Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Who needs snow shoes?

What a day! While I didn't end up camping out in the snow like I was thinking I might, I did still get out to SNP with Matthew and our dogs for a long trail run/hike in the snow. It was raining when I rolled out of Greenbelt at 5:30am Saturday morning and snowing by the time I got to Markham where Matt's house was; a good sign for our run since a rainy started would have made for a much colder day on the trail. The dogs got along well from the get go and we made our way to Front Royal and the start of Skyline drive where we hooked up with the Dickey Ridge Trail around 7:30.

Once on the trail we settled into a steady jog over what was maybe a quarter inch of wet snow on the ground. The trail essentially parallels Skyline up to the AT, climbing almost the entire way from the starting point around 600 feet above sea level. We kept up a good pace heading up, running when we could and hiking when we couldn't. The snow was beautiful and I found myself surprisingly comfortable in the cold conditions.

The snow kept falling the entire way and was building fast on the ground as we broke fresh tracks along the deserted trail. Early on I saw some sort of animal which we decided was a coyote after coming up on some small paw looking tracks though we later decided it must have been one of the dogs' tracks and a deer, with the dark brown winter coat that I had glimpsed through the snow. The climb was otherwise uneventful though beautiful with the fresh snow blanketing everything in sight. At the only lookout point of the day the view was unfortunately blocked by the snow and fog surrounding the mountains but the continuous scenery we passed was good enough to make up for it.

Upon reaching the intersection with the AT, Matthew made the suggestion we not bite off more then we can chew and head back down the trail to the car. Realizing he was right and that going on any further would be somewhat foolish, we turned around and began heading back down the trail. We topped out at around 2500' and since somewhere around 1700' before a tough, steep and technical quarter mile climb to our meeting point with the AT things had gotten substantially colder.

We grabbed some food and then picked up the pace a bit to try and warm up again, which we succeeded in doing after dropping back down the long climb. The warmth lasted for a bit before a breeze came through and kept us cool for the remainder of the trip down.

At the point we turned around we'd probably been shuffling through about 6 inches of snow and the whole way down it was building, continuing to get deeper. It was a pretty cool thing to be out in this snow, and with how fast it was coming down we were making fresh tracks both up and down; our previous tracks having been buried almost entirely in fresh snow.

After dropping below about 1200 or so feet we hit some recently traveled snow, a large number of deer and dwindling snow accumulation. By the time we crossed over Skyline a final time before getting back to the trail head the trail was more of a slushy, muddy, well traveled mess. Apparently the locals know the Dickey Ridge Trail well but mostly just stuck to the first little section of it; the only other person we saw was a guy walking his dog up that short first section of the trail before heading back down along Skyline.

Back at the car we were both pretty chilled so we got a bit of a change of clothes and quickly headed back to Matthews' house with the ideas of hot showers in our heads. A power outage and well water quickly dispersed those hopes but theres nothing wrong with a little camp stove boiled water for tea and wearing more clothes inside then we did outside! After a couple of cups of tea, snacks and beer, and some pasta I eventually mustered the up the energy and motivation to head home. I knew our big down comforter, memory foam mattress topper and a warm shower at home would be well worth the long drive home in the dark. I think I was in bed by 8 that night.

A couple of additional things:
-Matthew tweaked his knee at some point during the climb. He toughed it out for the rest of the hike but towards the end I could tell it was really hurting. Once back to his place it stiffened up pretty badly on him to the point he wasn't even bending it. Hopefully its doing better now but kudos to him of toughing that out with barely even a mention of it.
-I wore a thin pair of technical somewhat fleecy Cannondale gloves for this run. For the majority of the trip they were perfect though once the wind was blowing through the soaking wet fabric my hands got seriously cold. Next time I'll need to find something a little better. Even just a thin, lightweight outer shell would probably be enough, just to block the wind.
-I wore my (10+ year old) Under Armour winter gear tights and top as a base layer.
-I picked up a basic pair of Nike DriFit running pants, similar to my DriFit shorts of preference, at REI which I wore over the tights. They were perfect until the snow was getting deeper and then the snow started building up on them around the ankles to where I had at least baseball sized balls of snow hitting my ankles every step.
-On top I wore my Celtic Solstice 5 Miler fleece over the UA and my Salomon wind/rain jacket over the top of that. That combination was surprisingly perfect, kepping my core temperature well regulated throughout the run. With a better glove combination I would have been comfortable the entire run I believe.
-Of course I wore a pair of my DeFeet Woolie Boolies along with my Montrail Highlanders. This actually worked; the socks kept my feet warm enough despite being soaked for most of the trip and the shoes handled the circumstances relatively well. Not an ideal shoe for the conditions but they got the job done. Other then some spikes or even snow shoes I'm not sure what would really do better though.
-My thin, vented running hat from finishing the Shamrockfest Marathon was perfect; keeping snow out of my eyes and keeping my head just warm enough.
-The route with elevation. This puts it a little shorter then what I think we did. The trail markers had us at 9.5 from Front Royal at the start of the Dickey Ridge Trail which includes a short little (less then a 1/4 mile on google pedometer) section of trail. We're saying 18 miles total.
-It was disappointing coming home to just an inch or two of slushy snow back in Greenbelt. I'm glad I got to enjoy a real snowfall before returning to the king of slush - DC metro region.
-I need to spend a lot more time running/hiking out in the mountains. As much fun as they are to run, there are no real "climbs" on my usual stomping grounds.

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