virginia hikes: Stiles Falls – March 29, 2020

If you are looking for an easy hike that provides for plenty of cascading stream views, the hike to Stiles Falls provides for a high views to work ratio. So it is a great hike for beginners or kid friendly hike. But it is a busy one for those same reasons.

20_3_29_stiles_falls-12

The hike was closed shortly after we hiked here back in March, so I delayed in writing it up until now.

Read More

virginia hikes: Bottom Creek Gorge loop, November 3 2019

Foliage season is always a fleeting prospect. One day of bad weather and it’s all over. At least that’s how it seemed this year as a heavy wind storm with tornado advisory passed Southwest Virginia a few days after peak weekend. I headed out on the trails after the storm and found much of the foliage on the ground. At least Bottom Creek Gorge hike has some cascades and a waterfall to hold our attention.

11_3_bottom_creek-16

For weekly reports, you can also check out Virginia.org,  Virginia Department of Forestry reports, or Shenandoah National Park.

Read More

virginia hikes: Cascades Trail & Barneys Wall, October 26 2019

My first hike when I first moved to Southwest Virginia was to the Cascades and it is part of the typical initiation for Virginia Tech students to the area. Through my years here, I’ve hike this multiple times and it is different in each season. With peak foliage upon us once again, I headed back for another hike.

In comparison to my report last week in the Northern Park of the Shenandoah and earlier this week in the George Washington National Forest, the Cascades are further west and predicted to reach peak foliage earlier. And indeed, I hit the peak right on for the first time on this hike.

19_10_26_cascades-23.jpg

For weekly reports, you can also check out Virginia.org,  Virginia Department of Forestry reports, or Shenandoah National Park.

Read More

virginia hikes: Grayson Highlands loop, July 27 2019

My friends, Chris and Tori, had long talked about heading out to Grayson Highlands State Park to camp out and doing some bouldering. While my lackluster climbing skills and commitment to get better at climbing would steer me away from their bouldering activities, I said I would join them camping. One of my favorite hikes in Virginia is located in Grayson Highlands and I looked forward returning since my last trip out there was five years ago. I would go for a hike while they climbed. A sunny, but abnormally cool summer weekend at the end July finally motivated them to do the trip, so I couldn’t say no.

19_7_grayson-69.jpg

New lab member Natalie also joined us at the last minute, she had also been looking to hike in Grayson Highlands as well since arriving in Virginia.

19_7_grayson-40

Read More

virginia hikes: Jones Run & Doyles River loop, June 16 2019

Recently, I’ve driven up and down the I-81 corridor too many times. Usually it is during the night so I can avoid the worst traffic on the busy freeway. I was doing the drive this time on a Sunday afternoon, so I thought I’d break it up with a hike in Shenandoah National Park. It was the perfect respite on a hot evening.

Read More

virginia hikes: Roaring Run, April 7 2019

After finishing the Hoop Hole loop, I still had some day light. And unlike Hoop Hole, Roaring Run was a hike I had wanted to do, but could never justify driving out there for such a short hike. So this was a good opportunity for me to take a look at the well liked falls of Roaring Run.

Read More

virginia hikes: Hoop Hole, April 7 2019

Spring had arrived when I headed up to hike Hoop Hole. Flowers were in full bloom at lower elevations around Roanoke, so I decided to go for a hike one Sunday afternoon to see the bloomage on the mountains. Since I was by myself that day, I also was looking to explore something new. Hoop Hole is a well known local hike, but it was one that never really sounded that interesting to me before. Having put it off all these years, it did serve my explore mentality.

Read More

trip report: John Muir Trail, August 2018 – part 6, Onion Valley Trailhead to Whitney Portal

For many, Mt. Whitney is an emotional, spiritual, and personal final closing point of the three week long walking through the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the John Muir Trail (JMT). It is the tallest point in the continental 48 states and a symbol of one’s achievement through the struggles against nature and oneself. At least that’s the perception I have regarding others on the trail.

18_8_JMT_6_-167.jpg

I wish I have a grand conclusion to these trip reports about my JMT finish for you, but I just don’t. I’m sorry if I’m making it sound anti-climatic. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to have reached it and I enjoyed the views from the top of Whitney upon the surrounding peaks and the desolate valley of granite below, but I wouldn’t say it was anything different than just another day of hiking.

Perhaps I was emotionally fulfilled already now that I’ve once again returned to my familiar hiking position of following Meg’s butt on the trail; perhaps it was that I would to continue to do so in Peru immediately after this; perhaps it was because my experience of the physical challenges on the JMT was relatively mild for me; perhaps it was because I took zeros back in society to recharge; perhaps I didn’t think the view from Mt Whitney was the best I’d seen ever or even my favorite on the JMT; perhaps it was because I didn’t finish at the same time as Chris, Cindy, Diana, Bob, Jack, John, Alex, Steel, Mallory, Jean, and other new friends I met along the way; perhaps it was the a-hole who tried to rush us off the of the summit of Whitney just so he can have the summit to himself to camp at; perhaps it was my annoyance at the a-hole for an hour after leaving the summit; or perhaps it was the seemingly never ending and pointless switchbacks before our finish at Whitney Portal.

All of these statements were true, but really the key, I believe, was simply that the day I hiked Mt. Whitney and finished the JMT was just as typical as any other day on the trails I’ve hiked around the world. The experiences I had on this last day was what I expected and continue to look forward to in the future on my never ending thru-hike. But that’s not a negative, because I am a hiker and I am fulfilled by hiking. Regardless if it was the final day I spent on my JMT hike, I was happy doing something I like and will always continue to do…

and then write insanely long “magazine style” trip reports of it. Hope you don’t mind the load time. 🙂

This is part 6 of my JMT trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.

Read More

trip report: John Muir Trail, July 2018 – part 5, Muir Trail Ranch to Kearsarge Pass/Onion Valley Trailhead

A key aspect I’ve highlighted (part 3) about hiking alone on the John Muir Trail (JMT), or traveling alone in general, is that you are not really alone. You end up meeting new friends at places you camp or major stopping points like Red’s Meadow, Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR), and Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). You may end up hiking with them or see them multiple times over the course of your hike, forming trail families (tramilies). When traveling, you end up at hostels where everyone shares your attitude of explore the city or town so it’s easy to make new friends and explore together.

While that social component is very much present on the JMT, there is still plenty of solitude you will experience at part of your hike. This solitude for many of us gives us the opportunity to reflect and gain that aspect of self awareness that we may not have the chance or time to do in our busy and noise everyday lives. Nothing like the sound of your feet crunching the trail mixed in with nature’s soundtrack of rushing water and singing birds to allow you to get lost in your own mind. It can also literally get you lost on the trail when you are so in the zone that you miss trail markers, which may have happened in an early part of this trip. Solitude is a huge part why I hike and I’d say a beneficial quality of hiking. With the uncertainty of my career during this later portion of my graduate studentship, solitude and reflection was something I looked forward to. This is also why I don’t typically listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music when I go out for a hike and I’d recommend that everyone start off hiking without those either.

18_7_JMT_5-1000-4.jpg
Who needs meditation when the granite walls of the JMT can provide all the solitude you’ll need.

However, feeling lonely is also common as a solo hiker with so many more days on the JMT and other thru-hikes than a typical backpacking trip. Even though I looked forward to the solitude of are part of this hike, I also reached that point of loneliness. For me, this is part of the reason I can never see myself doing any of the long distance thru-hikes such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and Appalachian Trail (AT). Of course, the point that we feel lonely and the aspect of how each of us deal with it is different. Commonly, this is where the audiobooks, music, and podcasts are a welcome distraction.

My solution these past 7 years is, of course, Meg. This was the first hiking-centric or backpacking trip I had taken in a long time without her due to circumstances out of our control. That unpleasant loneliness served as a reminder of what is truly important in my life. And within that, I learned the axiom to help guide me through this uncertain point in my life.

This is part 5 of my JMT trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.

Read More

trip report: John Muir Trail, July 2018 – part 4, Red’s Meadow Resort to Muir Trail Ranch

Throughout my hiking career, there are always days that just does not go your way.

It didn’t go my way when my hiking partner abandoned me on the Tour du Mont Blanc when we had missed the correct trail. I was never more miserable on our aborted attempt up to Long Peak where I didn’t get enough sleep, probably felt altitude sickness, and was shivering uncontrollably in the little rocky hut at the keyhole. Getting sick also brought our first attempt at Ausangate to an end. The thought of “what did I get Meg and I into,” crossed my mind several times when we flew 2 days down to Torres del Paine only to walk through a consistent downpour where visibility was a minimum to begin our trek. That kind of weather would return to greet us on our first time through the Huemul Circuit, but added to the sopping rain was one of the steepest and most dangerous downhills on slippy dirt I’ve every hiked down. Staying in Patagonia, “Oh No” and several other words of anger were spoken when we accidentally snapped a pole in our tent on the O-circuit, but at least it was near the end of our hike and it worked out. The other time our tent pole was snapped in the Lofoten Islands by crazy winds brought our hike to an end. The panic that threatens to wash over me when we realize we were lost in a snow covered terrain during a way too early season hike of the Walker’s Haute Route is not pleasant. Neither was slogging a full day through soft snow, post holing with every step, also on the Walker’s Haute Route. Nor was trying to skip going up a snow field by going further ahead to the next lodging only to be dumped on my a thunderstorm … yes on the Walker’s Haute Route. That hike had quite the experience now that I think of it, it’s a wonder Meg stuck around after that.

When I started writing this, I did not anticipate a trip down memory lane of the most terrible days we’ve had on the trail. However, these are only a portion of the overall hiking experience. An reflection Arnold and Becky had about backpacking in the earlier part of my trip was that it consisted of 60% suffering and 40% benefits. That specific ratio can be argued, but tolerating the suck is a necessary part of achieving the awesomeness in hiking or really anything worth doing.

All those terrible, no good days that one can experience during a hiking career can emphasize all the negatives and can push us emotionally past that point of quitting. But it is hard to make sounds judgements after those kind of days while in the state of low moral. I’m not sure where I heard this, but if you are ever thinking of quitting something after a bad day, don’t make that decision until you’ve had a goodnight sleep and a fresh mind. If you still feel the same way in that refreshed state, then you truly know that is the right choice.

While the John Muir Trail (JMT) during the peak season is relatively tame in comparison to some of my other experiences, there are times when the trail will test your tolerance. The section between Red’s Meadow Resort and Muir Trail Ranch was the section that tested my tolerance the most.

18_7_JMT4-162.jpg
A professional fly swatter you’ll find on the JMT, trying to enjoy the view.

This is part 4 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.

Read More