Sunday, April 29, 2012

Trillium: Just Right!

For many years now I’ve been trying to catch the trillium at the GR Thompson Wildlife Management Area at their peak.  Some years I’m thwarted by high pollen counts, one year I was too late, one year I was too early, but this year, I hit it just right!  Finally!
A few weeks ago my Dad and I were hiking in SNP and we saw a few trillium and that made me realize that the trillium are out and now would be a good time to get out to the WMA and check them out. 
I didn’t want to go on a weekend & I had weekend plans so I decided to just go out after school on Fri and take an evening hike.  I’m at a new school this year and I’m way on the western side of Fairfax County which makes getting out to hike very easy. Not only that but my school has an early bell schedule and my contract hours end at 3:00!  I left school at 3:03 and after a quick stop in Linden to get gas I was on the trail by 4:30!
As I was driving up the road I could see the trillium covering the forest floor.  There were millions.  Every spot you looked was covered in trillium!  WOW! 
I drove past 3 parking areas to get to where I wanted to park and didn’t see any other cars.  None. I was going to have the place to myself.  Amazing!
I’d studied the map of the area and read the AT Guidebook but it didn’t seem to match up.  I knew I was going to stay on the AT, but my plan was to hike south a little bit to get to a spot that they’d marked as having trillium and then hike north to Dicks Dome Shelter.  I was excited about hiking to Dicks Dome since a few years ago I hiked to that shelter from Sky Meadows and I’d be completing another section of the AT.  As I hiked south though it wasn’t looking like I thought it would from the map and the book.  So I consulted the map and figured out that I wasn’t where I thought I was.  I appeared that I was about 4 miles from Dicks Dome.  I decided I was closer to the Manassas Gap shelter so I decided to hike there and then back. 
I made it to the shelter pretty quickly and found it empty, which kinda surprised me.  After a quick snack and water break I was on my way back to where I’d started.  As I hiked up the ridge the sun was hitting the trillium and making them even prettier!  I took a lot of pictures! 
There were odd pockets where there weren’t any trillium and then a few feet later there were hundreds.  It was very strange!
Soon I was back at the old road that would lead me back to the car.  It was still early so I decided to keep hiking.  I decided I needed to head back to the car by 6:30 so I wouldn’t get caught out after dark so I set an alarm on my phone and continued hiking north. 
Soon the trail began to climb up the mountain.  I was chugging along up the hill when I heard the distinctive click clack of trekking poles on rocks behind me.  I turned around and there was a lone backpacker gaining on me.  He looked like a thru-hiker, so I asked and sure enough he was!  Usually thru-hikers don’t make it to Northern Virginia until June so he was very early!  I chatted with him as he caught up and then we walked together for a few minutes before he pulled out in front of me.  He was the only other person I saw the whole evening.
Soon I came to a fork in the trail and upon consulting the map I decided that it would be a good stopping point because it would be really easy to find that spot and resume the hike another day.
I quickly hiked back to the car and was quite sad to see my evening with the trillium end. 
I couldn’t just go home so I drove up to the other parking area to check it out and see where I’d go next time.  Finally though I had to call it a night and drive home.
This past Thursday night I was thinking about how much fun my trillium hike had been and realized that the trillium were probably still out and if I went back I could finish the AT through the WMA.  This was very appealing!
Since I didn’t have to get gas and I’d gotten some route tips from my friend Kathy who lives on a mountain in Linden I made it to the trail by 4:15.  That’s right, my desk to the AT in just about an hour.  Amazing. 
This weeks hike wasn’t a “WOW” filled since many of the trillium were fading, but the woods were still filled with them!  The woods in this area aren’t all that interesting on their own so I’m really glad I completed this section of AT with the trillium. 
I’d consulted the map and guidebook and the guidebook was still confusing but I figured that it would be about 2.5 miles one way from the parking area to Dicks Dome so 5 miles round trip.  I’d done 5 mile hikes in about 2 hours so I figured this was doable before dark.
I took a few pictures of trillium but realized that I really didn’t need anymore pictures so actually put the camera away and just walked enjoying the trillium in the moment and enjoying the cool air!
I passed one guy hiking, not sure if he was out for a day hike or backpacking, but he was the only person I saw!  2 hikes on the AT at the height of trillium season and I only saw 2 other people!  WOW. 
The hike into Dicks Dome wasn’t that remarkable, downhill, lots of rocks, pleasant temps.  I was quite surprised to find the shelter empty! Dicks Dome is a cool hexagon shaped shelter and it’s right next to a babbling brook.  Very nice setting!
On the way up from Dick’s Dome I saw one of the other wildflowers the area is known for – showy orchid!  There were bunches of them on the side of the trail!  No idea how I missed them on the way down.  I took a bunch of pictures, but the light was fading by this time and many were out of focus so I ended up deleting them. 
I made it back to the car at 7:15 – so the 5 miles had taken me 3 hours, not as fast as I would have liked, but not bad.   Since there was daylight left I decided to figure out where the AT crossed RT 55 in Linden.  I’d driven RT 55 many times but had never seen where the trail comes down.  Turns out I was looking too close to Linden and it’s further out than I thought.  There’s a nice parking area on both sides of the road so continuing this section as a day hike or even a quickie Friday night hike is very doable!  I looked at the map and figured that with 5 more hikes I could complete the section of AT from US RT 50/Ashby Gap all the way to US 33/Swift Run Gap in SNP!  Pictures from the 1st hike:
GR Thompson WMA: Trillium! 4.20.12
Pictures from the 2nd hike:
GR Thompson WMA: Trillium2 4.27.12