Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunset Rocks Trail, Cumberland County, PA

Dave and I did get out for a hike yesterday, and we did end up doing the Sunset Rocks Trail out beyond Gettysburg. Even though getting out there would require about a 2.5 hour drive each way, the weather was forecast to be unseasonably warm, and we had basically the whole day set aside, so we figured what the heck. The hike as planned is a counter-clockwise lollipop, with about two-thirds of the planned 8+ miles on the Appalachian Trail, and the remainder on a side trail that climbs a ridge to a rocky overlook, Sunset Rocks, the namesake landmark for the hike. Guidebooks list the hike at 8.x miles of moderate difficulty due to a few modest climbs and a section of rock hopping on the ridge top. It should take around 4 hours with stops.

To make the most of the day, I got up at 6:00am, was out the door by 6:45am, and was at Dave's house shortly before 7:30.

First bridge over Tom's Run
9:50am - The day is forecast to be in the mid-60's and sunny, but as we shoulder our daypacks and set out from the Fuller Lake Day Use parking area, it is 38 degrees. Dave and I are both wearing long sleeve fleece, which is unusual since neither of us feel the cold easily. From where we parked, the first several tenths of a mile are through the picnic areas in the park, along roads, and past buildings. This would normally be a drudge, but we did see one cool thing. The halfway point of the AT is within a few miles of here, and it is a tradition for thru-hikers to stop at the Pine Grove Furnace general store and eat a half gallon of ice cream. At this time of year the store was closed, but it was fun to see.

We are almost 7/10ths of a mile from the car by the time we finally get out of the main park grounds and turn off Pine Grove Road at the white blazes and follow the AT up the hill into the woods.

Midpoint on the AT... 5 miles down, 2176 to go.
10:47am - We reach a nice stream crossing over a little bridge near the junction of the blue blazed Sunset Trail and the Appalachian Trail. We are about 1.6 miles into our hike. This junction is the end of the "lollipop stick" portion of our route, and we will be going counterclockwise on the AT for a few miles before heading left onto the Sunset Trail and eventually ending up back here. To this point the hike has been relatively easy, with only a few minor ups and downs, and good footing with minimal rocks. It feels good to stretch the legs. Dave and I both discard the long sleeve fleece at this stop, as it is warming up nicely. We stay here for a few minutes and have a drink and take some pictures of the streams, as this is the first picturesque spot we have come to.

11:43am - After having walked for the last couple of miles along wet trails, we reach the midpoint marker for the AT. I am surprised to see it here, as the guidebook I have been using says that this marker is on the AT section that is a part of the Pole Steeple hike several miles from here, but not on this hike. I know that they move this marker around as the length of the AT changes due to rerouting and the like, and I guess they must have done so in this case since my guidebook was published only a few years ago. Dave and I take turns taking pictures of the sign and each other standing by it, as this is a famous hiker landmark. It has been slow going the last mile-plus, as the ground is very wet, with a lot of runoff from recent rains making the trail itself a small stream in many places. We spend too much time watching our feet and not the landscape. Shortly after crossing Michaux Road we would have passed the ruins of Camp Michaux, a WW2 era prisoner of war camp, but we saw nothing obvious as we sloshed by. Apparently this POW camp was set up to hold German naval officers, but was later expanded to include German Afrika Korps officers as well as Japanese officers. It was officially classified as a POW interrogation camp, one of only three in the country. More information on this area can be found here.

Tom's Run shelter on the AT
11:53am - We reach Tom's Run shelter almost exactly two hours after setting out. We have only covered about 4 miles of easy trails, so our pace is not very good, but the soggy condition of the trails and the constant little detours around puddles and marshy spots has slowed us considerably. The shelter area is very nice, with two wooden shelters in very good condition, a half a dozen tent spots, a critter pole for hanging packs, an outhouse, and a number of fire rings. All overlooking pretty little Tom's Run, which can be heard running over the rocks a short ways down the hill. This is my first sight of an AT shelter, and it seems like a very nice spot to spend the night.

A few hundred yards after leaving the shelter area, we turn left onto the blue blazed Sunset Rocks Trail. It continues to be an easy if mucky walk, with fairly run of the mill scenery. We do pass through a nice rhododendron thicket at around this juncture, which is a nice thing. Other than that, it is a lot of the same: waterlogged trails, fire access roads, and fairly ordinary terrain.

At around the 6 mile mark according to Dave's handy-dandy iPhone app, we have climbed onto the southern end of Little Rocky Ridge, and the hiking along the side slope has made me begin to feel my right knee. Typical. A little soreness but nothing bad. The climb onto the ridge is no big deal, but it was one of the few times that I have been breathing hard today. It feels good.

Dave at Sunset Rocks
The last 2 or 3 tenths of a mile approaching the overlook is as advertised; rock climbing and boulder hopping. I love this kind of hiking and this is my favorite part of the day. I would have liked it even better if my knee weren't acting up, and I felt more stable hopping from rock to rock. But it was still terrific, and reminded me of the rocky sections east of the North Lookout at Hawk Mountain. Very nice. A few hundred yards from the overlook we leave the main trail, which heads left down the ridge, and continue on a short rocky spur.

1:09pm - We reach the Sunset Rocks overlook. At first I am not 100% sure that we have reached our destination, as there still seems to be some ridgeline ahead of us, but a quick investigation shows that the blue blazes do end here, and there is no more spur trail ahead. We stop and enjoy the view across the valley. We do lament our lack of planning. It is lunchtime, we are at a nice scenic spot, and a sandwich would taste real nice right about now. If we had a sandwich, that is. Unfortunately, all we have are various protein bars, which will keep body and soul together, but that's about it.

After maybe a ten minute stop for a rest, a snack and some pictures, we head back to the trail that heads back down to the AT and will complete our loop. The descent off the ridge is very steep, and I set a very slow pace as this kind of downhill is a killer on my knee. Level ground is fine, uphill is a little sore, but downhill is rough. And this is rough. I feel old at this moment; much older than my years.

Things get better once the slope levels out, and before long we are back at the junction with the AT near the nice bridge (picture at top). We see what appears to be a family in the distance out for a walk, and note that they are all wearing blaze orange. Dave is wearing red (by coincidence) and I am wearing royal blue. We make a bunch of "I am not a deer" jokes and begin retracing our steps back along the AT to our starting point.

2:00pm (ish) - We arrive back at the car, a few minutes beyond 4 hours, and having covered 9.6 total miles according to Dave's iPhone hiking tracker app. Dave is pleased that this first test of the new app has allowed his phone to run on gps mode for a little over 4 hours and still have perhaps a third of its battery life left. I am a little tired, my feet are sore, my right knee is a little sore, but in general I feel terrific. We could hardly have expected a better day for a hike in late November.

Final thoughts - We had a fun hike on a beautiful late fall day, and it was nice to take the time to go somewhere relatively far from home. The hike, while pretty long by my standards, was not tough at all from an elevation standpoint. Other than a few moderate but brief climbs and the one very steep downhill stretch coming down off the overlook, it was mostly flat (or flat-ish). The last two or three tenths of a mile getting to the overlook was a lot of rock scrambling, but that is one of my favorite kinds of hiking, so I loved that part. As for "rating" the hike itself, I would say that it was a good solid hike but nothing spectacular, and while I am certainly glad we did it, it wouldn't go on a list of hikes worth repeating. The overlook was nice, but not "wow". The scenery was typical eastern PA hiking, with a mix of hardwoods and some pine understory, a few pretty patches of rhododendrons, and a few noisy little streams. Time of year may be influencing my opinion, as the leaves were off the trees, and the extensive soggy stretches of trail had Dave and I spending too much time looking at our feet and not enough at our surroundings. But simply put... good but not great.

I wonder as I write this if my recent experiences out west have spoiled my expectations, and in a sense I am sure that they have. But there is more to it than that. Certainly after having hiked Harney Peak, Little Devil's Tower and Teddy Roosevelt National Park, this would pale in comparison, but even by my limited Pennsylvania hiking experience, this was nothing special for Pennsylvania. Hiking around Hawk Mountain and the Pinnacle has better views and scenery in general. The Pinchot trail backpack (summer 2010) had better scenery in terms of mile after mile variety and interest (although granted it was summer). And the up and down in and out of the Port Clinton Gap was a much more vigorous hike if that is what you are looking for. So I don't think I am being too harsh. If Harney Peak was a 9.5, TRNP was a 9, Scotts Bluff and Wind Cave were 8's, and Hawk Mountain is a 7, then this would be maybe a 6. Or a 5.5. If it sounds like I didn't like it, that's absolutely not the case. It as a nice hike, and a great day out with my big brother. But this is a nice hike, not a great hike.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hiking Tomorrow

Dave and I are planning on getting out tomorrow for what would be my first real hike since the Dakotas trip. On the one hand, that is disgraceful. On the other hand, I am excited about the prospect of actually getting out and doing something.

I was at the annual Friday-after-Thanksgiving get together with a bunch of old friends, including Dave, and we are not sure as yet where we will be going. Dave had a couple of ideas, as did I, but we didn't settle on anything. All I know for sure is that I am getting up at 6:00am and picking Dave up at 7:15. The rest remains to be seen.

The leading candidate at this point seems to be the Sunset Rocks hike in the Michaux State Forest west of Gettysburg. I am partly skeptical, as that is 2.5 hours driving each way... but it is a hike I have been wanting to do for a long time....

Painting Table

...also known as the dining room table. It seems that a few odds and ends have migrated out of the basement again. Oh well, it happens. Much to Amp's regret...

In and around the bits and pieces of historical stuff that I am working on, Grace and I are having fun painting a few fantasy buildings from Games Workshop. I'm not exactly sure what I plan on using them for, although perhaps more on that later, but the nice thing is that my 7-year old and I are painting them together. Painting these is really nothing more than an exercise in dry brushing, but Grace is picking it up pretty well and routinely asks me if we can paint something. How could I refuse an offer like that? Now if I could just teach her how to paint 15mm Napoleonics, I'd be all set. (All in good time I suppose...)

The buildings in the picture are "Dreadstone Blight" (a ruined wizard's tower) on the left, a watchtower in the back center, and a chapel and small outbuilding on the right. All are from the Warhammer scenery range, and are very nice kits. Building a plastic model kit of any kind brings me back to my childhood, and these were no exception. Plus, I have always enjoyed painting buildings; they look great with minimal effort.

Pictures of the finished product to be posted shortly (assuming we finish them!).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hobby State of the Union

So... What have I been up to from a hobby standpoint these last several months? The honest answer is "not too much". That being said, things seem to have taken a turn for the better. Part of it is just coming out of a general malaise, part of it is that the Fall In convention in Lancaster PA has energized me somewhat (as these cons always do), and part of it is that I never went completely dormant on the hobby front (blog silence to the contrary).

As much as anything these days, I am suffering from the attention span deficit that often (OK, always...) afflicts me. Too many interests and projects and too little time. Back to the original question... "what am I doing these days from a hobby perspective?":
  • Seven Years War project - I have been packing an order to send to Sri Lanka for painting, This is an interest that I have that I will never ever be able to address properly on my own from a painting perspective. If I waited until I painted what I needed to do a modest game, it would never happen. So it is time to admit my own limitations and call in the pros. I am sending Austrians to be painted, while I still have hopes of doing some Prussians on my own, as well as a bullet point covered below...
  • Modular terrain - Following the blogs of Olicanalad and others, it seems that many hobbyists use modular terrain pieces for their battlefields. I have always either used custom terrain boards carved out of foam (but not modular), or simple ground clothes with other terrain pieces. I have made a few half-hearted starts on making modular terrain pieces, but have never gotten very far. This time will be different, and I have already made some decent progress. More to follow in another post...
  • Hundred Years War - As recently posted, I completed a mini project on a set of 24 archer stake bases. I had been planning to get around to this for the better part of a year, and finally set aside the 2 hours needed to knock it out. In addition to that, I always seem to have at least a unit or two of medieval figs on my painting table.
  • Napoleonics - My 15mm armies need more rebasing work in order to use my existing figs better with the LaSalle rules, which we have played a couple of times and like. LaSalle seems to be a nice mix of period feel with modest complexity and fairly quick play time. In other words, a winner.
  • Ottomans - Work continues, albeit at a glacial pace, on knocking out a unit or two here and there. Much more work to be done before even a modest game could be played.
  • Seven Years War "ImagiNation" - It seems to be a fairly common thing amongst our English gaming compatriots to create a fictitious state for which to create an army and inject it into real history. Popular periods seem to be in the early horse and musket periods of Marlburian through Seven Years War. I have decided to exercise my imagination and create the Duchy of Alsberg, a small German state in the Seven Years War era. I have begun painting a few units and have begun sketching out the "history" and background of my little duchy. I envision my duchy as a sometimes ally of Prussia which is often at conflict with smaller neighboring states as well as occasionally getting caught up in the larger affairs concerning Prussia and Austria (hence the additional impetus to get some Austrians painted...).
  • Lord of the Rings and some other fantasy stuff to be expanded on later....
  • Last but not least, the Crusades Project needs to forge ahead. Theoretically this should be an easier one to make progress on as it requires little more than rebasing of figures.
So... as I said, lots of different things going on. If I could just focus on one or two things at a time, I might actually make some progress. Alas, it is not my way...

Dad - One Year Gone

One year ago today, at around 7:30am, my dad died. It has been both a long and a short year since then. They say that time heals all wounds, and in a way I am sure that is true, but in other ways it is not. The passage of time has made it such that I do not feel his loss as a painful thing, but I do still feel it as a hollowness, a kind of emptiness that he is no longer in my life. And unfortunately, I will always now associate the Thanksgiving season with Dad's passing.

I am thankful that I had him for 44 years, and sad that I didn't have him longer. I am thankful that my children knew him at least a little, and that they will remember him in some way, but sad that they didn't know him as the vibrant man that I knew. I am thankful that he was a dedicated father, an involved part of my life, and a father in action and not just in words. I didn't always agree with him in many ways, and our relationship was strained at times (as many father son relationships can be), but I always knew that he cared, and that he was there for all of us.

I will also always have a pang of... I don't know... regret, I guess, that after all those hours at his bedside I wasn't there with him at the very end.

Thanks Dad. I miss you.

Dave has posted a nice note here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mommy's New Ride, Part Deux

It's like deja vu all over again. Three years ago we were nearing the end of the useful life of a 1999 Ford Explorer, and settled on a 2009 Honda Pilot as its replacement. It was, at that point, the nicest vehicle we had owned, and turned out to be as good as our initial impression of it had been. We never had a problem with it of any sort, it rode like a dream (big heavy tank that it was), and we loved almost everything about it.

Flash forward, and we have gotten to the end of the 3 year lease, and so we needed to decide what to do. As happy as we were with the Pilot (and subsequently me with my Accord from the same dealership), it made sense to check out options for both buying out this Pilot as well as rolling the lease forward to a new Pilot, or even downgrading to a CR-V...

End result, taking into account many different factors, is that we have leased a brand new 2012 Pilot. And it's even dark blue, the color that Amparo wanted 3 years ago and couldn't get at the time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wargames Terrain - Archer stake obstacles, part 2

In the first installment of this little how-to I described how I made the rough stands for my Hundred Years War archer stakes. This final post will have a few brief notes on finishing them along with the requisite pictures on the end product.
  1. The completed stands are sprayed with Army Painter Army Green spray paint (a medium green olive drab color).
  2. The stakes are painted with Citadel's Graveyard Earth (a medium brown).
  3. The tips of the stakes are painted with a craft paint, Folks Art's Camel (a tan color). This color looks a little too bright in the picture, but I originally used a duller tan color and while that looked good up close it disappeared into the background when placed on the table. This color makes the points "pop" nicely.
  4. Lastly, the bases are coated with watered down white glue and sprinkled with a mix of Woodland Scenics flocking and tiny stones.
An English force drawn up in a solid defensive position
I think the final result is pretty effective at representing what I wanted. The only thing I would do differently looking at the end result is that I would probably be more careful to mix the "factory tip" pieces of stake with the hand carved ones. The factory tips on the toothpicks are perfectly round and tapered and look too well finished on close inspection. The whittled tips look much more like branches or small logs that have been hand-hewn. I tended to cut them in batches and make whole stands of factory tips on the first few stands. Oh well... Live and learn.
English longbowmen behind their stakes

When all was said and done, this project cost less than $10 in materials, and generated 24 stands of stakes in less than 2 hours total time spent. It was also a nice little project in that I completed it in 15 to 20 minute increments over the course of several days. When I had a few minutes to spare, I could pop down to the work area, make a little progress, and stop easily before coming back to it later, after glue or paint had dried.

A well spent two hours if you ask me...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wargames Terrain - Archer stake obstacles, part 1

One of the terrain projects that I began a long time ago but have needed to complete was the making of a bunch of archer stakes for my Hundred Years War English army. These would be useful little terrain bits that I could envision serving multiple purposes as generic defensive obstacles. In addition to their intended use as archer stakes for the English in HYW, I could see them serving as anything from the obstacles in front of the Ottoman infantry lines at Nicopolis to components of temporary camp protection in ancient battles.

I mocked up one sample stand of these many months ago and was pleased with the result, so I knew exactly what I needed to do, it was just a question of setting aside the time. This is a simple project. To make the 24 stands I am making, the raw material cost is minimal. Most items either came from the household toolbox or miscellaneous hobby stock materials already lying around. I used:
  • A power drill with a small drill bit (the diameter of a round toothpick) from the toolbox
  • A pair of medium duty snips from the toolbox
  • Some craft glue (Aileen's) from the hobby stocks
  • An Xacto knife from the hobby stocks
  • A 3 inch wide sheet of 3/32 inch thick balsa wood (about $2)
  • One pack of 250 round toothpicks (about $3)
  • Some paint, flock and other basing materials from the hobby stocks
Each stand is the same size as my standard base for 25mm infantry figures; 60mm wide by 1 inch (or about 25mm) deep, this way each obstacle stand has the same frontage as a single stand of figures. The process is very simple:
  1. Measure and mark bases on the large balsa wood sheet.
  2. Holding the drill at about a 45 degree angle to the surface of the wood, make 7-9 unevenly spaced holes through the wood (for each base). For this step I placed the wood on top of a styrofoam sheet so I could drill completely through the balsa and into the styrofoam and not hit anything important underneath. (Note that it is much easier drilling all the holes in one large sheet of balsa than it is to drill each individual base after cutting...)
  3. Cut the bases from the large balsa wood sheet with an Xacto knife. Be careful. Score, break, sand lightly (if necessary) and trim.
  4. After cutting apart the bases, I bevel the upper edges using the Xacto knife held at and angle. I prefer the bevelled edge to a straight edge, but that's just personal preference.
  5. For the stakes, I use so-called "fancy" round toothpicks that come 250 to a package. They are pointed on one end (obviously!) and have a decorative banded butt end. Not counting the banded end, which gets cut off and discarded, each toothpick is perfectly sized to make 3 stakes. The first third has the pointed end. After snipping this end off, the cut end of the remaining section needs a little whittling with the Xacto to get it pointed again, then this next third is snipped off. The remaining third is whittled to a point again, and the butt end is snipped off and discarded. (see the top picture for an un-cut toothpick as well as one cut into its four eventual parts).
  6. A small dab of glue on the non-pointed end of each little stake gets poked into one of the holes. I find it looks better and more natural to have the stakes pointing in slightly different directions and at different angles.
After about an hour of this, I had completed the 18 stands as shown in the bottom picture. I decided I wanted a total of 24 stands after doing these 18, so I will crank out 6 more before doing the finishing work, which will be part 2 of this little how-to...