Tag Archives: hiking

Lessons learned from an 11-year-old

Bearfence Mountain, Shenandoah NP

Atop Bearfence Mountain.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We got the last space in the parking lot. My 11-year-old grandson and I were beginning a hike in nearby Shenandoah National Park.

We had trudged this trail with his entire family a couple of years ago. This time the two of us would do the trek on our own terms and in our own time. Clearly, though, we wouldn’t be alone. The warm sunshine and cool temperatures drew many others to hike in the perfect weather.

I carried snacks and water in my multi-pocketed vest I mostly used for birding and photography. I packed extra batteries for my camera given my history of digitally documenting every step of the way. Davis carried the binoculars.

Our ascent began as soon as we crossed the roadway. Soon we joined the Appalachian Trail that winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains. A stone marker with a metal band identified where our loop trail and the main trail split.

We indeed encountered other hikers, some early birds who were on their way down, and others like ourselves who were ready for the rocky trail ahead. As we climbed, we always had to watch our step. The trail consisted of dirt, stones, terraced steps formed by exposed tree roots, and huge rocks.

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Ascending the summit of Bearfence Mountain is more of a rock scramble than it is a climb. For an 11-year-old, it was child’s play. For a creaky-boned, gimpy-kneed grandfather, it felt like survival.

I struggled to pull myself up the jagged boulders that served as the ridge-top trail. Undulating, rocky outcroppings intermittently protruded above the surrounding forest of oaks, maples, sassafras, wild cherry, and dogwoods.

Davis, on the other hand, bounded catlike up, down, and around the biggest boulders. Rectangular dabs of baby blue paint clearly pointed the way over the exposed bedrock and through narrow crevasses and the many trees. When I dallied, either to catch my breath or to take a photograph, Davis retreated to make sure I was keeping up.

During an easier section of the trail, Davis surprised me with a hiking theory he had developed. He said a team of hikers required five different people.

“You need a photographer,” he said, “who is last in the group because he or she is always taking pictures to document the trip.” I appreciated both his astute observation and his subtle hint at picking up the pace.

A hiking team also needed an explorer to guide the group and who usually took the lead, he continued. I think he had found his calling. The other skilled positions included a writer to record and report about the trip once it is completed, a carrier to tote the equipment, and a collector who gathers samples to research after the expedition.

I thought his comments both profound and practical. However, I quizzed him about the obvious. Weren’t the two of us already doing all of those tasks?

“Oh, yes,” he said. “I guess you’re right. But it’s still easier if you have five.”

As we enjoyed the expansive views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and ate our snacks, other hikers joined us. Butterflies danced in the forest openings and sunbathed on lichen-covered rocks bordered by wildflowers and bright berries. Davis, of course, kept practicing his hiking team concept by being the explorer. He disappeared and reappeared at will.

I didn’t need to ask my grandson what he thought of the day. Davis’ enthusiasm spoke more ardently than any words could. He had enjoyed the outing as much as his pooped Poppy.

Bearfence Mt., Shenandoah NP

The explorer and the photographer.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, family, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Reflections along a mountain stream

autumn leaves, back lighting

Backlit leaves.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Recent rains made the sparkling mountain stream joyfully sing its way through the sylvan hollow to the broad valley below. The late morning sun’s reflection shimmered as the cold water rushed over and around ancient boulders.

I had driven to this little paradise on the advice of my daughter. She recently had hiked with her family a trail that crossed the creek and scaled one of the precipices of the old, rounded Blue Ridge Mountains. I wasn’t that ambitious.

I was content to drive the 22 miles out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to the end of Port Republic Road to enjoy a morning stroll. I took the much easier firebreak road that shadows the meandering stream.

Stepping stones across the usually placid braided stream broke the trail my daughter took. Today the stream roared rather than lapped its way into the valley.

The native brown trout had to be happy to play in other pools for once. I was happy, too.

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The temperatures warmed as the sun rose higher above the foothills. The shedding oaks, maples, dogwoods, sycamores and quaking aspens filtered the sun’s splay. Sunrays backlit the remaining colorful leaves. They glowed against the drab earth tones of tree trunks, ferns, and long shadows.

The creek drew me down from the road to its shallow banks. Sapling undergrowth made the way tricky, but not hazardous. I was surprised by both the speed of the stream’s flow and the water’s clearness, especially after recent steady rains. Weeds and reeds normally rustled by the wind swayed submerged.

In the shade, the cooler creekside temperatures chilled me. I didn’t linger there for long.

I returned to the more inviting sunny, well-maintained service road. At times, the stream ran against the narrow berm. In other places, the road curved slightly north while the creek twisted south and out of sight, but never out of earshot.

No car horns, no train rumbles, no jake brakes, no jetliner noise overhead, no boom boxes interfered with the numerous natural sounds. A fox squirrel skittered from the road to the safety of a tree trunk as I approached. It barked at me, and I shot it with my camera.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Up ahead, birds flew across the firebreak. To keep my load light, I had left the binoculars in the vehicle. Fortunately, the birds sat still even as I quietly approached.

I smiled at sighting my first of the year Dark-eyed Juncos, freshly arrived from the Canadian tundra. The flash of their outer white tail feathers against their slate-colored revealed their identity.

The mountain’s granite core stood exposed from time to time. Whitish-gray outcroppings reflected the morning sun both at manmade cuts and in natural talus slopes. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the latter if the massive rock pile decided to slide.

Soon hikers a decade older than me approached from the opposite direction. We bid each other adieu, and I asked them how far the road reached.

“Ten miles,” they said, “But it’s an easy walk to the top,” referencing the mountain. The road ended at the Skyline Drive. I took their word for it.

A few trails flared off in either direction. I was content to stay the course for a while before returning to the car for lunch under the noonday sun.

The earthy fragrances, the laughing stream, the vibrant colors pleasantly seasoned my simple fare, which was only right. It had been a sumptuous morning in every aspect.

mountain stream, Shenandoah NP

Sparkling stream.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Rejoicing with others along life’s variable journey

Seneca Rocks

Seneca Rocks, WV. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat on the picnic table for nearly two hours admiring the scenery and serenity all around me. I hadn’t planned on staying that long. Life’s events have a way of altering your plans.

The previous day I had safely delivered our granddaughter back to her parents in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. On the way home, I wanted to hike up the enchanting Seneca Rocks, one of the best-known landmarks in West Virginia.

I had previously taken several photos of this fascinating rock formation that juts straight into the sky. But I never had time to climb it. I did this trip.

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The switchback trail to the viewing platform at the north end of the ancient rock outcropping extends a mile and a half. In that short distance, the trail climbs 1,000 ft.

The cool morning was perfect for my adventure. An overnight cold front had cleared out the heat and humidity.

The trailhead began at the restored home of an early pioneer settler. A tour of the Sites homestead is informative and interesting. I could have been satisfied to watch the dozens of butterflies that flitted around the bee balm. But I had come to hike.

I only walked a few yards when I came to a pedestrian bridge that crossed a delightful river, the South Fork of the North Branch of the Potomac River to be exact. The stream’s lengthy name didn’t do justice to its placid beauty.

Once across the rock-laden river, the switchbacks began. I was more surprised about the excellent condition of the trail than its sudden steepness. A light breeze kept the insects away as I forged ahead beneath the leafy canopy high overhead.

It was comfortable walking in the shade of both the forest and the quartzite cliff, thrust upright from its original horizontal position millennia ago. I had the trail to myself until some early morning hikers passed me on their way down.

I made it to the viewing platform in 40 minutes. The sun’s strengthening light bathed the valley below and the mountains beyond. The businesses, houses and vehicles all looked like toys.

Just as I stepped onto the viewing area that protrudes away from the rock face, a southwest breeze picked up. Soon Turkey Vultures began to soar on the developing vortexes. I glanced back down to the river to discover an adult Bald Eagle had also started to circle in the quickly warming air. In just a few elongated loops, the magnificent bird was high above my head.

I think I smiled all the way back down to the car. I moved to a shaded picnic table to rest and eat the light lunch I had packed. As I ate, I scanned the still shaded western face of the Seneca Rocks with my binoculars.

Instead of birds, I found first one, then three, then 10 rock climbers scaling the huge, craggy outcropping. I was entranced.

I sat beneath a shade tree observing these men and women pick their way up this sacred place. One brave guy didn’t even use ropes.

I waited to leave until all had made it safely to the summit. I admired their courage, their determination, and their adept skills.

I was pleased to have walked to the top and back. It was even more satisfying seeing these remarkable folks reach their destination. They celebrated their perilous journey with fist pumps and shouts of joy that echoed far across the valley into my soul.

reaching the summit

Celebration time. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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A stranger who quickly became a friend

Anna Ruby Falls, mountain man, hiker, friend

Our new friend, Gary. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I had already taken several photos of the beautiful double waterfalls in remote northeastern Georgia. We had no idea the Anna Ruby Falls were even there until a resident of nearby Helen, Georgia encouraged us to go see them.

Little did we know that we would discover more than gorgeous cascading mountain streams on our brief side trip into the highlands of the Chattahoochee National Forest. We encountered much more than natural beauty.

It was an easy but exhilarating walk on the paved path from the parking lot to the base of the roaring waterfalls. A pair of convergent streams formed Anna Ruby. Together Curtis and York Creeks thundered with the melt from a recent heavy snowfall.

As we turned to retreat down the half-mile path, a mountain man appeared on the eastern hillside. Amid the mature hardwoods, dormant laurels, and granite outcroppings, he gingerly descended the slippery path with his walking stick to the base of the falls.

The man had a long, full flowing beard, a partially buzzed head, tattoos, wore a hiker’s kilt, and lugged a loaded backpack. He also had a smile that wouldn’t quit. It was clear this man was serious about his hiking.

Though the day was cool, this middle-aged man was sweated from his strenuous trek across the countryside. He had found the falls more by accident than a destination. He had incorrect directions.

We introduced ourselves, and the friendship was on. Gary shook hands with us. I took his photo with his phone camera. Gary said I was the first person ever to offer to take his photo. I liked the guy already. When I heard the rest of the story, I liked him even more.

Gary had been in the military, was from northern Michigan, had a wife and four children, and served as a minister. He was on a personal quest to hike the Appalachian Trail, or AT as the pros refer to it.

And just like that, Gary was off to find the closest AT trailhead. On our way out to the main road, we spotted our new friend walking. We offered him a ride, and Gary gladly jumped in.

We were glad he had, too. It was six miles, mostly uphill, to where he needed to go. That gave us just enough time to get further acquainted. He lived in Michigan’s cherry country. We lived in Ohio’s Amish country.

As he exited our van, he pulled out a postcard addressed to his family back home and asked us if we would mail it. Why, of course, we would do that. We deposited it at the next post office we came to miles down the mountain.

Imagine our surprise when a few days later Gary’s lovely wife, Nicole, called to thank us for helping her wonderful husband, and for mailing the card. I had given Gary my business card, which is how Nicole got my number.

Nicole asked for our address. Gary wanted to send us something for helping him. I told her that wasn’t necessary, but I complied with her request nonetheless.

A few days later a weighty little box arrived in the mail. I couldn’t wait to open it. Chocolate covered cherries, cherry jam and other cherry goodies filled the gift box. It was quite the surprise.

I’m glad we didn’t hesitate to give Gary a ride that day. I think the friendship will last longer than the chocolate covered cherries did.

Anna Ruby Falls

Gary viewing the falls. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Finding gratitude from on high

fromjeffersonrockbybrucestambaugh

The view from Jefferson Rock of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There are times when a life experience far exceeds our expectations.

I had just such an encounter recently on a junket my wife and I made to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in extreme eastern West Virginia. This tiny, old town had played a small but important part in our country’s big history.

On a precipice 800 feet above the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, more flowed together for me than two charming waterways. I had previously seen scenic shots of historic Harpers Ferry from this vantage point in Maryland, and had fancied a few of my own. I departed with more than picturesque photos.

The beauty of the bright morning itself was stunning. I basked in the warmth of the morning sunshine looking down on history. The strengthening sun drenched the charming village in a golden wash. It was a map come alive where famous Americans had all made important imprints on our country’s checkered history.

confluencebybrucestambaugh

A Great Blue Heron preened in the morning light at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.

The three-mile hike from Harpers Ferry to the overlook was exhilarating. A hint of haze hung above the surface of the churning rivers on the cool morning.

My goal was to arrive at the scenic overlook opposite the town as the day’s sun rose above the Appalachian foothills. I crossed the footbridge, a part of the Appalachian Trail, which paralleled the bridge of the railroad tracks. The tracks split at the town and followed the two majestic rivers, one south, the other west.

Once across the Potomac, its melodious rapids singing all the while, the Appalachian Trail followed the river and the old C & O Canal east. I walked west along the towpath to the trailhead that led up the rocky, forested hillside.

I couldn’t imagine how soldiers, Confederate and Union alike, had muscled heavy artillery up these steep slopes. Massive rock outcroppings protruded everywhere beneath the hardwood forest. The rich greens of mountain laurel and cedars complemented the coloring leaves of the mixed deciduous trees.

I arrived at the overlook in less than an hour. The view, as Thomas Jefferson once declared, “was perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature.”

As I sat on the cool rocks I looked down on the spot where John Brown had made his ill-fated raid in 1859. I envisioned Jefferson, George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and all the others who had made their lasting marks there striding along the slanting, narrow streets.

Harpers Ferry was a strategic town in the Civil War since it housed the federal arsenal. Both armies occupied the town intermittently during the war. It was the sight of the largest surrender of United States troops in the Civil War.

Behind me birds of the forest searched for breakfast amid golden, backlit leaves. Carolina Wrens, chickadees, cardinals, robins, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches and Brown Creepers scavenged the forest floor and trees.

A Black Vulture sailed west above the Potomac just off of the cliff. A Red-shouldered Hawk, its black and white striped tail fanned out, glided east. Beneath me a freight train rumbled through the tunnel, across the bridge and whistled past the old station.

I had gone up to the sheer cliff for some pictures. I came down with a renewed spirit of gratitude for all that has transpired and will transpire in my life, in our lives.

Together we have a lot for which to be grateful this Thanksgiving.

harpersferrywvbybrucestambaugh

Harpers Ferry, WV from the Maryland Heights overlook.

© Bruce Stambaugh

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A valuable, universal gift for all to enjoy

onthetrailbybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Smack in the center of our bucolic county is a gift that can be enjoyed by all. The Holmes County Trail is a golden thread that symbolically intertwines the east and the west as one.

lovelyscenerybybrucestambaughNow December may seem like a strange time to be writing about hiking and biking. When we have a gem of a trail in our midst it isn’t. Despite living in northeast Ohio where the weather is as fickle as its politicians, township trustees excluded, the trail is a year-round treasure for hikers, bikers and birders alike.

The trail ties Holmes County’s two cultural and geographic regions together through more than its central location. This multipurpose ribbon of assimilation serves as outdoor gym, nature center, photographic paradise and transportation route all in one. Many people, local residents and visitors alike, utilize those undeniable attributes.

Though the trail has been open for awhile, it has only been in the last couple of years that I have begun to fully appreciate its value. I bike and hike the trail for the obvious reasons. I need and enjoy the exercise. The trail, however, provides so much more than physical workouts. For 15 miles from Fredericksburg to Killbuck, enigmatic landscapes of steep wooded hills and low marshlands with grasses, reeds, wildflowers, wildlife, ponds and estuaries abound.

killbuckmarshbybrucestambaugh

The Holmes Co. Trail runs through the Killbuck Marsh, an important wildlife area and fly way for migrating birds

Whether cycling or walking, memories flood my old brain much like the murky waters of the streams overwhelm the old-age valley after a summer deluge. Traversing where locomotives once chugged and whistled through the heart of the county invigorates the body, mind and soul. Truly its worth spans far beyond any personal physical or mental gains.

telegraphpolebybrucestambaughHistoric and aesthetic reminders of railroad days appear occasionally along the way. The weathered, wooden arms of long-abandoned telegraph poles still stand. Girders of old iron bridges that once ferried locomotives pulling passenger and freight cars continue as supports for the trail to cross the many tributaries that feed the mother stream.

The old railroad bed that once conveyed products between Ohio cities has a renewed and appreciated purpose. Families leisurely stroll the paved path on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Casual and serious bikers alike zoom along the trail’s smooth, gentle gradient at preferred paces. Horses and buggies pass safely from home to store with no motorized hindrance.

strollingandridingbybrucestambaugh

Horses keep to one lane and bikers and hikers the other on the Holmes Co. Trail.

I am never surprised but always pleased by what I discover on my encounters along the trail. In the spring, pleasing pastels of plants, flowers and trees unfurl, and lyrical sounds of migrating songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl and birds of prey fill the precious marshy flyway. In the shaded tree tunnels along the route, summer’s highlights include meeting fellow bikers from near and far who have come to enjoy the beauty of this special pearl.

youngredtailedhawkbybrucestambaugh

A young Red-tailed Hawk took flight along the Holmes Co. Trail near Fredericksburg.

Besides its rich, changing colors, the fall brings the joy of discovering a clamorous gang of crows spooking a bald eagle from its comfortable roost. Just down the way, gnawing beaver have encircled a cottonwood to the point of marveling that the tree still stands.

I have yet to experience winter on the trail. With the first fluffy snowfall, that will likely change.

As seasons come and seasons go, old friends meet and new friendships form along the blissful trail. Of all its intrinsic qualities, perhaps this virtue is the trail’s greatest gift to those who choose to unwrap it.

mothergooseandgoslingbybrucestambaugh

A Canada Goose gosling follows its mother through the marshy water along the Holmes Co. Trail.

familyonthetrailbybrucestambaugh

Families enjoy all the Holmes Co. Trail has to offer.

summeronthetrailbybrucestambaugh

North of Holmesville, a road parallels the trail.

redbarnbybrucestambaugh

The views from the Holmes Co. Trail are beautiful and ever-changing.

fallalongthetrailbybrucestambaugh

Fall is especially nice along the Holmes Co. Trail.

goldenthreadbybrucestambaugh

In the fall, the Holmes Co. Trial really is a golden thread.

holmescohomebybrucestambaugh

The Holmes Co. Home is visible from the trail.

fieldcornbybrucestambaugh

Crops like field corn and soybeans also add to the variety along the trail.

killbuckcreekbybrucestambaugh

The trail follows the Killbuck Creek most of the way from Holmesville to Killbuck.

olddepotbybrucestambaugh

The old depot in Killbuck marks the southern-most part of the Holmes Co. Trail.

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Horses are required to stay on one side of the trail for obvious reasons.

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The old railroad bridges still serve their purposes along the trail.

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The trail cuts through a variety of topography while maintaining a level ride.

millersburgdepotbybrucestambaugh

Though not in its original location, the Millersburg depot serves as the hub for the trail.

killbuckmarshsunsetbybrucestambaugh

The Killbuck Marsh is both a valuable wildlife habitat and a photographer’s haven.

The Holmes Co. Trail has several access points. They include from north to south Fredericksburg, Holmesville, Millersburg and Killbuck.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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In search of the elusive morels

morels

We found this nice assortment of morels "in the woods."

By Bruce Stambaugh

This time of year, where two or more are gathered together in the world’s largest Amish population, there is certain to be a conversation about mushrooms.

Not just any old mushrooms either. We’re talking morel mushrooms, commonly referred to as sponge mushrooms. They can be gray, yellow, brown and even black. Regardless of hue, they’re all good as far as I’m concerned.

After all, once you taste your first morel, you’ll realize they are better than ice cream. That might be because they are harder to find than ice cream. You can’t just go to your local grocery story and buy a pound of nicely packaged morels. Finding them takes effort.

Instead of talking about finding mushrooms, a friend, my son and I put our words into action. We went in search of the elusive, edible fungus. Everyone has their favorite spot to hunt mushrooms. Usually, it boils down to where they were found in previous years. In our case, we headed up a steep hill and into the woods. For the record, it’s a morel sin to ask exactly what woods.

We walked carefully over the spoil bank where my foody son picked wild garlic, across a lane, and down a slope to a deer stand that guarded a placid, clear stream. However, at some point prior to our arrival, the creek had been angry. Rocky, silted debris littered the grassy flats where I had found the largest mushrooms last year. Pretty pink lady’s slippers took their place.

We gingerly made our way through the tangles of downed trees, briars and undergrowth. We headed back up hill, into large sandstone boulders covered with delicately textured lichens and mosses. The last of the spring beauties still blossomed here and there in the sunlit woods, still without its canopy.

The woods grew thicker, the trees taller, and the forest floor more densely laden with last year’s leaves. Emerald patches of new life broke the brownish camouflage. May Apples, lovely lily of the valley and occasional flowering trilliums made refreshing appearances.

I wandered ahead of the others until a pair of unidentified birds winged overhead. Without binoculars, I struggled to identify them against the late afternoon sun. The birds flew off, one after the other.

I looked down, and there against an ancient and fallen, moss-covered elm was my first morel of the season. Before I bent to pick it, I looked all around for others. Mushrooms seldom sprout solo. But this decent gray was the exception.

I hollered to my partners, who were out of sight but within earshot. My shout was promptly returned. They were less than 100 feet away, on hands and knees carefully scouring for mushrooms.

I circled around and joined them. I sat on the leafy debris carpet, straining to find more. Soon I spotted one, but when I reached to pick it my son shouted again. My hand was about to crush another mushroom. That’s how hard these little fellows were to see.

As the even sun faded, woodpeckers still hammered out their territories. After three hours, we heeded their reverberating warnings and retraced our steps. In all that time, we had covered less than a mile.

But the season’s first mess of mushrooms was in hand. Not many, but enough for a luscious meal of the hearty, flavorful morels. Just one taste of these sautéed morsels made all the effort worth it. I tell myself that every spring when the talk of hunting mushrooms in Ohio begins anew.

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