Winter Hike at Bull Run

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.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel both

Two roads diverged in a yellow brown wood,
And sorry I could not travel both

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.

It was 12 degrees but felt like 7 earlier in the week. Unacceptable, Mother Nature! Have you no decency?

It was 12 degrees but felt like 7 earlier in the week. Unacceptable, Mother Nature! Have you no decency?

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.

I used to take gymnastics as a kid. I actually did a double back handspring across the beam to get to the other side of the stream.

I used to take gymnastics as a kid. I actually did a double back handspring across the beam to get to the other side of the stream.

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.

Snow or guano? It's a gold mine up there. I'm just sayin'...

Snow or guano? It’s a gold mine up there. I’m just sayin’…

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.

The phrase "cold snap" comes from an unseasonably cold winter in Italy in the 1400s. Leonardo da Vinci was painting outside, and when he went to scratch his ear, it snapped off. True story.

The phrase “cold snap” comes from an unseasonably cold winter in Italy in the 1400s. Leonardo da Vinci was painting outside, and when he went to scratch his ear, it snapped off. True story.

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.

I don't mean to embarrass you, but...

I don’t mean to embarrass you, but…

Haven't you heard of Head and Shoulders?

Haven’t you heard of Head and Shoulders?

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.

Meandering on,

Jordana

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7 thoughts on “Winter Hike at Bull Run

  1. I’m so jealous that you got to take such a lovely winter hike. Well, okay. I’m not so much jealous of you taking the hike as I am of the fact that you are young and strong enough to do so. Great post! I felt like I was right by your side for a wee bit, and I love the description of the water skittering along under the ice in the brook. I’m eager to follow along (from the comfort and warmth of my Florida home, where it is going to be 85 tomorrow…ugh) of course. You ROCK, Jordana!!!

      • Oh, me too…hence the “ugh.” I would love 40-45 at night and anywhere from 55 to 70 in the daytime…all year long. But alas. I can’t get my husband out from under the palms, so I’m stuck with a world in which 85 degrees is a GOOD thing. Last summer, we had two months of over 100 every day. I might as well be snowed in, because I don’t want to leave the a/c. Anyway, I cooled down a lot reading your post, and enjoying your photos. I’ve been in the mountains in the winter and loved it. Maybe someday I’ll have a little getaway up there for when it gets too hot here.

  2. Ya know, I manage to make it out to Bull Run for the yearly NoVA Brewfest that the park hosts, but I had no idea there was so much hiking to be done there. Will definitely check it out soon.

    Btw, I’m getting super excited for you as your start date gets closer and closer!

    • I highly recommend it. And be sure to get the trail map off the Conservancy’s website before you go. The trails are well marked with both numbers and colors, but having the map is super helpful.

  3. Pingback: My final training hike. Can you believe it? « My Meandering Trail

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