyway, I’d like to do more mountain biking there. We’re talking about giving each other mountain bikes for Christmas. We’ll see. MTB Project is a great resource for finding mountain bike routes.

Anyway. A decent place to get outdoors.

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Virginia Backpacking – AT-Mau-Har Trail

Guys, I’ve been busy. And haven’t had much to write about. But you know what’s great? My weekends have been busy, but I’ve been home for most of them! Last Fall, I was gone almost every weekend, and this year, I’m here! What’s been keeping me busy, then? I don’t know really. The half marathon was three weekends ago (and so fun!). We had several friends over (both runners and non) for brunch afterwards. I made breakfast tacos: scrambled eggs, black beans, sautéed onions and peppers, tortillas, shredded cheese, cilantro, etc. Plus coffee and mimosas. And tomorrow, I’m taking my Project Management Professional certification exam. Studying for that has kept me busy. Will I be less busy now? Who knows. The election is tomorrow, and I expect work to get very busy after that (now I’m finishing this post days later, and the election is over. Ugh).

In mid-October, Dan and I did a two-night backpacking trip with a friend of mine that lives in DC. It was a three-day weekend for me, so I was willing to drive a little further and wanted to get two nights in. We ruled out Shenandoah due to no campfires and picked a loop with the Mau-Har Trail (also called the Three Ridges hike) in the George Washington National Forest. It was a little short for two nights, but we made it work. The total hike length was 14.4 miles, but a significant portion of it did not have water access, so we planned our camping accordingly.

Last Fall, our hiking plans were foiled by intense rain due to Hurricane Joaquin. This year, Hurricane Nicole and other meteorological activity threatened us – but we powered through.

We didn’t get started until about 5pm on Saturday and hiked only 1.6 miles to the Maupin shelter – in the pouring rain. My friend was smart and had brought a waterproof cover for her backpack. Dan and I don’t have them, so hoped for the best, which turned out just fine. There were plenty of campsites around the shelter. Some people were already there, but they weren’t planning to sleep in the shelter. Dan and I also decided to sleep in our tent, but my friend did not have a footprint for her tent so decided to sleep in the shelter. Before we went to sleep, all the campers hung out in the shelter to keep dry, which was nice. Overnight, the rain stopped but it was SUPER windy. Thank god no trees fell on us!

 

The next morning was chilly but sunny. And windy. The higher we hiked, the harder the wind blew, and it was a little crazy at times. There were some really great views.

We finally were sheltered from the wind on the other side of the mountain. We hiked about 8 miles total, turning onto the Mau Har Trail and camping about at the Campbell Creek camping area. This section of the Mau Har Trail (~1.5 miles) was almost entirely steep downhill. Kinda rough.

We were the only ones at Campbell Creek that night. We set up our tents on land between two running creeks. It was pretty loud from the running water, but really pretty and nicely sheltered from wind. We had a little trouble getting and keeping a fire going because all the wood was wet. Thank goodness my friend brought some small firestarter things :-).

On Monday, we hiked the 1.8ish miles back to the Maupin Shelter and AT on the Mau Har Trail. This trail was HARD. Campbell Creek where we camped was the bottom, and the rest was uphill back to the AT, a lot of it VERY steep. It was as if the trail blazers decided to use the shortest distance between two points instead of working with the mountain at all. That’s not true, of course, but it felt like it. I took a picture of the shelter in the sunshine instead of the dark and rain, as well as the start/end of the trail at Reeds Gap. Then we hiked the 1.6ish miles back to the car at Reeds Gap the way we’d come on the AT. We drove a few miles to Devil’s Backbone Brewery for lunch before heading back to DC and Baltimore.

Overall, it was a very nice hike that definitely provided a workout and great views. I think the weather kept some people away. According to reviews, it can be very crowded. The parking lot at Reeds Gap was full when we got there on Saturday. We got the last spot. We saw a lot of people on the trail, but it didn’t feel too crowded.

Also, I think we went one week early for great Fall colors. There were some, but the next couple of weeks would probably have been incredible.

She Eats (and Hikes) in Charlottesville

I spent the weekend in Charlottesville with a good friend who lives in DC but is doing a law internship in Charlottesville for the summer. I had never spent time in Charlottesville before, though I’ve driven through/near/around several times, and was glad for the opportunity.

I drove down Friday after being let out of work early for the 4th of July holiday weekend. I’d driven to the DC Metro red line in the morning instead of taking the MARC train as I usually do, so was able to start driving from north of DC around 3:30. With DC traffic on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend and several thunderstorms, I didn’t arrive in Charlottesville until 7pm. I had NPR, the Minimalists (Episode 28), Liz Wolfe and Cassy Joy Garcia (Balanced Bites Episode 250), and then some poppy music to keep me company along the way.

Soon after I arrived, we went to Monsoon Siam for dinner and sat on the porch. Our meals were delicious (and actually spicy) – my friend had Kapow Jae to maximize the vegetables, and I had the pik pow with added broccoli – but the entry process was annoying. It wasn’t clear where to enter or who to talk to about putting our name in for a table (or even if that was necessary). Things like that drive me crazy. Then, once we got seated, a server didn’t come for probably at least 20 minutes. My friend ended up going to the bar for waters, and then ultimately went back to the bar for beers before we ever had a server come. To be fair, they seemed understaffed and overbusy. I probably would have been more forgiving if not for the initial entry process confusion. Anyway.

After dinner, we walked along the pedestrian mall and went to The Southern to see some music (Rob Cheathem & Co.).

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On Saturday, I woke up at 5:30 like usual (annoying) and was out for my triathlon training workout by 6:15. I didn’t bring my bike, so I borrowed my friend’s hybrid. And Charlottesville is hilly. I biked west of town and back in a big loop, and then I ran 3 miles down through the UVA campus and back to her house. I was pooped. Did I mention it was hilly? While running, I snapped a photo of this church. Yay, equality.

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To get the day started, we went to the Charlottesville farmers market downtown and then to Bluegrass Grill for brunch. At the farmer’s market, my friend bought tomatoes, and we both bought a bucket of peaches. It seems early for peach season, but man, they’re delicious. For brunch, I had a potato scramble with (some sort of weird, fake, but still meat) chorizo, egg, peppers, onions, and tomatoes.

After an unfortunate locking-of-keys-in-trunk incident, we spent the afternoon being lazy on her lawn, snacking on nuts and fruit.

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We went to a barbecue at one of her friends’ houses that evening, where we ate some delicious salads, steak, and sausage.

On Sunday, we ate breakfast at home (Greek TJ’s yogurt, nuts, and banana for me) before setting out for a hike. Shenandoah and other mountainous areas were a further drive than we wanted, so we went to the Fortune’s Cove Nature Conservancy about 35 minutes from Charlottesville outside Lovingston, VA. The hike was five miles-ish and relatively steep both up and down. The day was overcast and foggy so the views weren’t great, but it was still pretty. Parts of the trail had a lot of growth; the trail to the top of High Top mountain, a slight detour off the trail, was particularly overgrown. And not worth it at all, due to the lack of views and the creepy I-feel-like-I’m-in-an-episode-of-Lost gated building. But overall I’d recommend the hike. It was very well marked, a great workout, and pretty.

We didn’t see a ton of wildlife, but what we did see was super unexpected. First, we ran into a turtle. Next, near the top, were a TON of these three-dimensional spiderwebs. And finally, where the trail crossed a fire road on the way down, we saw some large animal that we’re still debating: was it a dog? A coyote? Or, where I think we’ve settled, a fisher weasel? It looked kind of like a raccoon, except four times as big. And kind of like a dog, except it… ambled more… like a bear. Who knows. We saw it from behind, and its most defining characteristic was its very bushy tail. I wish we’d taken a picture.

The nature preserve was just across the road from Mountain Cove Winery, so we stopped for a tasting before heading home. It’s apparently the oldest winery in Virginia!

We were starving (it was late afternoon), so we stopped at Al Carbon for rotisserie chicken that totally hit the spot. It was delicious. So were the roasted vegetables and sweet potato sides that I got. My friend liked her chicken, but thought some of the sides were too rich and creamy.

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Due to the late lunch, we didn’t need a proper dinner, so snacked on more nuts and fruit (and TJ turkey sausage) for a late evening snack.

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For my last meal in Charlottesville, we went this morning to the Oakhurst Inn Cafe and Espresso Bar for breakfast. It was so charming – in a house, with pretty wood tables and enormous cups of coffee. I would love to stay at the Inn. My friend and I both got the baked farm eggs, and I got a side avocado salad that I’m pretty sure had an entire avocado in it. The baked eggs were delicious (and a little spicy), but the dressing on the avocado salad was my favorite part of the meal.

And finally, after returning home early this afternoon, I made myself a salad with the last of the Trader Joe’s turkey salami, a tomato from our farm box, part of an avocado, and a peach from the Charlottesville farmers market. Yum.

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Humpback Rock

On a ridiculously foggy weekend in May, Dan and I drove to Virginia for a wedding near Charlottesville. On the way there, we stopped for a hike at Humpback Rock. My colleague, who’d been to both Veritas Vineyards, the wedding venue, and Wintergreen Resort, where all the wedding guests were staying, recommended it as a good workout with nice views.

I’m sure the views were very nice. We could only see about five feet in front of us. But it was still a lovely hike. We saw only a few other people on the trail, and it was a good uphill bit (maybe one mile) that got the heart rate up, followed by a leisurely, lower-grade three miles downhill. Another friend did the same hike the following (sunny!) weekend (after attending a different wedding at the same venue!) and posted pictures that looked great! Maybe someday we’ll go back.

And the wedding we went to was fun too!

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