Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Compton Peak/Skyline Drive

On Sunday, we took advantage of the really beautiful weather to go down to Skyline Drive and hike from Compton Gap up to Compton Peak and have lunch at the top. We picked this hike because it is only about two and a half miles in length with only 800 feet of elevation gain, fairly flat for this part of the world. Given how out of shape we are, this is all we needed to bite off on this particular day, especially since I spent the last two nights working the front of the house at the restaurant and running constantly.

Glen Manor Vineyards From Above
We stopped at a couple overlooks on our way to the Compton Gap parking lot, including the Gooney Manor overlook, which looks straight down onto Jeff and Kelly's winery. I shot them this picture from the road and they invited us to dinner, but we were already back in Winchester by the time we got the invite.

Rocks, The AT has Rocks
From the parking lot, we headed south down the Appalachian Trail and up Compton Peak. The going up the hill was slow at times as we were walking on loose rock in many places. Still the AT through Shenandoah National Park is one of the flatter and better manicured sections.

View Northwest from Compton Peak
Near the top, a small trail crosses the AT, the one branch going to the rocks at the peak in about two tenths of a mile and the other branch going down a very steep slope to a rock formation with no view. We sat in the breeze on the rocks at the peak and ate our picnic lunch: some peanuts and dried cherries, a little Mezzo Secco Monterey Jack from Vella Cheese Company, a couple slices each of two different salame, and the last few pluots of the year.

American Mountain-Ash
At the top, I saw a small tree/shrub that was similar to a sumac in full fruit, but I know how to identify all four kinds of sumac that grow in this part of the world and this was not one of those four. The leaves were slightly wrong and the fruit was all wrong. Sumac fruit does not look like Nandina berries as this does. This is the American Mountain-Ash, Sorbus americana, cousin to the European Mountain-ash that is often referred to as the Rowan.

Columnar Basalt
At the other end of the trail, which I visited while Ann rested at the crossroads on the AT, is a large basaltic rock formation which when viewed from the bottom displays what geologists call columnar jointing. Basically, when certain types of lava cool, they shrink and the shrinking causes them to crack in vertical columns. The columns are roughly hexagonal or pentagonal in shape. Each of the columns you see here is about half a meter to two-thirds of a meter in diameter. The honeycomb shape is unlike anything I have ever seen before.

The climb down was steep and the climb up was worse! As I neared the AT on my way back up the hill, I could hear Ann talking animatedly with someone. It turns out that a thru-hiker and his dog had stopped for a few minutes on their way north. It seems to me that he must be pretty far behind schedule, given that most folks are aiming for the halfway point at Harper's Ferry by July 4th. He is still 3-4 days out of Harper's Ferry more than a week into August. He's going to have a hell of a hurry to get to Katahdin before Baxter State Park closes for the season on October 15th. He might make it yet: he came blowing by us a few minutes later at nearly a jog, a good 4-5 miles per hour.

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