One more month to go and so far this winter has been pretty kind to us. I brace myself every year for the challenges of winter on the river, but this year the hardships have been few. I don't have any stories about chopping the ferry through the river ice or of pulling the canoe over the ice. I only had to shovel snow from the bridge once and we haven't needed crampons to get up the hill. It's been wonderful; but there is a down side. My ice skates sit rusting, wishing they could glide me through the frigid silence of a winter afternoon, my new cross country skis sit waiting for a snowy moonlit night and my sled longs to fly down the slopes of Battery Kemble. The cold brings solitude, too, and I miss sharing the trail with only the fox and the deer.
I didn't go to the White Mountains this year so I don't have any hair-raising, mountaineering stories to tell; but I did find an adventurous hike right here at my doorstep. I decided to do the Key Bridge to Sycamore Island circuit hike. The key to this hike is making it back across the river to Sycamore and to do this I had to shuttle a canoe over to Virginia. Since the hike was early on a Saturday, I took advantage of a brightly moonlit Friday night to stash the required transport. The night was warm for January but there was an up-river wind that made pulling the canoe a little difficult. I made it across, slow and steady, and was surprised to see the lights of Chain Bridge in the near distance and the lights of the Marriot hotel further down in Rosslyn. I locked the canoe to a tree and hid the paddles under a fallen tree, took a minute to enjoy the view of the Island in the moonlight, and headed home to bed.
A bald eagle passed overhead when I started out the next morning. It was going to be a good day! The weather was unseasonably warm so the towpath was busy with people as I made my way to Georgetown. The warm weather was crazy and instead of seeing small flocks of snowbirds (juncos) I saw a phoebe busy staking out its nesting territory as if it was springtime. I made it to Key Bridge, spotting a red-shouldered hawk on the way. I also stirred up a huge gathering of mourning doves (about sixty of them) as I cut through the woods near Fletcher's Boathouse. The wind on the bridge was fierce so I reached for my windbreaker only to find that my pack was slightly open and my jacket with my hat and gloves was not there. The blunder wasn't life threatening, but my sweater does little to block the wind. I hurried to the Virginia shore for the shelter of the trees.
The hike from Key Bridge to Chain Bridge was great, and even though I've driven along this shore many times, hiking it gave me a whole new perspective. I passed half a dozen wild streams as they cascaded down the high bluffs of the Virginia shore, walked along sandy shores, and scrambled up rocky cliffs, finding beautiful scenery at every turn. The wind was blowing incessantly and the river was covered with big whitecaps as gusts of 50 mph rushed down the Gorge. I decided not risk a canoe crossing in this weather and instead crossed the river at Chain Bridge. I hiked home keeping an eye out for my lost windbreaker. It was almost a week before I had a chance to finish my hike but it was another warm day as I headed up river from Chain Bridge. This part of the trail doesn't skirt the river but instead follows Pimmitt Run up to the earth works of Fort Marcy, a Civil War fort. I saw a sharp-shined hawk near the creek and there was a big red fox at the fort. The trail is then squeezed between the parkway and a residential area until it drops back down to the river right across from the Island. I checked for signs of the eagles as I passed the backside of their nest and I soon found my canoe waiting to take me back to the Island.
-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker