Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Thompson Hollow/Beecher Ridge/Overall Run Falls

For our second hike of our 52 Hike Challenge this year, we selected a hike to Overall Run Falls in Shenandoah National Park, this time from the bottom at Thompson Hollow instead of from the top at Mathews Arm. Our route took us up the Thompson Hollow Trail to the Tuscarora Trail where we headed west downstream along Overall Run. After fording the creek, we climbed up and walked back east the length of Beecher Ridge, picking up the Overall Run Trail just below the Mathews Arm campground. We crossed the creek again and followed it to the falls and then down, down, down the steep trail off the mountain and followed the creek west back to the Thompson Hollow Trail, fording the creek twice more on the day.

Alone at Overall Run Falls
We got a late start on the day (I rarely sleep well after a hopping busy Saturday night dinner service) reaching the trailhead just outside Bentonville a few minutes before 11am. As we neared the parking area where the paved road ends, I could see a big REI van parked there and that did not bode well for getting some peaceful time on the trail. I've been a member of REI since 1978 and I know they're a good company, but I still don't want to hike with them or any other group for that matter. I was worried we were going to have another Gunther on our hands, trying to ruin our day. (To get the joke, you have to read the story).

Not a Good Sign: Almost Another Gunther
I'm really thankful that the private property owners in Thompson Hollow allow us to get to Shenandoah National Park across their property. The hundreds of signs screaming "Posted!" attest that this is not an easy relationship with the general public. And from the amount of litter trailside, I wouldn't want yahoos crossing my property either. The hike in to Overall Run and the Tuscarora Trail following the creek is about a half a mile. Right on the Tuscarora for a few paces brings you to one of the great swimming holes in SNP and the reason that so many people come to this area.

Water Screaming into the Swimming Hole
We were a solid quarter of a mile, maybe further, from the creek, slogging up the mucky approach trail when we first started to hear the creek roaring. It was clear from a distance that water was pumping through the creek bed, something that I fully expected given the nor'easter last Monday. When we got to the swimming hole off a short side trail, we met a family of four who were a bit perplexed in trying to locate themselves on their map. One glance at their map showed it was of Mathews Arm campground up on the mountain and didn't show the trail where they were hiking. I let them photograph my map.

As we were dealing with the map, up walked the group, a dozen or so strong, from REI. No matter how quiet these groups are, they are always loud. Ann and I beat a hasty retreat south down the trail to get some space between us and them. Fortunately, it appears that they went east directly to the falls and left us alone on the loop trail.

Small Fall on Overall Run
I assumed that fording the creek would be tricky and the volume of water pumping through at the swimming hole did nothing to contradict that feeling. When we turned left off the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail onto the yellow-blazed Beecher Ridge Connector Trail, we came almost immediately to the creek. The stepping stones were nearly all under water. We bushwhacked upstream to find a better location and I got across with only a tiny bit of water over the cuff of my left boot. Oboz Boots 1, Overall Run 0.

A few minutes up the trail, it got a bit chillier and I put my beanie and gloves back on. And soon it began to flurry. Nearly to the top, just below the campground, Annie and I pulled up on a fallen tree and ate lunch. I surprised Annie with a Z-seat on which to park her buns. At 2 ounces, it is a luxury item that I am always willing to carry.

Lunch was well earned. My wraps always taste good, but after a long climb, sitting in the cold on a log looking out at the mountains with snow flurries whipping around, they taste awesome! Today's wraps were aged goat cheese, pork terrine, hummus, and microgreens. After I get out of the cheffing business, I am going to miss access to all these great ingredients on a regular basis.

Trailside Lunch
Just below the Mathews Arm campground, we picked up the Mathews Arm/Overall Run trail that quickly forded the creek. We have hiked this section before, but never before in almost total solitude. Another quick left brought us right back streamside as we worked our way down to the cascades.

Rock Hopping

Ice Formations
To have great falls, you have to have steep trails and you can see in the photo below the whitewater of the creek in the woods as Annie goes down the steps. She is only five paces from me, yet her head is way below my feet. The views of the creek in the winter are so much better than in the summer when the leaves block most everything.

Super Steep Headed Down to Falls

Ice and Whitewater
The lack of leaves and the lack of people caused us to linger a lot longer than we have in the past and I took advantage of that to play around with the camera a bit. Many of the professional photos of moving water that I see are really stopped down to give the water a milky, creamy texture. Apparently, people like that. It looks artificial to me because that is not the way my eyes see it. I shot the upper fall twice, once at f/8 where I normally shoot in this light and once again at f/20 (the max I could handhold in this light) just to see the effect. Judge for yourself. I'm going to buck the trend and not stop down when shooting water.

Upper Fall at f/8

Upper Fall at f/20
It was really great to sit atop the rocks looking at the main waterfall without other people scurrying about and kids shrieking in the creek. The falls are really impressive this time of year with the massive icicles hanging all along the cliff face. I never realized, with all the leaves on the trees, how sheer these rock faces are. This big fall at 93 feet is the tallest in Shenandoah National Park.

The Big Fall

Annie's Obligatory Boot Shot

Looking Out West From the Falls

Still Life with Pine Tree

Icicles on the Cliff Face
The descent from the falls down the Overall Run Trail was not fooling around; it went straight down the steep hillside for a very long way, only switching back and forth near the bottom. The descent was hell on my knees. The climb would have been tough on my lungs. I'm glad we did it in the direction we did, all things considered.

Down in the bottom following the creek downhill and to the west back towards the car, the trail is extremely intimate with the creek. At times, it seems that the trail really is part of the creek bed as you can see in the photo below (or can't see to be more precise). If there were not a blue blaze, you would not guess that this is a photo of a trail. Suffice it to say that sections of the trail along the creek are very rocky and the worst sort of rocky, small, loose, and shifty.

There's a Trail Here?
Heading back to the car, we had to ford the creek twice more. On the first crossing, I got my right boot in the water with just a touch of water over the collar, not enough to amount to anything. Oboz 2, Overall Run 0. Fortunately, we had the gift of this nice log to get over the creek the fourth and final time.

Fourth Fording of the Creek
Although we did not see any animals at all, not even a squirrel or a minibear, we surely saw a lot of bear sign, this being one of the areas of highest concentrations of bears in the entire park. All along the creek, we saw where a bear had been through and destroyed a bunch of dead wood looking for insects. The tree in the photo below was just recently mauled.

We Saw No Bears, But...
We were glad to see the end of the trail, especially being a bit more tired than usual from not having been out hiking since the first of the month. The final half-mile hike out to the car through unlovely scrubland slogging through the mud not being a lot of fun. But finish we did, motivated by the thought of that first beer at PaveMint in Front Royal, only 15 minutes away. It was a Brothers Brewing Day. Annie chose a Maibock from them called Simple Pleasures, for me it was the Gaffer IPA.

While I was sitting at the bar contemplating which IPA to get I found a tiny tick crawling across my sleeve. I know we have had a warm winter, but I didn't think we needed to worry about ticks in January. Live and learn.

Seriously?!? In January?

PaveMint: Post-Hike Beers
It was a great hike, 9 miles on the day, in nearly perfect solitude with a few snow flurries and cold beer at the end! The only thing that could have made it better was a bit more snow while we were out hiking. I love hiking in the snow. Not to worry, we drove back home through some pretty raging snow squalls.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Luray Caverns

It's now the 26th of January and we have put in exactly one hike towards the 52 we wanted to get in this year. Weather and sickness are to be expected in January, I guess, but at this point, I am not seeing how we get to 52 hikes this year. We're going to keep trying though.

Sunday the forecast was for 100% rain, which barely materialized until Monday when the nor'easter was howling and blowing sideways sheets of sleet, rain, and snow, the storm having moved slower than the forecasters expected. In warm weather I don't mind hiking in the rain, except for days on end of the crap.What I do mind is hypothermia and that potential rules out most winter hikes in the rain. Sometime I will relate about bailing out of a week-long AT section hike from Springer Mountain to Fontana in December 1980 after four straight days of 35-degree weather and rain. Needless to say, given the forecast, we bailed on hiking this Sunday, for the third weekend in a row.

On Thursday, Ann and I were discussing what to do in lieu of hiking. She first suggested finding an indoor rock climbing wall and doing a little climbing, but that seemed kind of lame. Then she said, "What about Luray Caverns?" Well, duh! Over the past five years, the topic has come up time and again and I have always responded that we should wait for a rainy winter day. With the perfect weather forecast, I wondered why I didn't think of it first.

Can you believe that in all my years in Virginia, over 45 and over 25 in Winchester, that I have never been to Luray Caverns? It was definitely on my East Coast bucket list of things to do before we retire to the West Coast. I don't think there are words to express my sense of awe at seeing all the magnificent formations in the caves.

We took three cameras and these are the best photos from all of those. Without a tripod and some very fast lenses, it is impossible to capture the beauty down below the ground. Given that you are in a guided tour and are expected to keep up with the guide, there's no time for setting up a tripod and getting good photos.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


Monday night I was kind of hoping to go out, but Ann still isn't feeling well. I grabbed a couple of chicken thighs at the store on the way home to make some stock and ultimately a pot of jook, one of China's great contributions to the world. Jook is a rice porridge that hits the spot when you are not feeling well, such as when you have the flu, Irish or otherwise. Often served as a breakfast food, jook is used comparably in China to the way we use grits, porridge, oatmeal, or cream of wheat.

Jook with Zha Cai and Sesame Oil
Jook doesn't really need a recipe as it is merely rice overcooked in a lot of liquid and seasoned any way that you want. I use short-grained rice and a chicken stock-to-rice ratio of about 4:1. I'm not super good about measuring things.

2 quarts of chicken stock
8-10 slabs fresh ginger
2 cups of short-grained sushi rice
salt to taste

How you come by your chicken stock is up to you. I always poach chicken thighs or legs in water with a lot of slabs of ginger to get my stock, ginger being good for you especially when you are ill. Bring your strained chicken stock to a rolling boil and add the rice, stirring well. The rice will start to swell after a couple of minutes and I turn the pot way down low and walk away. Perhaps I will stir it every 20 minutes. 90 minutes seems to be about the appropriate cook time for the rice I use: the rice should no longer have any real texture. Add more liquid if necessary to yield a porridge in which a spoon will not stand. Season to taste.

You can garnish your jook anyway that you see fit. If I'm sick, I don't want anything in it. Otherwise, I like to garnish with some of the chicken meat used in making the stock, some sautéed shiitakes or some rehydrated black mushrooms, pickled mustard stems (zha cai), cilantro, and often, a drizzle of sesame oil.

Last night, I just went for a pile of zha cai, a bit of cilantro, and a drizzle of sesame oil. I think Ann just had hers with a pat of butter and some salt. Jook is a classic comfort/invalid food that should be in your repertoire.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Glen Manor Vineyards

And as for hike number 2 of our 52-hike challenge this year: Sunday afternoon saw a temperature of 15 degrees with windchill well below zero and Ann is coming off a really bad cold. She felt better temporarily on Tuesday and pitched me an 11-mile hike out in West Virginia, but I reminded her that with her cold and the weather, it wasn't a great idea. She started feeling worse later in the week and the hike got shelved pretty quickly.

I knew Ann needed to get out of the house after being tied to the sofa for a week, but for nothing too strenuous. On Saturday when it seemed she was getting better, I suggested Glen Manor so she and Kelly could catch up, and she was mainly agreeable, but Sunday morning, I could tell she was having second thoughts. I packed us a picnic lunch on Saturday so we could grab it and go on Sunday. We finally made it out of the house closer to 1pm than to noon and arrived to find our car the only one in the parking lot about 45 minutes later.

I had expected it to be slow, but not that slow. As we were catching up with Kelly two other couples and a threesome showed up, but that was it for the duration of the time we were there. I was hoping to catch up with Jeff, but he was hiking from the top of the vineyard to Skyline Drive and back. I was a bit jealous!

The Vineyard is Beautiful with Dusting of Snow

The Big PV Tasted Best to Ann

Terrine, Salame, and Cheese for Lunch

Putting on the Brave Face

Linguini with Clam Sauce

It felt good to get back in the kitchen yesterday, if only for a few minutes to make a late afternoon lunch of linguini with white clam sauc...