Tag Archives: Woods

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 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.

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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.

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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

A walk in the woods II: Shenandoah National Park 2013

After the success of last year’s inaugural Spring walking trip to the Shenandoah, and with family members visiting from the UK again, it was time for the 2nd Annual Spring walking weekend in Shenandoah National Park. This year our merry party consisted of yours truly, my girlfriend Alexis, my mum and her boyfriend, Dave. After a busy start to the year, with little opportunity to escape the city (apart from an early trip to Cape Town), I was yearning to get back to basics and immerse myself in nature again.

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View west from the Jewell Hollow Overlook

Day 1: Cedar Run Falls and Whiteoak Canyon Falls loop

Walks in the Shenandoah National Park still feel novel to me, a sort-of upside-down walk for someone accustomed to starting out at the base of a mountain and ascending to the summit. Thanks to the scenic Skyline Drive, a 105 mile road along the rooftop of the National Park, most walks begin at the high point of the day before descending off the ridge.

Sure enough, today’s walk began at the day’s highest point, before descending the steep and wild Cedar Run canyon, passing cascade after cascade, and culminating in the Cedar Run Falls itself, our “summit”, if you will. Of course, reaching the “summit” necessitated a lunch stop (a habit from UK hillwalking days where folklore has it that on any given hill in Britain, in any weather, at any time of the year, one will find a fellow walker proclaiming how pleasant it is whilst tucking into a home made sandwich). Our return route climbed gently up Whiteoak Canyon, where there are a number of impressive waterfalls and good views.

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Descending down Cedar Run Canyon

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Frequent river crossings were the order of the day

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We weren’t the only ones enjoying the sunshine – a Northern Water Snake catching some rays. I seem to average one snake sighting per trip at the moment – Australia 2012 and Shenandoah 2012

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Waterfall in Cedar Run Canyon I

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Waterfall in Cedar Run Canyon II

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Toothed mushroom – Sarcodon imbricatus – in the undergrowth

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Yellow Poplar – Liriodendron tulipifera – trees along the trail

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A hop, skip and a jump and you’re across

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Cedar Run Falls – check out Lexi in the bottom right corner for idea of scale

Day 2: Knob Mountain and Jeremys Run Loop

A longer 12 mile loop traversing the ridge of Knob Mountain and returning along the valley floor, with frequent river crossings of Jeremys Run. It felt like we had the park to ourselves today; it wasn’t until we hit Jeremys Run that we saw another soul. Up on the ridge of Knob Mountain we saw plenty of (fresh) bear scat. We were all excited (and slightly nervous) by the prospect of a potential bear sighting but sadly they remained elusive on this occasion.

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The closest we came to a “view” from the wooded summit of Knob Mountain

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Robust marker posts pointed the way

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Synchronised on the balance beam, crossing Jeremys Run for the 37th time* (*best guess)

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Jeremys Run

Day 3: Hazel Falls

A shorter, rainy walk to visit Hazel Falls, described as a suitable inclement weather destination on account of the large cave next to the falls. I can attest to it being a dry and welcoming harbour from the elements.

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Lexi still smiling despite the rain

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The team with Hazel Falls in the background

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Hazel Falls I

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Hazel Falls II

A walk in the woods: Shenandoah National Park 2012

A selection of photos from our inaugural Spring walking weekend in Shenandoah National Park, Memorial Day weekend, May 2012.

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View over the Shenandoah National Park

Day 1: Along the Appalachian Trail to the summit of Mary’s Rock

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Introducing Lexi, on the Appalachian trail

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Introducing Mum, on the Appalachian trail

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Views over Shenandoah National Park and the valley

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An Appalachian Trail hut

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Signing the Trail register

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Look bear scat! Although no sign of any bears this time.

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View over Thornton Gap from the summit of Mary’s Rock

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Reading the guidebook to see what’s next

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On the trail

Day 2: Falls of Overall Loop

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On the trail


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A rather large snake (about 7ft long, possibly a Black Rat Snake?) blocks our way, only reluctantly slithering away after we stamped our feet for a while

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Cooling our feet in the river

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Me sitting at the outlook

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Me and Lexi at the outlook, with Virginia’s mountains in the background

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Overall Run Falls

Day 3: Robertson Mountain

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A young deer calf

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Summit panorama from the summit of Robertson mountain

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Summit celebration

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Customary lunch break on the summit

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We had these beautiful views all to ourselves, not a soul around

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Wilting in the afternoon heat

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Soaked by a late afternoon thunderstorm, less than a mile from the car