A hiker’s treasured treks
Every hike is different, but some stick in one’s memory as particularly special adventures. It is usually something unexpected — a particular challenge on the trail or with the weather, perhaps the sighting of a mother bear with her cubs, an overlook that is flooded with the season’s glory — or maybe it’s simply the company, special time spent in the great outdoors with friends or family. I have several memorable hikes I’d like to share with you.
Blowdowns on Broad Hollow/Pine Hill Gap Hike
This past May, a group of us, with our dogs in tow, started on a moderate hike of about seven miles with a 1,600 feet elevation gain to enjoy the orchid bloom on Broad Hollow/Pine Hill Gap, hidden in a back corner of the Shenandoah National Park. Nestled between Old Rag, Catlett, and Hazel Mountains, the trail runs along Broad Hollow Run, which offers a pleasant set of cascades.
We knew that this past spring, with its unusual weather pattern, had sent tornadoes through the area, breaking trees in half and ripping others totally out of the ground, so we weren’t sure what to expect. However, when we arrived at the trailhead and saw the many huge, freshly-cut tree trunks of old growth hemlock and wild oak, we felt reassured and relieved that the trail had been cleared of all the blowdowns. We paused for awhile and stood in both awe and gratitude, appreciating all the hard work that had been performed by the volunteer trail maintenance crew.
At the halfway point of our hike, however, it was obvious that the blowdowns and debris had not been cleared from the entire trail. Our path was totally obstructed. With the results of nature’s fury on full display, we had to climb over or crawl under fallen trees, or bushwhack around huge root systems and through bushes. Struggling through this tangled mess challenged our physical strength and flexibility, but offered many hilarious pictures of hikers either stuck on a tree or belly-crawling under big trunks. There was a lot of laughter and shouting as we helped each other negotiate the wilderness.
Our return to the trailhead was slow and tiring, but we all knew this was a hike that was unlikely to be forgotten, even by our dogs, who had no trouble sleeping all the way home.
Torrential Rains on Duncan Knob
A sunny day with a cool breeze makes for perfect hiking weather. A grey and drizzly day, on the other hand, tends to accelerate one’s hiking pace in the hope of avoiding a potential downpour. However, for a multi-day backpacking trip with a heavy load on one’s back, the pace remains steady in the knowledge that there is no bad weather, only bad gear.
On a recent backpacking trip in the George Washington National Forest, a group of us tackled the wet and boggy trails on Duncan Knob Hollow. At times, we had to take our boots off to ford swollen creeks. By the time we reached the campsite, the clouds were getting heavy and dark. We pitched our tents and hurried up the rock scramble which led to the summit of Duncan Knob. We wanted to check out the vista before a likely downpour would rob us of its expansive views.
The rock scramble was fairly treacherous, but the breathtaking view from the outcrop at the summit made it all worth it. After a while, the first raindrops suddenly began falling, so we swiftly scurried and scrambled all the way down over slippery and wobbly rocks to arrive back at our tents. Our legs were shaking so badly when we got back that we all agreed that this was the last time we would ever hike Duncan Knob at that speed.
Huddled together under a tarp, we ate a cold dinner and rapidly retreated into our tents as the rain got stronger. By eight o’clock, heavy rain was pouring, and I was comfortably relaxing in the middle of my waterproof tent, reading a book. The steady prattling of the rain was making me sleepy, but when I reached for the pillow to go to sleep, it was sopping wet, and so was my quilt.
With a flashlight, I began to search for the location of the leak and discovered a small puddle of water on the tent floor. Lightning and thunder moved closer, and suddenly the rain became torrential, which enabled me to identify a couple of very small tears in my single-wall tent where water was leaking through. I began to apply repair tape and watched with fascination and dismay as the water found its way around every piece of tape I applied and into my tent.
The downpour continued unabated. I had used up all my repair tape, but water continued to drip relentlessly into the tent. When I noticed a similar tear at the foot of the tent, I decided to just get some sleep and let nature have its way. Wrapping myself in my poncho, I closed my eyes and floated off to a dreamland where I was soaking up the sun and drinking fancy cocktails next to a Caribbean swimming pool. By daybreak, the rain had finally stopped. For me, even though it was one long, arduous night, the exhilaration of making it through made this trip one of my most memorable hiking experiences. And, by the way, the tent company happily repaired my tent when I told them my saga.
Passing on a Legacy
Many years ago, I was hiking the blue-blazed White Oak Canyon Trail on a Sunday morning. Surprisingly, there were hardly any other hikers around. On a steep incline, however, I was overtaken by two young children holding hands who were seemingly alone and moving at a very fast clip. I looked behind me and eventually saw another hiker moving uphill. It was the mother of the two children. We shared the trail for a bit and I learned that the young hikers were four and six years old. Curious as to how she encouraged her children to become such energetic hikers she said, “It’s easy, we take our children on the trail every week. My husband is a Park Ranger and hiking as a family is part and parcel of how we bring up our children. Their father is waiting at the trail intersection up ahead, and we’ll all have lunch together.”
Being a hiking enthusiast, I took that to heart. Years later, when I became a grandfather, the first gift for the new parents was a child carrier backpack, with the promise that when my granddaughter turned three years old she would become my hiking buddy. And so it came to be that I experienced my most memorable hike, and the first of many to come with my granddaughter.
We all met at the trailhead of Conway Robinson State Forest in Gainesville for an ambitious two-mile trek. The obvious challenge was how to motivate a three year old to walk that far, and we fully expected our family hike to come to an end within half a mile. Luckily, Lady Boots, my patient Bernese mountain dog, started the hike by walking next to my granddaughter who, in turn, enjoyed “leading” her.
The sighting of squirrels, listening to bird songs, naming the colors of flowers, and spotting the trail blazes on the trees kept this three year old entertained and moving forward for about a mile. And then came a full mile of running and hiding behind trees to surprise her parents with excited shouts and laughter. As she started to tire, a few songs helped get the little hiker back to the car, and in minutes she was asleep for the ride home.
Of all my memorable hikes of hearty laughter, strong challenges, and exquisite beauty, this special hike with a very special three year old is my favorite to date!