Last Saturday, I decided to go to Bull Run Mountain Conservancy off I-66 in Virginia at exit 40. Since it had recently snowed and the temperature was hovering around 30 degrees, I didn’t want to chance driving further west into the mountains for fear of icy conditions. Bull Run is becoming one of my favorite all-weather hikes with its well-marked web of trails.
I arrived at about noon, and there were only a few other cars in the parking lot. I donned my pack – weighted to 32 pounds, slipped on my heavy ski mittens, and made for the railroad tracks. On the other side of the tracks, the Mountain Road trail curves to the left in the distance, and the Chestnut Ridge Trail runs to its right, weaving up and down through white-blanketed terrain.
After about a half mile, I stopped to admire a partially frozen rivulet and listened as the water skittered along with a hollow babbling sound, echoing off the frozen films of ice as it flowed downstream.
I then came to a crossing, which in other seasons I’ve forded via well situated rocks. However, with the wintry conditions, the water mark was low and the exposed rocks slick. On the other hand, a wooden beam meant to stabilize the crossing – usually hidden below the raging current – was laid bare. Although it appeared overtaken by ice, I kicked the toes of my shoes as I carefully scooted along the beam, and the ice easily loosened its grip.
The rest of the ascent to the overlook was fairly tame. It took me longer than usual because, having proven their worth, my mittens left my hands warm and sweating; I switched to my lighter gloves, which required a few minutes of coordination since I didn’t want to set my pack, which I’m still testing out, on the ground. When I reached the vista, the brisk air rose sharply along the sheer rock and whipped my face and ears. With the swirling wind came light feathers of snow, and I struggled to discern whether they were in the process of falling from the clouds or re-taking flight from the trees below.
Having breathed in the patchwork snowy landscape for a few minutes, I decided that my ears had had enough and headed back. On the return, I took notice of the well-packed powder beneath my boots. The thin layer of virgin snow served to smooth out the less forgiving rocks and tree roots, making the descent easier on my feet than usual. By the time I made it to the intersection with the Fern Hollow Trail, my fingers were begging for a thicker insulating layer, so I switched back to the mittens.
I plodded down the Fern Hollow Trail and ultimately passed the remnants of the old Chapman Mansion and Icehouse, both accented with a shake of snowy dandruff. I then took one more look skyward to take stock of the increasingly persistent cotton floating toward the ground. I used the moment to do a quick assessment of the impending traffic situation (DC + snow = people forget how to drive) and bee-lined it back to my car.
This was the first time I’d ever legitimately hiked in the snow. (My attempt at Annapolis Rock doesn’t count.) I have to say that I really like it. Mind you there were only a few inches on the ground. If a blizzard were impending, rest assured that I’d hang out in a trail town for an extra couple of days. I’m stubborn, but I’m not that stubborn.