Monday, January 27, 2014

A Snowy Winter Hike

Hey everyone! This winter has proved to be a real winter so far, unlike the past couple of years. I know many are probably longing for the warmth of Summer and everything that comes with it, but personally I love the winter. Yes, it has been a tad colder than what I would prefer (walking to class with a windchill of -16 was surely interesting), but I've definitely enjoyed this winter so far. As I write this (January 27th, 2014), another Arctic vortex is making its way into the state, bringing temperatures that could hit as low as -30 with the windchill.

This past Saturday, however, I headed up to The Ridges to do some hiking in the snow-filled forests. Most of Ohio had experienced a snow storm Friday night into Saturday morning, and Athens received around 4-5 inches from what I saw.

I began my hike on part of the Nature Trail. I was not the first person on the trail that day, as multiple footprints showed many others had hiked around the area since dawn.

I soon found a pristine trail that no one had traveled that morning. Well, at least I use it as a trail. I think it's a pipeline-right-of-way and not technically an official trail, but construction crews had cut a pathway through the brush and trees this past Summer and I've been using it as a trail ever since.

The Pipeline Trail, at least that's what I call it, eventually leads to this broad and long opening. In the summer it's a massive grass field, but as you can see now the grass is gone (they actually cut it short in late Autumn) and it has become one giant snow field. As you know, animals leave prints in snow, which in turn allows you to see travel patterns. In this instance, all the tracks were confined to the edges of the forest. This makes sense; no animal wants to be exposed out in the middle of the field with no cover. Not one set of tracks could be found crossing the field.

Following the field, you end up on the Radar Hill Trail, which cuts perpendicularly across the field. I followed that trail to its namesake. This shot was taken atop Radar Hill. Snow covered foothills can be seen a couple miles away in the background. While I was hanging out on top of the hill, admiring the sights, some snow moved into the area...

...And within a few minutes I was in the middle of a snow squall. Look familiar? This photo was taken in the same place facing the same way as the previous one. With the whiteout conditions, the hills faded into oblivion, and even the trees almost faded completely.

After a few minutes of enjoying the serenity and isolation that the snow squall brought, I began heading back down the trail. The snow continued. The wind howled mercilessly, whipping the falling snow into swirling vortexes. It was truly amazing to be in. I learned a side-effect of being in a snow squall like this is looking like a snowman when it's all over!

Eventually the snow stopped as the sun began its way toward the horizon. The last leg of the hiking trip took me through a snow-blanketed forest with Dark-Eyed Juncos, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice foraging all around me.

Honestly, I'm starting to really love Winter hiking, a lot. I've never done it really until this year, and it's very enjoyable if you prepare correctly. I actually overdressed on this trip and had to take my coat off because I was too hot, even though it was in the teens with windchills even lower. The key is layers; not just one thick, heavy layer, but many lighter, smaller layers. For example, I was wearing a base-layer long sleeve shirt, a short sleeve shirt, a sweater, and then an insulated flannel jacket along with two layers of active-wear long underwear with a water-resistant pair of sweatpants which I tucked into my boots. As for footwear, I wore two socks (a regular pair and a wool/synthetic pair) and water-proof Goretex boots. This kept my feet warm and dry, and the rest of my body was warm as well. Plus, if you get hot while wearing multiple thin layers, you can always take them off accordingly until you're at a perfect temperature. Wearing only one big layer prevents this; you either wear it and sweat, which is dangerous, or you take it off and freeze, which is dangerous. So, LAYERS!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Witches and Bong Hill

Now that winter (and finals) has come, I've been looking through some previous photos from fall to get more posts. This post is about two of the well-known hills in the city of Athens, in Athens County, Ohio.

I've previously made a post on probably the most famous hill in Athens, called Radar Hill, including a post on some of the things I found at The Ridges and Radar Hill. This post will be a quick overview of Bong Hill and Witches Hill.

Bong Hill Athens
Okay, I know, horrible MS Paint skills. Here's a rough map to where they're located. The left portion is Ohio University. The Red Line is Witches Hill, and the Green Line is Bong Hill. There's a small pull off by the Bong Hill trailhead on Rock Riffle Road, and the trail is pretty easy to find. Witches Hill's trailhead on the other hand isn't so easy to find at first; I wandered around for about 5 minutes trying to find it. It is actually not on Rock Riffle Road, but on the off ramp. It is really close to the stop sign at the intersection of the off ramp and Rock Riffle though. Look closely at the hill and you'll see a very, very steep trail to Witches.

Bong Hill Athens
First up, Bong Hill. Why is it called Bong Hill? Well, I've heard a few stories. The obvious story is that it got its name from the stoners that supposedly hang out on it. I've also heard that story is a myth and it's actually named after an old Ohio University professor. Whatever the reason, this hill offers a great overlook of the city of Athens. The trail is not easy; it is steep and very rocky in places. The trail ascends around 200 feet in less than a quarter of a mile (actually about .19 miles or so). Some minor rock scrambling is involved in certain parts along the trail, like having to pull yourself up onto a rock too large to just step onto. Nothing too bad, but bring water!

Bong Hill Athens
After you make the climb, the trail opens up to a small clearing. The opening overlooks the city of Athens. It's an amazing view.

Witches Hill Athens
Now to Witches Hill. Sorry for the overexposed photo. Anyway, this is part of the trail that leads up to Witches Hill. The trail for Witches Hill ascends around 250 feet in about .18-.2 miles. The trail itself is longer, but it's mostly flat once you get up there. The ascent is very steep and can be a bit dangerous depending on conditions, so be careful.

Witches Hill Athens
Witches Hill is known in the area as a really good bouldering location. I know nothing about bouldering, but I met two climbers who had come from Ohio State University (nearly a 1.5 to 2 hour drive away) in order to do some climbing after they heard how good of a location it is. You can actually see them farther down the trail in this photo. The top of the ridge is covered in massive rock faces, boulders, and more. If you expect to hike this trail, be ready to have to climb some rocks as the trail sometimes jumps up a rock face or down one. It's nothing too crazy though.

Witches Hill Athens
Here's a photo to give you an idea of how large the boulders are, with yours truly as a size reference. (Fun Fact: Getting this photo terrified me. I had to set my camera on a self timer and crawl out on a log in time for the photo, all while being about 15 to 20 feet above the ground.) Obviously, please use common sense on this hill and don't do anything stupid.

Witches Hill Athens
At the end of the trail is a nice, and decently large, rock shelter. Apparently this place is used occasionally as a party location; there were broken beer bottles everywhere. There is also a fire pit that has years of ash built up. It must have been used recently because it was still hot the day I visited.

Ohio University Hiking
What about the view from Witches Hill? It's one of my favorites. This is looking toward uptown Athens, but shows some of campus. You can also look out the other direction and see more of Ohio University. It's a great view, and well worth the hike.

That's it for this post. Sorry I've sort of disappeared for a few weeks on here and my twitter. I've recently been really busy. Hopefully I'll be more active in the coming weeks and months! Happy New Year to you all as well!