Long trek in SNP

April 17, 2009

If it takes me this long to put a hike down in writing, it must have been a doozy. Last Sunday I did a long route in Shenandoah National Park, covering about 12 miles in seven hours.

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In the past I’ve enjoyed hiking in the South District near Browns Gap, but I took another look at an area map and identified what I thought would be a leisurely hike. The route I marked involved parking at Loft Mountain and taking Patterson Ridge Trail down to the valley to meet up with Big Run Portal. From the Portal I would link back up with the Big Run Loop to the Appalachian Trail and then trek back up to the Loft Mountain area.

In a nutshell – all went according to plan, but phew… what a day.

Patterson Ridge Trail is a nice walk, but the usually sloped sides on either side of the path limit the views and present little opportunity to find wildlife. The trail itself is about three miles long and can get a bit monotonous at times. However, due to extremely high concentrations of hair-filled scat (sorry, no easier way to say it) I’d wager that there is a large population of predatory mammals in that area. What exactly they are, I’m not sure. If anyone is a scat expert… I’ve got pictures. I’ll spare the rest of you.

Big Run Portal Trail was great. There is a diversity of environments and a number of water crossings (about four). Along the route I saw deer grazing beside Big Run. Quick – find the deer in this photo!

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The number of crossings slowed me down a bit and I hopped from rock to rock, trying not to land on any slippery spots. At one point I did get a bit of a shock when I accidentally frightened a hawk that I didn’t know was nearby. I’m unsure of the species, but it was about twenty feet away on the ground and quickly jumped into the air.

Elsewhere on that path, I wandered to the bank and noticed some forms in the water that turned out to be tadpoles. I watched them a little bit and was impressed with their size.

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Along the Big Run Loop Trail I didn’t see any of the same abundance of birds like I did last time. All in all I was pretty disappointed with that section on this hike.

And on an unfortunate note, as I leaned against a rock to rest for a while, I scanned the area and noticed this guy looking back a me:

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They’re back…

By the time I’d gotten to the Appalachian Trail, I was already sore and still had a few miles to go. I saw little on the trail, but did make a decision – I think I like doing these circuit hikes in a counter-clockwise direction as opposed to my normal clockwise routes. Why? Well, when I start early in the morning and go in that direction, the sun is to my back and remains that way for most of the day. Usually, my eyes start to feel strained from a day of brightness in the face.

Finally back at the car, I rested a while. I’m glad I did it, but seven hours of walking is more than I usually do. I also walked away with a few images.

There was still time left in the day, so I cruised to Big Meadows and checked out the tadpoles from last time, but they were in about the same state. Little was seen in the Central District and I headed out as the sun began to dip behind the mountains.

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