Category Archives: Hiking

Old Rag hike (August 2019)

8/15/19: Last week we were on vacation in Castleton, Virginia, with Lexi’s family. It’s close to Shenandoah National Park. When we realized we were only a half hour drive from the trailhead of Old Rag, we took the opportunity to go and climb it.

It’s a 10 mile loop if you start and end at Nethers, with about 2,500ft of height gain. The summit is 3,291ft high and affords magnificent views of the Shenandoah and foothills. The final section along the top ridge is an interesting rock scramble, through crevices, up staircases, past caves, up gullies etc. and makes for quite a sporting ascent.

It’s a super popular hike for those reasons and because it’s close to Washington, D.C..

We left the boys with the grandparents and avoided the weekend crowd by going on a Monday.

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Lexi at one of the lookouts part way up the ascent.

 

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Yours truly at the same lookout.

 

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Can you see why they’re known as the Blue Ridge mountains?

 

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Marker post in Shenandoah NP

 

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Still on the way up despite appearances. The final ridge involves some entertaining scrambling!

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Scrambling up a gully on Ridge Trail

 

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Ridge Trail passes through a tunnel between giant old boulders

 

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Through one of the many narrow rock gaps.

 

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Nearly there!

 

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Obligatory foot shot on the summit of Old Rag.

 

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With Lexi on the summit of Old Rag. So lucky that we get to enjoy these kind of adventures together 🙂

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Summit panorama.

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Pretty much straight up and then straight back down!

 

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It’s a 10 mile loop starting from the parking lot in Nethers.

 

It’s a fantastic hike, and lives up to its marquee status. However, it was popular even on a weekday, so definitely one to avoid on summer weekends.

For more info on Old Rag, check out the: topo on All Trails

Buzzard Hill Appalachian Trail hike

[Editor’s note: this hike took place at the end of August, the week before my and Lexi’s wedding, when everything was extremely hectic. It was the perfect antidote to the stress we were feeling at the time. And now, I’m finally catching up on blogging!]

Length: 9 miles — Height gain: 3,000ft

Known as the “roller coaster”, this section of the Appalachian Trail is an hour drive outside of DC, to the north of Shenandoah NP, and somewhere we had not yet explored.

AT South sign

AT South sign

The trail duly lived up to its name with hardly a flat mile as we climbed and descended all day. Our reward was a stunning lookout from the summit of Buzzard Hill. We gazed out at an endless sea of wooded hills, entirely natural and devoid of man made intrusions.

Hiking south along the AT

Hiking south along the AT

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View from the summit of Buzzard Hill

View from the summit of Buzzard Hill

The team at the summit

The team at the summit

First signs of fall

First signs of fall

This turned out to be one of the harder hikes I’d done in the DC area, on account of the endless up and down. My calves ached for days after this one! The view was one of the best though, so this is definitely going in the memory bank as a great day out.

Check out the hiking guide – information on this site here.

New Zealand Part III – Climbing Black Peak

“Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports. . . all others are games.” – Ernest Hemmingway

Panorama from the summit of Black Peak

Panorama from the summit of Black Peak

Saving the best to last (see part I and part II of our NZ adventures): my brother and I were given carte blanche for the final day of the holiday so we chose a mountain day that would challenge us – Black Peak. It’s a spiky summit, accessible from the road but still far from the madding crowds, and one which would require just shy of 2,000m height gain (and subsequent descent). It would be a big day out.

A photo essay from the final day in the South Island of New Zealand:

Road to Glenorchy, en route to Black Peak

Road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, en route to Black Peak

River crossing

River crossing early in the day – an unexpected but fun obstacle

We were rewarded with one of the best days of walking I’ve had in a long time. The day had everything: perfect weather, a long and challenging route, a mountain summit, historic huts, jaw-dropping scenery and no other people. It was a sublime.

On the slopes of Black Peak

On the slopes of Black Peak

McIntosh's Hut

McIntosh’s Hut

Room with a view

Room with a view

Climbing over the snowfields near the summit

Climbing over the snowfields near the summit

Pete on the summit of Black Peak

Pete on the summit of Black Peak

Black Peak is the pyramidal summit on the R side of skyline

Black Peak is the pyramidal summit on the R side of skyline

Glenorchy valley

Mt Earnslaw, Glenorchy valley

"Look how far we've walked!"

“Look how far we’ve come!”

At last…..water

At last…..water. We ran out a couple of hours before but knew we had a refill at the car. Sweet relief!

New Zealand Part I – The Kepler Track

“Fiordland, a vast tract of mountainous terrain that occupies the south-west corner of South Island, New Zealand, is one of the most astounding pieces of land anywhere on God’s earth, and one’s first impulse, standing on a cliff top surveying it all, is simply to burst into spontaneous applause.” – Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See

Kepler Track Day 1

Murchison Mountains, Lake Te Anau, Kepler Track Day 1

28 November 2013: We were a party of four (yours truly, my girlfriend Lexi, my brother Pete and his girlfriend Lisa) lacing up our boots and making last-minute adjustments to our backpacks at the start of The Kepler Track, a 60km tramp in Fiordland National Park, in the South Island of New Zealand. Ahead was four days of backpacking through alpine mountains and beech forests, from summits to sandy shores, where we would be bathed in sunshine, battered by wind, and dampened by rain.

Kepler Track Day 1

Alpine tarn, Kepler Track Day 1

Our walk began from the door of our hotel in Te Anau. What better way to start than straight from the breakfast buffet station, no driving, no more procrastinating. We picked up our hut passes at the Doc centre en route, a little way outside Te Anau. The weather forecast looked promising, which was all I was hoping for at this stage. Day Two of the walk was the “alpine” day, when we would spend all day above the treeline, crossing some of the ridges of the Jackson Peaks. As long as the weather permitted us access to the higher mountains, and our walk could proceed as planned, I would be happy. At this stage, all looked good.

The route followed the shore of Lake Te Anau to Brod Bay, with the beautiful Murchison mountains as a backdrop (see the first photo), before beginning a long climb through beech forest, eventually emerging above the treeline and finishing at the Luxmore hut. The sun shone, we sweated our way uphill in shorts and t-shirts, reaching the hut around 5pm. The views that opened up as we emerged from the forest were spectacular, at once justifying the effort needed to reach that point.

Sunset from the Luxmore Hut looking out over Lake Te Anau

Sunset from the Luxmore Hut looking out over Lake Te Anau

The Luxmore hut was pleasant and comfortable (as were all the huts on this walk) when judged by the standards of some prior trips (when we’ve been known to sleep on the snow slopes of Mt Blanc in a blizzard sans tent for example). It’s been a while since my last hut trip (I think the Swiss Alps in 2011?) but, as often at mountain huts, it had a welcoming, convivial atmosphere (although, beware of the “socks-ygen”, as the hut warden Peter informed us, from 30 pairs of fruity hiking socks, that would also be present in the atmosphere if we didn’t open a few windows and ventilate the dormitory that night). I was dog tired at day’s end, but insanely happy to be in the outdoors again.

We woke to a slightly different forecast which, rather unsurprisingly for this region (one of the wettest on earth), predicted rain and stronger winds. No bother we thought! We had all the right gear and it certainly wasn’t too dangerous. We would be just fine, with a dollop or two of old-fashioned stoicism.

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Panorama from the Kepler Track over Lake Te Anau

“A bit breezy on top, maybe a bit damp too” were the words of the hut warden as we left. Typical understated Kiwi humour. It was indeed a bit breezy (reaching 100km/h we were informed at the next hut!), which made for a rough-and-tumble sort of day and a well-earned dinner. The thick cloud scudded across the sky, revealing, hiding and teasing us with dramatic views of the mountains and lakes all around us. My brother and I made the short detour to climb Mt Luxmore, which was a relatively quick scramble to the summit and tremendous views over Lake Te Anau. We caught up with the girls at the Forest Burn emergency shelter, where we stopped for lunch and enjoyed a brief respite from the rain.

Summit of Mount Luxmore

Summit of Mount Luxmore, Day 2

Kepler Track Day 2

Kepler Track Day 2, can anyone spot Lexi in the photo?

Pete above the South Arm of Lake Te Anau

Pete above the South Arm of Lake Te Anau

The scenery more than made up for the weather. We felt ALIVE! The elements forced us into the present, the here and now, a coarser, more primitive existence for a day, no bad thing in our modern, tech-obsessed lives. I, for one, would not have traded places with anyone that day.

On the march

On the march – “a bit breezy on top”

Kepler Track Ridgeline

Fantastic views from the ridge line

A Kea

A Kea (the only alpine parrot species) outside the Hanging Valley Shelter – they are inquisitive, mischievous creatures

Descending off the ridge

Descending off the ridge

A series of stepped sections along the final, narrow ridge below the second shelter (the Hanging Valley shelter) felt slightly precarious in the wind, but we were at last safely below the treeline. What a day it had been. We still had several kilometres to go, down through the verdant Fiordland rainforest, where seemingly everything, except the odd twisted tree, was coated with moss.

Fiordland Forest

Twisted tree in Fiordland forest

Fiordland rainforest

Incredibly verdant Fiordland rainforest – moss was everywhere

Iris Burns Falls

Iris Burns Falls

The second half of the walk, from Iris Burns hut back to Te Anau, was of a different nature to what we had encountered so far. With the mountains behind us, we spent these final two days among the trees, where the landscape was measured in metres, not kilometres. The joy was in the detail, the vividness of the green mosses, the precise geometry of the fern fronds, the stark black of the tree trunks against the white misty backdrop.

Kepler Track Day 3

Misty rainforest, Kepler Track Day 3

Hiking through the rainforest

Hiking through the rainforest

Enjoying the silence and beauty of the forest

Enjoying the silence and beauty of the forest

Our third and final night on the track was passed at Moturau Hut, on the shores of Lake Manapouri. After a night in the mountains, a night in the forest next to a waterfall, it was fitting to finish with a night on the lakeshore with a sandy beach. After dinner we were treated to a sunset to remember. It began with some incredibly warm light breaking through under the cloud base, which had everyone scampering out of the hut and down to the beach with cameras:

Lake Manapouri Sunset 1

Lake Manapouri Sunset 1

The light kept improving as the sun’s rays filtered between the mountain tops, reflecting in the lake:

Lake Manapouri Sunset 2

Lake Manapouri Sunset 2

And the final act was the best of all, as the colours turned pink and illuminated a lone cloud over the mountains:

Lake Manapouri Sunset 3

Lake Manapouri Sunset 3

Our fourth and final day of tramping took us from the Moturau Hut all the way back to Te Anau. It was a straightforward day, with little up or down, through forests and along rivers. A mellow day of walking, giving us plenty of time to reflect and scheme up future adventures. The sun was shining and the team were in high spirits as we departed the hut:

The team at Moturau hut

The team at Moturau hut, start of day 4

Lexi headstand

Lexi couldn’t resist a quick headstand on the beach before we set off

Wire bridge

Wire bridge, day 4 of the Kepler Track

Amongst the ferns

Amongst the ferns

After four days, 60km of walking, three huts, two keas, two rare whios (blue ducks), more sunshine than we expected, amazing views and more ferns than you can shake a stick at, we were all too soon back in Te Anau. The walk had passed far too quickly, and I felt sad to be back in civilisation so soon! But we had more adventures planned for this trip (story of a future blog post) and this trek had been a wonderful four days with wonderful people, and for that I will always be grateful.

Kepler Finish

Kepler Finish – back at Te Anau, DOC office, and the end of the Kepler Track

Southern Shenandoah National Park Photos

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

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After a busy summer dominated by work it was high time for a weekend getaway to the woods. I’ve come to love the subtle beauty and rich woodland experiences that characterize any trip to Shenandoah. We had booked a wonderful cabin – High Laurel Inn – for the weekend. Situated on the edge of the National Park (the back fence of the property is the Park boundary!), it was the perfect spot. We could hike from our doorstep.

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Our home for the weekend

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The front of the cabin

Day 1: 14 September 2013 / Paine Run Trail and Trayfoot Mountain Trail Loop / 10 miles

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The leaves are turning; fall is on the way

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On the Appalachian Trail

The halfway point of the day’s walk was also the most spectacular viewpoint, the summit of Blackrock mountain:

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A contender for the best vantage point in the Shenandoah National Park perhaps?

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Me and Lexi on the summit of Blackrock

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Blackrock mountain summit panorama

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Onwards to our next summit, Trayfoot Mountain

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Snakeskin

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Yogini Lexi showing good form on the shoulder of Blackrock Mountain

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My own attempt

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Hairy caterpillar

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Beware of the Yellow Jacket Wasps on Trayfoot Mountain – I was stung 4 times after stepping on a ground nest on the trail. I can tell you they HURT!

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Wooded mountains

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Sunset from the balcony of the cabin

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Meet the locals

Day 2: 15 September 2013 / South River Falls / 8 mile out and back

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On the Appalachian trail

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Spot the caterpillar

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Looking down to South River Falls

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Humbled by the scale of it all

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South River

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Trail through the woods

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Lexi finds the clearing

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Wild flowers