Mt. Verstovia Trail to Picnic Rock

Crowberry Blooming - Empetrum nigrum

The weather was not what most people consider fabulous, but I took advantage of an opportunity get out hiking and made my first trek above the alpine in several months.

I biked out to the trailhead and arrived around 10:30am. I was originally planning to do a relatively quick hike, so I didn’t bring much. Along with a bottle of water, I did carry my camera with lenses, though I was not really expecting to use them that much. I wore the five-finger shoes that I have used on several earlier hikes, but this was the first time I used them with a significant elevation change.

Given my relative lack of exercise over the last couple of months, I made decent, but not great, time to the first viewpoint. Along the way, I noticed the Goblin Gold has recolonized some of the ground in its little alcove. The area it covered seemed much reduced the last time I was up this way last winter.

Not too far after the first viewpoint, my motivation shifted from moving at a good pace to practicing a different manner of walking. The folks at the Wilderness Awareness School (where my brother spent a year in their Residential Program) call it fox walking. It’s something that takes a fair amount of focus for me to maintain, as it is easy to slip back into my more typical manner of walking (called ‘cow walking’ by some). One advantage of fox walking when minimally shod is there’s much less tendency for me to take the kind of steps that result in stubbed toes and bruised feet from hard impacts on pointy objects. It could have just been my feet are getting tougher, but I think the work on walking helped as well, because my feet didn’t feel all bruised and sore after this hike like they have on previous hikes in the five-finger shoes. It almost makes me think it might be possible for me to work my way to going totally barefoot before too long. The one problem I have had is a blister that forms on the back of one of my ankles. I’m not sure why only one, but today it seemed only happen after the shoes got damp.

Another advantage to the slower pace I maintained while practicing my walking was that I saw a few things I might not have noticed otherwise.
Right before the second viewpoint, I saw several rein orchids that I had never noticed before. I imagine they’ve been there, but I’ve just moved right on by them. There were also Twayblade (Listera sp.) orchids in bloom beside the trail not far above the second view point. I also saw some up, but not yet blooming, on the ridge. I seemed to be getting closer to birds before they flew off in a panic, as well.

The change in seasons with increasing elevation was pretty dramatic along the trail. Along the ridge, I saw Purple Sweet-cicely, blooming. It was blooming in town early in May. Just below Picnic Rock, there were Fern-leaf Goldthread and Crowberries in bloom, these were blooming in late April around town. Blueberries are getting ripe in town, but they were just flowering and putting out leaves above the treeline. Even the birds seemed to be getting in on the act, as there was a lot of bird activity where trail leaves the trees. I heard several calls from familiar birds that I don’t remember hearing before. Varied Thrushes, Robins, Warblers, Winter Wrens, and Dark-eyed Juncos were species I heard/saw. I think I also heard a Fox Sparrow, but I’m not sure (it’s a call I’ve heard a couple of times lately, but I’m not positive about the identification).

There was no snow in the trees on the ridge, but between the trees and Picnic Rock, there were still several extensive snowbanks. Elsewhere along the tree-free slopes below Peak 2550 it was clear the snow had only very recently melted, as the plants were still matted down and this year’s new plant growth was still pretty minimal. Picnic Rock and the surrounding relatively flat area near it appeared to have been snow free for quite some time, as there were many plants that were very well developed.

The snow on the slopes made for interesting walking. I did all right on the way up, as the snow was fairly soft, but on the way down, I chose to avoid the snow as much as possible. I think some sort of make-shift traction accessory will be necessary if I want to do more extensive snow walking in these shoes.

I ended up reaching picnic rock a little after noon. I needed to be back home before 3pm, so I did not spend too much time up there. The bugs and weather weren’t all that inviting either. As usual when there’s not a breeze, Picnic Rock attracts a lot of flying insects. They find it easier to locate each other by moving up to peaks, so it’s a good strategy for them. Not so great for me, when they were landing all over me.

I had entered the clouds between the first and second viewpoint, but except for a few drops, it hadn’t really rained much on me. While I was near the top, it started raining a little more and continued until I got below the clouds again. At the first viewpoint there was a break in the clouds and it looked like the sun might try to peak out.

I wasn’t sure how the way down would go, but I made pretty good time and only stubbed my toes a couple of times, as I did better to remember to lift my feet instead of shuffle along.

One of the things I thought I might start doing is maintaining a species list for each trail. To that end, I guess I’ll do a separate post or two with species and notes. To keep things managable, perhaps I’ll just start with vascular plants and vertebrates (birds and mammals, primarily).

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