Monday, December 14, 2015

Ridgeline of Big Basin Run. Winter backpacking?

This past weekend I planned a return trip with DCUL to explore the Ridgeline of Big Basin Run in Shenandoah National Park. Luckily this time Skyline Drive was open, and I was able to avoid the detour in via Austin Mountain Trail. The weather report stood in stark contrast to the historical average temps for mid-December in Shenandoah - so we left behind our heavy winter gear and set out from Vienna Metro in 3-season conditions. We found Trisha wandering the Park n’ Ride, having missed her connection for the Old Rag trip. She climbed aboard with GQ, Radiance, Keith, Hannah, Rene, Melissa, Emilie, Marika, and myself. We headed west. After the requisite stop at Sheetz, we picked up a permit at Swift Mountain Gap, then completed the curvy mountain drive up to Loft Mountain Wayside. We were geared up and headed east along the Frazier Discovery Trail in short order. After a short but steep climb, we reached the ridgeline and headed south on the AT. We had a nice view immediately to the west of the Big Run gorge.

The AT was all soft pine needles, and made for fast walking. But we took a few snack breaks and just enjoyed the absurdly nice weather. It must have been above 70 already, and we all had a slight sweat going on. Everyone who wasn’t already in shorts had converted to them by this point, or was wishing they could. Many pant legs were rolled up.

After crossing Skyline drive a little after noon, we turned off the AT and headed northwest on Rockytop Trail. The trail is aptly named, as we were soon rolling our ankles on rocks hidden under the carpet of leaves. But the rock strewn ridge did have one advantage, an almost constant view to the west of the open valley and the Massanuttens through the leaf-free trees.

We passed the turn for Lewis Peak, and I completely forgot to suggest people make the short out and back jaunt to the top. Sorry guys!

Before long it was time to descend down to Big Run itself, and the very large metal bridge across it. Jimmy already had camp well in hand when the last of us arrived, with shelters scattered about in any available space. The consensus was about 13.5 miles for the day.

We congregated near the bridge at the trail intersection with Brown Mountain Run which had the only open flat space that wasn’t full of mud. Bear lines were hung, though it took me several embarrassing minutes to nail the throw. After Roan Highlands I prefer my food hang well out of bear-arm reach!

Sadly, in Shenandoah fires are verboten, so I produced a tiny LED lantern for some dinner ambiance. The conversation that night was full of hilarious exchanges and the usual swapping of war-stories The stars came out in a crystal clear sky as we discussed the merits of isobutane and alcohol stoves.

With no fire to enjoy, we retired very early - settling in for a solid 10 hours of sleep. So we at least still experienced that part of winter backpacking.

The next morning, we were up and moving just a little before 8am south on Big Run Portal Trail. We had the joy of several stream crossings in 40 degree water. If we weren’t awake before, we certainly were after!

Radiance was the only one brave (or crazy) enough to follow me through the deepest stream crossings! Never follow the tall people!

Eventually we turned away from Big Run and made our climb up and out on Patterson Ridge Trail, another ridgeline walk that in spring would offer no views at all! We were once again warm in no time as we climbed, taking down one false summit after another. Before long the trail deposited us on Skyline Drive within throwing distance of our cars.

The last remnants of Fall!
Hannah and Rene made an early departure with Melissa in her car, while the rest of us made a beeline for Blue Ridge Cafe and hot juicy burgers. The traditional overeating post-trip was completed with gusto.

Another great DCUL group and a great weekend! You can check out the trip details over at

Thursday, December 3, 2015


So I'm about a decade late, but I've been looking for a place to show off some of my favorite photos that was free of all the clutter of nonsense of Facebook or Google Plus.  I decided to give Instagram a try while in Europe, despite it's "phone app only" interface.  I have slowly started dropping my pics there.  Check it out:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mr. & Mrs. Savage go to Europe

Last month Joan and I snuck off to Europe on holiday to visit our scattered families.  It was a whirlwind of planes, airports, and cars.  After a connection through Keflavik in Iceland (where we just briefly got to taste the air on the tarmac), we landed in Schipol, Holland.  Jet lag hit hard, but we rallied for a great dinner in Amsterdam with Joan's family for her birthday.  The next day, we hopped back on another plane for Denmark, then Norway.

My distant cousins Inger Lises and Siri picked us up from Stavanger airport, and we had a reunion dinner with a bunch of my distant family.  Some time was spent puzzling out the complex family tree!

The next day we got a tour of the Fjords of Jorpeland after a short ferry ride.  Norway is comprised of incredible looking landscapes!  I'm already plotting a return trip, possibly when the country is snow covered.

We made a trek up to Preikstolen (Pulpit Rock) - a prime tourist attraction but well worth it.  We were lucky to have an ice and snow free walk.

Several passerby clomping uphill in heavy boots asked if my sandal clad feet were cold.  Cold?  It was a balmy 11 degrees Celsius!  Why is everyone so bundled up!?  :)


The following day we hopped a connection through Copenhagen to Barcelona where we were retrieved by Joan's Uncle Martin and Aunt Ria.  We drove to Begur in Catalonia where he has a house overlooking the Mediterranean.  We really slummed for the four days we had here, let me tell you.

I instantly fell in love with Begur.  It was quiet, it had the sea, and mountains, and hiking/biking trails!  What else does one need?

We hiked a short section of the GR92 which followed the coast.  It was all gorgeous, and Joan and I worked up a sweat in the toasty 27 degrees C (~80F) temps and sunshine.  Really, the first sunlight we had seen on the trip so far!  The trail rolled over hilltops and descended into sheltered, pebbled beach coves.

We toured a few 9th rough 12th century settlements that are still active with residents today.  The laid back atmosphere was infectious.

The last day, we made the roughly 1 mile walk (and about 1000 feet of elevation loss) down to the sea for a very short and chilly swim.  The beach was deserted for some odd reason!

Begur was very walker friendly, with sidewalks and stairs weaving in and around all the closely packed terrace houses.  A good thing too, because everyone whips and speeds through the twisting, winding roads like there is no tomorrow!

On the 13th we were on yet another plane back to Uithoorn to stay with Joan's cousin Mignon and Jos.  We spent an entire day wandering Amsterdam, eating poffertjes, cheese, bread, chocolate, everything that makes life worth living :)

I gained a couple of kilos despite the amount of walking we did.

That night as we went to bed, we caught the news of the attacks in Paris.  It was quite surreal.  And we were glad that we had opted not to drive through France as originally planned.  On the last full day, Jos took me on a 50k bike tour around Uithoorn in driving rain and wind.  I couldn't think of a better way to see the Dutch countryside!  I marveled at the houses below sea level mere meters away from huge bodies of water.  Their doom seemed imminent, but Jos told me floods never happen due to the complex array of canals and pump stations.

We had our last dinner abroad at Tanta Ria's house.  The goodbyes were very sad that night and the next morning.  But eventually we boarded our WOW flight back for the states.

It was a jam-packed 11 days!  Looking forward to a return trip.  Huge thanks to our families for their incredible graciousness and hospitality.  Hopefully we can return the favor someday.