Trip to Hightop Mountain

November 28, 2008

View from Hightop Mountain

View from Hightop Mountain

Thursday afternoon I set out for a section of trails I hadn’t done yet, which culminated in a trek to the summit of Hightop Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.

I parked a short way over the bridge across 33 so that if the gate to the south side were to close my vehicle wouldn’t get stuck inside overnight. From there I crossed the street and entered the southbound Appalachian Trail.

Weather was great and so was the wildlife. Birds, chipmunks, squirrels and deer crossed my path along this part of the walk. I stopped frequently along the way and was able to make some good images as animals got more comfortable with me.

After the path crosses back to Skyline Drive you’re at the Hightop Mountain parking area. From here, it’s a moderately steep incline to the summit. This peak is the highest point in the park’s South District at 3,587 ft.

Along the way, I heard both owl and coyote. As I climbed higher, snow was still on the ground in places. The view to the West from the peak was great, and I had a meal up there and relaxed a while.

I was fine while I was up there, but I’ve discovered my camera starts to malfunction when it gets too cold… and it was acting up a bit.

I was able to observe woodpeckers at high elevation. During this project I’ve managed to photograph three species and have also seen a pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). Those are HUGE. At the time, I realized too late that it was there and it flew off before I could make an image.

On the way down, I found one mystery track. This is either a large dog, massive coyote or a possible mountain lion. Mountain lions are rumored to be in the park, and there have been unconfirmed sightings.

To give you an idea about the scale of this track, each of the 4 toes were about the size of a nickel.

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