Saturday, July 12, 2014

Shenandoah Nat'l Park Hike - Hawksbill Peak

I'm slowly working my way through the hikes in this book, Best Easy Day Hikes Shenandoah National Park, 4th (Best Easy Day Hikes Series).

Hawksbill Peak is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park at 4,049 feet, and it's been on my to-do list for a few years now.  It's a fairly short loop hike (a little over 3 miles), totally doable for kids, and has spectacular views at the top.  I organized this as a group event for my church and it turned out really well.

Lesson learned the hard way:  There are TWO trail heads from the parking area.  

This was supposed to be a counter-clockwise loop that would go up slowly over about two miles, then come down a shorter, steeper route to the parking lot. 

Well, I got us on the wrong trail head and ended up going UP the short, steep route to the top, but then we had a nice leisurely hike back to the parking lot following the path clockwise instead.  As a result, here's what our altitude profile looked like:

One of my sons went charging up the hill and wasn't phased at all by the steepness.  The other moaned and groaned and I wasn't sure I was going to get him to the top without dragging him, but after a lot of cajoling him and distracting him with conversation we made it to the top.  When we got to the top and he looked out at the view of the Shenandoah Valley, he said, "THAT was worth it!"

My boys on top of Hawksbill Peak

Blunoz & Sons on top of Hawksbill

It was a gorgeous day!  Mid 70s and a light breeze was blowing.  We packed our lunches to bring with us, so we sat and enjoyed lunch there at the top with the splendor of the Shenandoah Valley before us.

Most of the trail is under the shade of trees.  (Picture by Jason R.)

The trails are well-marked with blazes on the trees.

Of course, I had to stop and admire the flowers along the way.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Paddle Log #34 - Potomac River from Point of Rocks to Monocacy

After waiting so long to get out on the water for the first time this season, I managed to get out on the water TWO weekends in a row!  Cha-ching!  Cha-ching!

Saturday morning, my friend Bill called up and asked what I was doing that day and if I wanted to go kayaking.  Heck ya!  We got a bit of a late start since we didn't leave until after lunch, but it was really nice out.

Point of Rocks boat ramp with the bridge in the background

We dropped our boats off at Point of Rocks (on the Maryland side of the Potomac River where Route 15 crosses the river), went and dropped one car off at Monocacy, and went back to get in the water.  It was a spectacular, gorgeous, sunny but not too hot day outside.  The boat ramp at Point of Rocks was fairly busy and the parking lot pretty full, but there were some open spots. 

Let the watergun battles begin!

Bill and his two kids and me and my boys brought our water guns along this time.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my waterproof camera, so there aren't many action shots to share.  I just have the pictures I took when I felt brave enough to take my cell phone out of its waterproof case.

His first time paddling solo!  I love how this picture turned out.

This was my 10-year old son's first time out solo in a kayak instead of riding tandem with me, and he did a great job.  Most of the day, he was way out in front of us and I was having to paddle pretty hard to keep up with him. 

Family Selfie

My 13-year old son has outgrown his Perception Acadia Scout, which is a kayak designed for small children, so his younger brother used the Scout while he tried a loaner Old Town Loon to see how he liked it.  He seemed to handle it pretty well, although he's not sure he likes how open the cockpit was.

Air temp was low 80s and water temp was a glorious 79.9F.  Without paddling, the water moved us downstream at about 2 mph (for reference, this was a a gage height of 2.0 feet and a flow rate of 4,600 cfs at the Point of Rocks USGS station).  It's about 6 miles from Point of Rocks to Monocacy, so it would take about 3 hours if you just drifted and didn't do any paddling.

The water was never much deeper than about 5 feet using my paddle as a probe.  At one spot, we stopped to stretch our legs and play in the water a little bit where the water was about 2 feet deep and clear enough we could see the bottom.

As usual on the Potomac, we saw bald eagles, great blue herons, butterflies, dragonflies, and fish, but without my waterproof camera, there's no way I'd be quick enough to pull my cell phone camera out to take a picture of any of them.

For the last couple of miles, the boys were tired, so I hooked up a double-tow line and I did all the paddling pulling the two of them behind me.  I gave them each a waterproof pad of paper and a pen.  In the past, they've used them for drawing pictures, but this time they each wrote a story.  My older son's story was a very long epic about his younger brother that made his brother mad.  My younger son's story was along the lines of, "Fred the fish was a a fish who hated kittens.  One day he woke up and discovered he was a kitten, so he killed himself.  The End."  Isn't that sweet?  :-$  Where does he get this stuff???


It's hard to see where the Monocacy River joins the Potomac River from upstream.  In the picture above, the Monocacy River entrance is right smack in the middle of the picture.  As you approach it, the tall stacks of the power plant downstream on the Maryland side of the Potomac become visible.  If you see those smoke stacks, you need to be working your way over toward river left to get out.

We made it!

As you can see above, you won't be able to miss the Monocacy Aqueduct.  It's very easy to see and identify from the Potomac.

There's a parking lot with a nice boat ramp and a port-a-potty just upstream from the aqueduct on the right side.  Oh, and then there's the Rocky Point Creamery for some ice cream on your way driving back toward Point of Rocks!  :-9

Trip stats from the GPS

Stats for the paddle log:
  • Date: Saturday, 5 July 2014
  • Time In: 3:07 p.m.Got a late start, didn't head up there until after lunch
  • Time Out: 6:23 p.m.
  • Elapsed:  3 hrs 16 min (based on GPS)
  • Moving Time (GPS): 2 hours 20 min
  • Stopped Time (GPS):  56 min
  • Mileage (GPS): 6.65 miles
  • Sea State: 0
  • Winds: 0 kts
  • Air Temp:  81F
  • Water Temp: 79.9F
  • Current:  2 mph
  • Tides: N/A
  • Avg Moving Speed (GPS):  2.8 mph
  • Max Speed by (GPS):  5.9 mph
  • Rapids?  None. 
  • Hazards?  Not much.
  • Kit: My youngest son on his first solo time in his brother's Perception Acadia Scout.  My oldest son trying out a friend's Old Town Loon.  I was in our Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL.  Flop hat, NRS paddling gloves, short sleeve shirt, swim trunks, scuba booties (for the rubber sole and to keep sand / rocks out).
  • Configuration:
  • Route:  Put-in at the Point of Rocks boat ramp and paddled 6.5 miles downstream to Monocacy River.  Took a left and paddled briefly upstream on the Monocacy River underneath the Monocacy Aqueduct to the boat ramp take-out.  
  • Other comments (such as wildlife spotted): Bald eagles, Great Blue Herons, butterflies, dragonflies, fish.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Paddle Log #33: Potomac River from White's Ford to Goose Creek

Catching up...

After a long, cold, snowy winter, the weather finally turned around, but I wasn't able to get out on the water until the end of June. It wasn't for a lack of trying, mind you. There have been three aborted attempts before this.

First, for Spring Break, we went down to Hilton Head, South Carolina. It was a wonderful vacation, but I wasn't able to get out on the water. I had reservations for a guided paddling excursion in the Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge, but that day there were very high winds and some significant chop on the water. The tour guide company cancelled the trip due to hazardous weather conditions.

Next, I was scheduled to do the Keep Loudoun Beautiful cleanup event on Goose Creek in May, but the crazy heavy rains we had the week before resulted in some local flooding and hazardous conditions on the creek, so the cleanup event got cancelled.

Then, I was scheduled to go with the Monocacy Canoe Club on a trip down Antietam Creek, but there were severe thunderstorms and rain forecast for that day, so we cancelled.

Plus, it seems like just about every Saturday we have SOMETHING going on, and Sunday we're normally pretty busy with church stuff.

Finally, this weekend we had the rare confluence of both an open schedule on Saturday combined with favorable weather reports, so we finally made it out onto the water.

 * * * * * * * * * * *

I was excited to see in the local news that the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) opened a new park with water access for canoes and kayaks at White's Ford.  Because it's a new park and new access point to the river, I wanted to provide some details of the logistics here for others who may be looking to try it.

DIRECTIONS!  Now, I didn't realize when I was on the White's Ford Park page, if you click on "hours and directions" it gives you directions how to find it.  I just plugged the address (43646 Hibler Rd, Leesburg, VA 20176) into my GPS and followed the navigation system, but it turns out that isn't the best way to get there.  My GPS had me go north of Leesburg on Rt. 15 and turn off on Rt. 661, which resulted in about 3 miles of bumpy dirt and gravel roads.  Fast forward to the END of the day when I was leaving White's Ford, there is a big sign at the park exit that tells you a better way to get back to Rt. 15.

For those of you looking to go to White's Ford, stay on Rt. 15 north until just before Lucketts, then turn right on Spinks Ferry Road.  That will keep you on pavement and get you much closer to the park.  You'll turn right on Limestone School Road and left on Hibler.  

There is enough parking for about a dozen or so cars.  There is no boat ramp.  There is no restroom or water or other facilities.  There are nice new wood steps and a wood ADA ramp from the parking lot down to the river.

White's Ford Parking

Steps from the parking area down toward the water.
The rail is there to slide your kayak down.

The steps don't go all the way to the water though.

For reference, here's how close the water is 
to the path at a Point of Rocks USGS gage height of 2.35 feet.

Trip Planning:
I foolishly thought I was going to park here, get on the river and paddle upstream aways, then come back and get out at the same spot.

Not so much.

Note this is a ford.  In other words, the water is shallow enough for General Lee and his army to walk across the river here.  So it's shallow, but must still accommodate the much larger volume of water in the deeper parts of the river, so here in the shallow part of the river, the water has to go faster to keep up with the overall flow of the river.  

As I arrived there on the river, a guy was taking his kayak out of the water.  I asked where he went.  He said he tried paddling upstream, but he just couldn't do it.  The water was smooth, but noticeably moving.  So we changed plans to go downstream and have my wonderful wife pick us up someplace.

Right after we got in our kayaks and pushed away from the shore, my GPS said we were moving downstream at 2 mph without any paddling.  (For reference, this was at 5,500 cfs flow rate and 2.35 feet guage height at Point of Rocks USGS station.)  I typically paddle solo around 3 mph, so I suppose I could have paddled upstream at a 1 mph over ground pace, but not with my two sons with me.

Heading out from White's Ford, 
looking downstream on the Potomac

IN HINDSIGHT, I see two options for using this White's Ford Park:

1.  Put-in upstream at either Point of Rocks 9.5 miles upstream or at the Monocacy River Aqueduct 3.5 miles upstream and get OUT at White's Ford.  The challenge would be the finding White's Ford.  You'll be moving through the area pretty quick on the current and there's not a lot on the shore to alert you to the location of the take-out.

2.  Put-in at White's Ford and get OUT downstream... but where? 
- White's Ferry 3 miles downstream will charge you a fee to use their facilities, and only river LEFT on the Maryland side.  They won't let you use their ramp on the Virginia side.
- Kephart Bridge Landing on Goose Creek 9 miles downstream.  This is what we did, and it worked out well until about the last hundred yards.  Goose Creek was at 200 cfs flow rate and 1.95 feet gage height at the Leesburg Goose Creek USGS station, and the water was very calm and easy to paddle upstream.  However, about a hundred yards from the take-out, the water got too shallow and there were too many small rocks and ripples for us to paddle any farther.  We had to get out and walk on slippery rocks pulling our kayaks behind us to get to the take-out where my wife was waiting.  I slipped pretty bad and landed pretty hard with a big rock in the middle of my lower back.  I'm lucky I didn't break anything.  In hindsight... not so smart.
- Note:  There is a very nice dock for taking canoes and kayaks out right at the mouth of Goose Creek, but that is part of a private gated community.  You won't be able to use that unless you have access to the gated community.
- Algonkian Regional Park 14 miles downstream, which makes for a pretty long day on the water.
- I'm not very familiar with the Maryland side of the river, so I'm not sure if there are any other opportunities to take-out on that side.

All that being said, we had a very nice trip (except for the part where I slipped and banged my lower back on a rock on Goose Creek).  It was a gorgeous sunny day in the low 80s, and the water was fantastically warm at 81F.

We dragged our feet in the water for a while, and got out a few times to stretch our legs.  Most places the water was only a few feet deep and you could see the bottom.  When we stood up in the water, the fish were nibbling at our ankles and toes.  It tickled and it was fun to watch.

We saw bald eagles, great blue herons, white egrets, deer, butterflies, and dragonflies, and then...

...I suddenly had an urge to eat more chikin.

Thankfully, my awesome wife came and met us at White's Ferry and brought us lunch from Chick-fil-a.  We sat on the side of the river and ate lunch together before continuing our trek toward Goose Creek.
This is where the water got too shallow on Goose Creek for us to paddle any farther and we had to get out and walk to the take-out ahead on the left of this picture.

Stats for the paddle log:
  • Date: Saturday, 28 June 2014
  • Time In: 11:17 a.m.
  • Time Out: 4:10 p.m. (based on time-stamp on my camera)
  • Elapsed:  4 hrs 40 min (based on GPS)
  • Moving Time (GPS): 3 hours 33 min
  • Stopped Time (GPS):  1 hour 7 min
  • Mileage (GPS): 10.12 miles
  • Sea State: 0
  • Winds: 0 kts
  • Air Temp:  78F on the car when we parked climbing to the low 80s
  • Water Temp: 81F
  • Current:  2 mph at White's Ford, nearly still in deeper / wider parts of the river.
  • Tides: N/A
  • Avg Speed (GPS):  2.9 mph
  • Max Speed by (GPS):  5.3 mph
  • Rapids?  None. 
  • Hazards?  Not much.
  • Kit: My youngest son and I in our Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL, and my eldest son in his Perception Acadia Scout.  He's almost too big for it.  Flop hat, NRS paddling gloves, short sleeve shirt, swim trunks, Keen Newport sandals.
  • Configuration:
  • Route:  Put-in at the White's Ford Regional Park and paddled 9 miles downstream to Goose Creek.  Took a right and paddled a mile upstream on Goose Creek to the Kephart Bridge take-out.  
  • Other comments (such as wildlife spotted): Bald eagles, Great Blue Herons, white egrets, deer, cows, butterflies, dragonflies, fish.