Wildflower Report

Massanutten Mountain Trails 100
May 8-9, 2004

by Gary Knipling

Wild Azaleas on Wildflower TrailThe 2004 Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 had the most starters and finishers in its history including many first time recruits. The high quality of the field was evident with a record seven runners finishing under 24 hours. Many of the species of wildflowers seen along the course of the MMT are the same from year to year, but there are always some surprises. I sometimes think that “rookie” runners at MMT are fortunate in that they don’t fully know what to expect. But, just like with the wildflowers, even the veteran MMT runners have some surprises.

I had only seen one pink Lady Slipper, a signature MMT wildflower, before the top of Habron Gap when my buddy Randy Dietz caught up to me. For the past several years we have finished very close to each other in common ultras. We visited through Camp Roosevelt Aid Station and on up Duncan Hollow. Randy pushed ahead going up and over Duncan Knob but I fully expected to see him later in the day. I didn’t learn until the finish that Randy had his “career run” and eked out the win in the Senior division by less than 30 seconds over the defending Senior’s champ, Mike Campbell. Congratulations Randy ! I’ve enjoyed sharing the trails with you the past several years. At least I’ll still be able to see you at the start and finish of future runs.

Dennis Herr enjoys some Knob after his first MMT finish Every section of the trail has its own personality, but the best for overall wildflower observation for me in ‘04 was the Bird Knob loop and pipestem where you get to see runners that are in front and behind you. I saw Dennis Herr on his way back as I was going up to Bird Knob. I challenged Dennis to find the finish line this year for his first MMT buckle and that I had a special treat for him if he did. I was pleased to be able to share a “hit” with Dennis at the Skyline Resort when he waited for me to come in Sunday morning. I also saw two “southerners”, Rob Youngren from Alabama and Greg Gearhart from Mississippi, together on top of Bird Knob and I was honored when they asked me what the bright blue flowers with a yellow center were. I was happy to tell them about the Dwarf Iris.

Most of the wildflowers are spread out and the same types grow in many areas along the course. There are three flowers, however, that I have seen for several years growing in very specific isolated locations. I’ve seen the same cluster of Speedwell, the dainty low-growing lavender flowers, growing in the small clearing at the south end of Kern’s Mountain at the left turn going down the trail to FDR 274. Close by, the only place where I’ve seen the bright purple 18” high Sundial Lupine is on the right side of the paved road running down to the Visitor’s Center. I first saw these after a local forest fire charred the ground on the most southern slope of Kern’s Mountain about five years ago. Each year since, the area of growth of the Lupine has extended itself. And, after seeing the Wild Columbine for the first time last year in a shale outcropping close to the trail between 211 East and the top of Scothhorn Gap, it was there again and I had the opportunity to point it out to Dave Adams from Wyoming and the Quad U.S. Marine Team just before dark on Saturday. It was comforting to see the Columbine patch was larger this year.

Wild Azaleas I was treated to three lovely odors during my trek in ’04. The official flower of the MMT – the Wild Azalea – gave me my only pleasure while on Kern’s Mountain. In the heat of mid-afternoon the rising air currents brought forth the sweet smell from azalea patches further down the mountain. Near the U-turn past the Bird Knob Aid Station a grove of Autumn Olive bushes in full bloom shared their aroma with me. And, after leaving Gap Creek II in the dark, I caught up with three bobbing flashlights going up to Jawbone Gap. As I neared the group I was bathed in a very lovely fragrance of perfume. I still don’t know if the source of the perfume was Steve Burton or one of his pacers, Marissa and/or Donna, but I don’t believe the pleasant fragrance was from Steve.

Lady Slippers on Wildflower Trail I had my ups and downs during the night and I had only seen two runners between Edinburg Gap and Powell’s Fort. I scooted through Powell’s Fort Aid Station, barely having time to talk to Marge & Margie and James & Rebecca. I thought I had the trail to myself as I pushed up the Signal Knob road and past the Strasburg Reservoir. I was celebrating reaching the next to last climb at the top of Bear Wallow trail by taking a break and sitting on a log. I was enjoying a quiet early Sunday morning breakfast consisting of one Red Bull when I heard voices, and suddenly Kerry Owens with pacer Steve and Jaret Seiburg with pacer John were on me. Their presence gave me a needed “kick in the butt”. After letting them pass me, fair and square, I started feeling the “Bull” in me (aka BS). As I passed Jaret going down one of the nicest downhills on the entire course, he thought he heard me say “I’ll wait for you down at Elizabeth Furnace”. There must have been some mistake, although it’s 2:1, John agreeing with Jaret.

Through it all – all 101.8 miles – there was still time to smell the roses . . . or at least the Wild Azaleas and Autumn Olive ! After conferring with Carolyn Gernand who helped mark the course and saw a lot of the sections in the daytime that I only saw at night, we have come up with our list. With the protective statement of “as far as I can remember”, the wildflowers we saw on the 2004 MMT course (in no particular order) were as follows:

Gary at Shawl Gap
  • Wild Azalea (white/pink) – the official flower of the MMT etched on the buckle, seen and smelled on the high ridges
  • Autumn Olive (green) – Kern’s Mt, Bird Knob, and bottom of Jawbone trail
  • Wild Columbine (orange/red) – rocky section of trail between 211 and Scothorn Gap
  • Bluets (blue/lavender w/ yellow centers) – small low flower clusters, common
  • Star Grass (yellow) – sometimes growing right in middle of trail, common
  • Violets (many shades of blue/lavender/white) – from start to finish, common
  • Blackberry (white) – more common down low, stems not growing over trail yet
  • Pussytoes (white/grey) – small cottonballs at end of arching stem, common
  • Early Wintercress/Wild Mustard (yellow) – bushy plant with flowers forming crown
  • Garlic Mustard (white) – a bad plant, common in lower woodlands
  • Rattlesnake Weed (yellow) – Carolyn found this one, basal leaves have purple veins
  • Deerberry (white) – a shrubby bush with drooping flower clusters
  • Bowman’s Root (white) – thin radiating petals, just a few plants on top of Buzzard Rock seen just after daylight Saturday morning
  • Buttercup (yellow) – 15” high waxy petals, Rt 613, Rt 684
  • Moss Phlox (lavender to pink) – growing in rocky soils in many places in 6-8” diameter clusters
  • Pink Lady Slipper (pink) – one in Milford Gap, many on Bird Knob
  • Wild Geranium (blue) – Duncan Hollow, Powell’s Fort
  • May Apple (white) – umbrella shaped leaves hiding single flower, Powell’s Fort
  • Speedwell (lavender) – only one place on Kern’s Mt
  • Lyre-leaved Sage (blue) – common down low along roads
  • Dwarf Iris (blue w/ yellow center) – Bird Knob, Bear Wallow trail
  • Vetch (blue) – several species down low along roads
  • Daisy Fleabane (lavender rays w/ yellow center) – Rt 613, Rt 684
  • Golden Ragwort (yellow) – Rt 684, 211 East, Gap Creek
  • Sundial Lupine (purple) – only along FDR 274 on west side
  • Cinquefoil (yellow) – 5 petals and 5 leaves, low to ground, common
  • Violet Wood Sorrell (blue) – Carolyn found, Woodstock Tower, Duncan Hollow
  • Yellow Wood Sorrell (yellow) – Indian Grave trail, Rt 684
  • Ground Ivy/ Gill Over the Ground (purple) – low creeping vine, common
  • Rue Anemone (white) – shady rocky soils, common
  • Spring Beauties (white petals w/ pink veins) – a few plants still in bloom from early Spring
  • Early Saxifrage (white) – growing up high in rocky soils, common
  • White Campion (white) - blooms throughout night attracting moths, Powell’s Fort
  • Wood Betony/Lousewort (pink/white) – Carolyn found on Bird Knob
  • Periwinkle (blue) – growing in thick mats along road near Gap Creek
  • Squawroot (brown) – Carolyn found near Woodstock Tower, Powell’s Fort
  • Soloman’s Seal (yellow/green) – Carolyn found near Powell’s Fort, Eliz Furnace
  • Soloman’s Plume (white) – Carolyn found near Woodstock Tower, Eliz Furnace

The Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 is in GREAT shape. Stan Duobinis has taken the reigns from Ed Demoney and run with it. The volunteer support for the runners has never been better. The secret is out about the wonderful weekend experience the MMT provides for the runners and their crews/pacers. THANK YOU to all those people who make it possible for the MMT to happen.

Happy trails,

Gary (#70)

MMT 2004 Report | MMT Home Page

Gary with Annette Bednosky, son Keith, Vicki Kendall, Scott Mills, and co-wildflower person Carolyn Gernand

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