With just five weeks to go before I start hiking northbound to Maine, I am trying to get in as many training hikes now as possible.
A good training hike will be more than just walking. It should simulate expected conditions. Chimney Top and Spicewood trails in Frozen Head State Park fit the bill exactly, and today I got a bonus of snowy conditions to add to the challenge.
|Date||Monday, January 30, 2017|
|Weather||Snow flurries, with temperatures in the mid 30s|
|Trail Conditions||Occasionally slick with snow or mud, some sections extremely steep|
I am starting to sense how near it is to March 7, when I start my thru-hike attempt. I've been feeling a bit pressured lately to get my gear lined up, figure out a tentative hike schedule, and work out several other odds and ends details. That anxiety ended for now once I started walking, and I expect the same thing will happen in March.
For today's hike I packed nearly everything I intend to carry during my thru-hike attempt. Though I didn't weigh the pack, it was certainly well under 30 pounds, mostly because my food bag contained only a light lunch and snacks. For good measure, though, I carried two liters of water.
This loop hike could be started at the visitor's center, but I decided to start it at the parking lot at the trailhead of the Judge Branch Trail, which leads to Spicewood and two other trails, North Old Mac and South Old Mac trails.
Just as I left the parking lot and started walking on an access trail that leads to Chimney Top Trail, light snow began to fall.
A footbridge on the access trail has been washed out for a couple years. It's usually not too difficult to find a rock-hop route across, however.
Right away, Chimney Top Trail begins a steep climb.
It wasn't long before I removed the hoodie jacket I was wearing because it was wet on the inside from sweat and on the outside from snow. I switched to wearing my wind shirt. Though it is super light and not waterproof, the wind shirt offered just enough protection from wind and light moisture to keep me perfectly comfortable for most of the rest of the day.
At first, snow would only cling to some leafy bushes, like holly and mountain laurel.
The footpath was still easy to follow at lower elevations.
After a series of switchbacks, the trail evens out for a while as it drops down to cross Rocky Fork Branch. Immediately, though, the steep climbing resumes.
The more the trail went up, the harder it was to find the trail. That was not just because of the snowfall, though. This trail is not as heavily traveled as some in the park. There were times when I could barely make out the foot path here.
Some of the best parts of many Frozen Head trails are where they pass massive boulders. On this particular day, though, that was the area where finding the foot path was the most difficult.
Near the highest point of the trail are some tall rock formations, which fittingly provide the trail its name.
As the trail headed back down in elevation, snow made the going difficult. I was glad there were several green blazes along the route to help me find my way.
At the area of the park called Mart Field there is an old fireplace. I don't believe this is the remnant of a cabin. I think this was built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers in the 1930s when they restored and converted the land from a barren logging area to a state park.
Who knows how these old bed springs got here, but it's a shame the park personnel won't remove them. Still, in the snow they looked almost artsy.
A spring flows freely here at Mart Field for much of the year, or at least it has been flowing every time I've hiked this trail.
Past the spring there is a campsite. A sign says 12 campers are permitted here. Then the trail makes a sharp bend and steep descent before it flattens out near more large boulders.
The trail continues along an flat ridge before intersecting with Spicewood Trail. Two large signs left no doubt I had reached the trail junction.
Once the trail descended low enough, it was much easier to see the route. Though there was almost no accumulation from here down to the parking lot, the snow continued to fall for nearly the entire time.