April 18– up the Rag

Today, along with a mess of other Twin Oakers (and my 7-year old kid), I climbed Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah NP.  Saw lots of good stuff along the way.

But first a short digression– I have been slightly amiss in documenting the enormous azalea bush outside of ZK, which has over the past week grown hundreds of flower buds.  Just yesterday, they started to open, and this morning it was a lovely mass of pink flowers.  The photo I took of the whole bush came out all blurry, but this close-up came out quite nice. Image

Now, on to the climb, which started out foggy and drizzly.  The first mile or so of the hike took us through mist-shrouded woods, which looked to be a week or so behind the piedmont forests of Twin Oaks in their springtime blooming.Image

It turns out that my son was adept at spotting salamanders on the trail– he saw this one just as I was about to step on it, and got my attention just in time!Image

There were lots of fiddleheads and wildflowers on the trail; the most prominent was this mountain Trillium, which was in full bloom and was abundant on the lower stretches of the mountain.Image

Whenever the trail crossed a creek, the path of the creek was lined with these bright green cabbage-y type plants.  They look like they might have some lovely flower later in the season, but at this point they just provided a burst of color in the otherwise drab woods.Image

As we climbed higher up the mountain, the clouds and fog got thicker (or maybe it was just that we were climbing into the clouds), making for an eerie walk.Image

Just before the exposed, rock-scramble part of the hike, I came across this short, twisty pine tree, with tiny little purple seeds– I think they may grow into pinecones later in the season, not sure.  Mostly, I was drawn to their intense purple color, which struck me as quite novel.Image

Once we scrambled up the rocks and made it onto the summit ridge of the mountain, we were in the midst of swirling cloud, wind, and fog.  I’ve been up Old Rag a few times before, but never seen it like this.  The cliffs on top of the mountain were even more impressive, since you couldn’t see the bottom.  It was easy to imagine that they dropped thousands of feet down, rather than 50 or 60 feet.Image

I have to include a picture here of me and the boy on the tippy top of the mountain.  He climbed the whole thing barefoot and almost entirely without assistance–not bad for a 7-year old who until fairly recently was quite averse to walking! Image

There wasn’t much in the way of views from the top of the mountain, as we were pretty much socked in.  Every so often, the fog would lift just enough to get fleeting views of more rocks and cliffs along the summit ridge.Image

As we descended in the afternoon, the fog finally cleared away, and we got some nice views across to the main ridge of the Shenandoah (where runs the AT and the infernal highway).  This photo gives an interesting illustration of the various stages of springtime on the mountain, from “open leaves/full springtime” down along the valley to “no leaves/still looks like winter” up on the ridgetops.Image

As we got down towards the bottom of the mountain, I spotted my first black snake of the season.  Often I see a lot of snakes between mid-April and mid-June, and not so many over the rest of the year.  I’m always amazed at the way snakes are able to cling to vertical surfaces like this tree– how do they do that just with their stomach muscles?!?Image

Cute little snakey…Image

When we reached the trailhead at the bottom of the mountain, we had some time to kill while waiting for friends to come and pick us up.  Wandering around, I spotted several of these unknown attractive herby plants pushing up out of the ground.  I don’t know what they were, but liked the way the leaves are all spiraled up in the center, then push their way towards the outside.Image

And was also impressed by the beauty of this newly-emerging leaf.  Image

We returned home in the late afternoon, getting back to Twin Oaks just a few minutes before sunset.  After a day in the mountains, it was quite noticeable just how further advanced in the season the landscape around here is.  I’ve often had this realization while living in Virginia; that the mountains are impressive for having lots of unbroken public lands and lots of woods and trails, but that the actual woods of the Piedmont area are acre-for-acre, much more attractive.  I wish there were places around here where you could go on long hikes, but unfortunately it’s all patchwork of forest, farm, pasture, and suburban-type development, and it’s pretty much all privately owned.  All the more thankful for the hundreds of acres of Twin Oaks woods I have for exploring.

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One response to “April 18– up the Rag

  1. The little purple pine cones are pollen cones. They make pollen; they don’t grow into seed-bearing woody cones.

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