Thursday, June 07, 2012

Pleasant Evening Strolls

At 5:15am I awoke late with the first inklings of dawn touching the east facing aspect of the mountain.  Out the door in 15 I headed towards the other job, not the guiding that I love, but the filler, the one for the days I have off, work to pay the bills and for the days people bail.  Pleasantly cool for early June and with perfect clouds it was a good 10 hours of  hard work.  Afterwards I couldn’t bring myself to go to the indoor climbing gym as planned, it was just too awesome outside. I tried to rally some friends to hit up the local crag for a few outdoor routes before dark.  No one was available and upon arriving home I next tried to settle into the rocking chair on the front porch with a book and a cup of joe, but there was this nagging desire to squeeze more from the day.

I had zipped through most of the book (Tim Tebows’ Through My Eyes) the day before and the few remaining pages would not keep me occupied for long.  Tim is a man of faith, a football player, an interesting read, and a man of action who pushes himself.   I finished the cup and got out the map at 6:45pm.  I didn’t just want one of my routine trail runs.  An objective was found in an off trail sub-peak close by which I had never summited.  By 6:53 I was carving the cool evening air on the motorcycle and headed toward the park.

I parked the bike and got a gut check as I looked into a wall of nearly impenetrable Mountain Laurel due west of me.  The plan was simple, from the appropriate parking spot pinpointed on the map I would bushwhack (traveling off trail) roughly less than a mile flanking the side of the mountain, basically staying at the same elevation, basically due west.  It was 7:28. 

I decided to call and tell someone my trip plan even though I had a flashlight, food, water, first aid, decent cell reception, and the temperature was too warm to allow any really dangerous epics.  Just then a park ranger and friend pulled up.  Normally I would never do this to a ranger but he is a friend so I gave him a quick rundown of the plan and told him I was aiming to be back out in roughly an hour and a half.  He looked at me like I was crazy, said he was “on till 10” and warned me about the ticks. 

Off into the thicket I kept the pace fast, ducking and weaving the burnt Mountain Laurel (from a fire in the winter of 2010-11) the thick new growth and the spiders webs.  Making good time through difficult undergrowth I checked the map often and felt good.  I was also a little anxious as I realized I was now on the clock not only against the sun but also against the time I told my ranger friend I was planning on returning.  I chastised myself for giving him such and early return time as the last thing I ever want is have any ranger worry about me! 

About one third of a mile in, the forest eased up a bit with the ruthless Mountain Laurel, but the easiest and most due west path was pushing me down in elevation and, according to the map eventually would hit a gully with a stream.  I would then have to then climb up a steeper section to find the top.  I kept a weary eye out for snakes and tried to stay high on the hillside at my chosen contour interval.  Despite my efforts I eventually got sucked into the gully and into the home of one of the bushwhackers arch nemeses! 

In the wild and dangerous mountains of the Shenandoah (as in any of the worlds great ranges) there are certain objective hazards one must take cautions to avoid.  The number one objective hazard in SNP is of course the tick, Rattlers and Copperheads probably rank next and the list goes on to include, falls, exposure, spiders, and possibly Bear.  But there is another danger  that lurks in wait.  It’s a plant that brings the pain.  Bushwhackers of jungle fear the thorns, in the northern temperate rainforest they know the Devils Club, in the desert, the cactus and here we have the Stinging Nettles.  Yes, we have Thistles, thorns, and of course the famous Poison Ivy but these are usually easily avoided.  Nettles grows in patches, large patches, not easy to skirt little ones like thorns or PI.  These patches cover the entirety of the area so they are impassable without touching the stuff.  They tend to grow in gulleys and creek beds like the one I had entered.  So what do Stinging Nettles do? They sting ya.  Right through a light pair of pants like those I wore.  It’s not a terrible sting like a ground hornet, more like a sweat bees’.  Like a swarm of sweat bees.  The upside is that the sting, the itch and the rash go away in about thirty minutes.  There are two approaches; try to pick your way through carefully and get stung anyway, or wade right in and weather the swarm.  Not willing to backtrack, and pushed for time, I waded in.  Probably should have stayed home on the porch! 

Shortly thereafter I was headed up the hillside with an itching burning all over my legs but the Nettles behind and my summit approaching.  At 8:04 I was alone on a rounded summit in a pleasant wood with Black Cohosh flowers standing tall among the undergrowth and long shadows being cast around. 

Deciding to go out a different path was an obvious call and I set a new trajectory towards the Appalachian Trail which would add roughly a half mile of trail time but would shave a quarter mile of the bushwhack.  This change would also avoid the gully and hopefully the dreaded Nettles.  I did see an Owl, I didn’t avoid the Nettles.  In the waning light I bushwhacked right into them and they Nettlewhacked me right back.    Finding the AT I was pleased with my little adventure which turned out to be about a 2 mile loop and a enjoyable (mostly) experience.  It ended at about 8:45. 

As I cruised the cool and winding road out of the park I was blessed with one more gift in the form of a Bear  crossing the road ahead of me.  Clothes in the wash and freshly showered I finished my book as I ate my dinner, knew I would fall asleep quick and tired just as I like. 

 The little summit with a nice Black Cohosh flower getting ready to bloom in the foreground.

 From a totally different type of evening stroll, the type that is actually a stroll, a deer sits in the grass of Big Meadows.

An interesting recent climbing shot while pulling rope for the clip.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Over the Abyss

In Shenandoah we climb on the meta-basalt of an ancient volcano with one hundred feet of exposed lava from the ages long past under our feet. A sweeping vista of large green trees extends 3000 feet below. A cool breeze carrying a heavy fog flows up from the valley and the view goes from muted, to ghostly, to gone completely. The climbing then belongs only to the space directly adjacent to our hands and feet and limited field of vision. The abyss below is gone and the mind wonders whether fifty feet of stone have passed or was it five hundred? And then it's the top!
The climb was exhilarating and it feels like this...

If climbing over the abyss isn't for you, there are plenty of other things to see on the side of an ancient volcano.

 Climbing over the abyss West Virginia style.  So much fun.

One  more from the top of Shenandoah.
Site Meter