Maryland Outdoor Club
Sat, Apr 10 2004 - Difficult Day Hike (Little Devils Stairs) (View Original Event Details)

Event Organizer(s): Jesse Allen
Participants:Jesse Allen, Brian Loughery, Colin Babb, Ronit Fix, Jeff Schneider, Doug Wise, Sarah Davis, robert odessey, Christine Di Lapi, Shuli Chiu, Terry Tiffany, Laura Loughery, Tianna Schneider, Debbie Haggart, Syndee Fredricks

Write Up:
We got off to an on-time start from our carpool location at the Vienna Metro, but found the estimate of two hours to get to the base of the Little Devil's Stairs somewhat generous. Though this author wishes to note that his driver was the last to leave the carpool location and the first to arrive at the trailhead by a significant margin, suggesting that there was more to our early arrival than just a poor time estimate. We surpress the names involved in case Virginia State Troopers are surfing our pages.

After waiting a while for the one member planning to meet us at the trailhead, we scratched a message pointing him up the trail and headed off through the steep 1600-foot climb up the rocky gorge of Little Devil's Stairs. Christina proved herself to be quite the 'rock monkey' by scrambling up ahead of us time and again when faced with more challenging spots on the trail. Meanwhile, Brian took the 'get behind and push' position at the end of our group to get everyone moving along. The trees were still only just budding their first leaves, so many of the native ephermal flowers that open early in the spring and die back with the first shade were putting on quite a show. While tearing up the odd piece of invasive garlic mustard plants, Tianna explained that these brief-flowering natives are not only very pretty treats on early spring hikes, but provide easy pollen for the bees that are still a bit groggy and slow as they come out of their winter's hibernation.

The trail took us back and forth over the stream, which was running quite steadily, though not high enough to pose too significant a challenge to cross. We also noted a good many trees blown down where the gorge had funneled wind through the valley. Most trees had been down for quite a while in the lower reaches and were probably taken down during Hurricane Floyd a few years ago, but trees up toward the top looked to be more recent and probably the work of Hurricane Isabel. The trail managed to be passable at all points, to which we owe the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club a vote of thanks. Some of us were sad to see a number of hemlocks dead and down on the ground; most of the hemlocks in the park have been killed in recent years by an infestation of woolly adelgid, an aphid pest.

Once up the gorge, we everyone together and took a good break at the Fourways intersection before heading up again. We did check for mobile phone service to contact our missing member, but were still unable to get a signal, so again left a message with his name and an arrow pointing up our path direction.

Alas, at the first intersection, mistakes were made. Because of a minor miscalculation, our fearless leader took us up the Sugarloaf Trail instead of Pine Ridge, but this brought us to the Hogback Overlook near the southern end of the Tuscarora Trail, where we took a break for lunch and admired a wonderful clear view down into the Shenandoah Valley and neighboring Massanutten Mountain. Getting there had involved another thousand feet or so of climbing, although the trail was much more gradual and easy going than Little Devil's Stairs!

After enjoying our lunch, drinking in the view, and accusing Ronit of having Yertle the Turtle aspirations for sitting on the highest rock available ('Why are you all smiling at me?'), we picked up our feet and headed along the Appalachian Trail on the ridgeline. We also discovered that our missing member was well and truly missing, having never found the turnoff from Lee Highway to the road into the park boundary area. A leading theory is that the MOC member in question relied on his GPS feature in the car dashboard too much yet again, but this is merely a theory. We stopped scratching his name in the trail gravel after that.

Given our change in paths, we to



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