After weeks of mild weather, winter hit with a vengeance before Thanksgiving, unusually early for this part of the world. Even though we were forewarned of 30-40 mph gusts and ambient temperatures around freezing (to say nothing of wind chill), we reasoned that this storm presented us with a good opportunity to give our gear a true winter shakedown. This will be Ann's first winter hiking and I took a thirty-five year hiatus, with all my gear getting disposed of in my divorce, so I am in the process of re-equipping and remembering old tricks. It proved to be a good tune-up for us both.
|Brave Smile Facing the Howling Wind|
Even as we made our way south down I-81 to Woodstock with me holding on to the steering wheel with two hands trying in vain against the raging gusts to stay in my own lane, we could see light snow on Signal Knob and the Massanuttens to the east and on Little North Mountain to the west. What we couldn't see were the snow squalls that we found ourselves in heading up route 675 to Wolf Gap. When we arrived at the Wolf Gap camp ground, ours was the only car in parking lot. When does that ever happen at this most popular of destinations in the George Washington National Forest?
|Ours Was the Only Car in the Lot|
|We Hiked Both Tibbet Knob and Mill Mountain Trails|
Four layers up top was just about right. With the wind, we never stopped to remove any layers. I regulated my temperature with my hood, beanie, and buff. At one point in the pine woods coming back down off Tibbet Knob, I actually took my gloves off for a quarter mile before we hit the winds screaming through Wolf Gap.
Starting our trek, we hiked off through the snow south in the direction of Tibbet Knob. I love to be the first one to break trail in the snow. It gives me a chance to see all the animal tracks before they get stomped on by humans. I remember one time climbing Sharp Top at Peaks of Otter and seeing both bear and turkey tracks in the snow. Alas, we were not the first on this trail. Somebody with huge boots on had walked the trail in both directions before us. We did not see this person or anyone else until we met a threesome on the way back down from the peak.
|Walking in the Snow|
|Tibbet Knob in the Distance|
|Looking Northeast from Tibbet Knob Trail|
|Snowing Below Us|
As the trail heads westerly over the north flank of Tibbet Knob, it suddenly makes 180-degree switchback to the east before starting a much steeper climb to the south and the summit. We missed the switchback in the snow and continued on a game trail for about 75 yards before realizing that the mountain laurels were starting to choke the trail. We were not the only ones to have made this mistake: from the bootprints in the snow it was clear that the guy who went before us made the same mistake. I took a couple of minutes to drag some brush up to block the wrong turn. The switchback is probably obvious without the snow, but maybe this will keep other parties on the correct trail.
Toward the top of the climb, there are two short rock scrambles that make for an interesting day. This trail is not super kid friendly, but it is certainly not technical either.
|Annie Working up Through the Rocks|
|The Second Rock Scramble|
|Panorama From Summit of Tibbet Knob|
|The Entirety of Trout Run Valley|
|Back to the Wind; Long Mountain Behind|
|Striking a Pose; Big Schloss Behind|
|Camp Site at Top of Tibbet Knob|
|It Was Cold: Two Hoods and a Balaclava Cold|
|Descending; Big Schloss Ahead|
Our min-feast of wraps of sliced ham, arugula, and hummus flavored with piquillo peppers and Spanish chorizo hit the spot. We didn't dare stay in the car too long and overheat, though I will say that the temptation was there. In the campground, nowhere on any of the sign boards are directions to the Mill Mountain/Big Schloss trail head, but I reasoned it would leave out of the back (the northern end) of the campground and sure enough, it was trivial to find.
|Heading North from Wolf Gap|
There are great views all along the ridge now that the leaves have fallen, views to the east of Little Sluice, Little North Mountain, and stretching way out into the distance, the Massanuttens and the Blue Ridge.
|Annie Shooting a Panorama|
Ann and I compared notes along the trail about our clothing because part of our reason for being out in crap weather was to shake down our equipment and make any necessary changes for winter. We both found our butts and the fronts of our thighs to be cold through our convertible hiking pants. Ann was uncomfortable enough to want an underlayer under her pants, but I was not. It would need to be a bit colder before I haul out the silk longjohns.
I typically like to use lightweight Merino wool glove liners for hiking, but they kind of sucked on this hike for two reasons: they don't block the wind and they are pretty much useless on the more technical rock sections. I love them because they are super light, easily packable, and I don't like my hands to be too warm. But on today's hike, fail. I picked up a couple pairs of cheap Spandex running gloves for windy weather. We'll see how those do.
And my Merrell Moab low hiking shoes are not what the doctored ordered. I have been looking for replacement boots for a while now and have just about honed in on a pair, which are now hopefully on order. The ventilated low shows are good trail runners for quick summer green tunnel hiking on smooth dirt trails, but I was really worried about keeping them dry in the snow. In addition, the soles are too flexible and I get rock fatigue after about 10 miles on our typical rocky trail. Coupled with no protection on my ankles (this is an issue of rock scrapes, not support) and the fact that lows become dumping grounds for all kinds of trail trash necessitating stops to clean them out, I'm switching back to a boot.
|Damn, It was Cold!|
|Approaching Big Schloss from South|
|Totally Random Trailside Cairn|
|The Bridge to the Schloss, Rocking in the Wind|
|Annie Surveys the Valley|
|Photographing Her Boots|
|Boots on Old Schloss|
|Fossilized Something or Other|
|Looking North at Halfmoon Mountain|
|The Schloss from the Bridge|
The trip back was uneventful and we even ran into two couples and a mother with two teenagers coming up the trail as we were coming down. By 3:00, it was getting late in the day and the sun was obscured by clouds; it was getting colder still. If I were headed up to the Schloss with only two hours of daylight left (why would I do that in the winter?), I would have plenty of clothes with me and a headlamp for sure. It never ceases to amaze me how unprepared some people are, though from my time in Blue Ridge Mountain Rescue in college, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.
Back at the Jeep at Wolf Gap, we headed west down off the mountain through the Trout Run Valley to Wardensville (a gorgeous drive along the creek) where I finally got a phone signal and could check the weather. At 3:30 in the afternoon as we sat in the warmth of the bar at Lost Mountain Brewing, we could see the snow squalls outside and it seemed like the weather was beginning to deteriorate. I would not want to be the woman in sneakers with just a raincoat and no hat going up to the Schloss with two boys.
Back to the matters at hand. They were out of pale ale, so I had to settle for black ale instead. And instead of the usual hikers post-gaming it at the bar, Sunday it was just drunk hunters taking Sunday off from their tree stands. We met a couple of real characters there before we took our leave to climb back over Great North Mountain to Winchester.
|Cold, Windy, and Getting Worse|