Winter Shiverfest Backpack – Ed Garvey Shelter

Last weekend’s adventure was another in the category “I’m trying to love winter”.  I led a backpacking overnight for Trail Dames of Maryland from Crampton Gap to the Ed Garvey Shelter, then out the next day ending at Weverton.  A very short, doable winter backpack, 4 miles in and about 3 miles out!

Four other crazy ladies joined me on this shiverfest.  We met at Weverton on Saturday afternoon, shuttled down to Crampton Gap, snapped a shot at the AT sign and off we went!

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Off on our Shiverfest!

While it had been slightly chilly when we stepped off, as usual, we were ready to shed a layer within about 25 minutes.  At just after an hour of hiking one dame asked THE QUESTION”, you know the one…Are we almost there?”  Hahaaaa! Yes, we were almost there, I assured her…maybe 15 – 20 more minutes…I think all the ladies were pleased with that answer. 😀

It was only 3:00 pm, but the sun had started to sink taking with it the warmth of the light.

True to my word, we stumbled upon the shelter soon after.  Three big guys greeted us.  I had been hoping for the second floor of the shelter as it is more protected from the wind.  No such luck, two of the big guys had already moved in.  Bummer! Oh well, they were building a fire, so I quickly forgave them!

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Vicky & Kathryn putting up their tents. This was Kathryn’s first backpacking trip and Vicky’s second! Great job, Ladies!

Two of our group tented, I stayed in the shelter with two others.  I have had to put up my tent with freezing fingers before and didn’t need that delightful experience in the morning.

Big guy #1, Bob, and his buddy, Big guy #2, Aaron, were trying to think of a trail name for their friend, Big guy #3.  They asked what we thought.  I looked over at them sitting around the fire.  Big guy #3 was sitting with his back to me, feet comfortably snuggled in bright orange down booties… “yeah, all I am I thinking right now is ‘BootyMan’!”  BootyMan it was!  Bwahahahaa!!  He took it well telling all of us we were going to be wanting his booties at about two in the morning!

Laughing, we spread out our stuff, made dinner, then joined the big guys at the fire.  The comradery of the trail is one of my favorite things about backpacking.  You meet up with other backpackers and it’s like you’ve been friends forever.  These guys were a lot of fun and they definitely made our shiverfest great.  🙂 🙂

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“BootyMan”, Aaron, Vicky, Kathy, Kathryn, & Anne enjoying the warmth of the fire.

The weather cooperated as well.  Cold, yes, but not dreary.  We huddled about the roaring fire watching daylight fade and the lights of houses in the valley twinkle up at us.  The sky sparkled with a million stars and we sat back, heads tilted to the heavens, taking in Orion and other lesser known constellations.  Good food, great conversation, we stayed up until about 8:30 pm before crawling into our bags.

Fast forward several hours…now huddled in my bag (rated 20 degrees + liner that advertised +20 more).  I slept off and on, not totally uncomfortable, but every once and awhile a shiver would start at the back of my neck and run down to my toes.  I had on all my layers…so even fitting into my bag was hilariously snug (but I did it…champ that I am). My feet were cold all night even with my big puffy socks…and all I thought about were those damn bright orange down booties!!!

Checking my Fitbit later that day showed that while I slept for 7 hours and 15 minutes…I was 51 minutes awake or restless!!!  Maybe next time I will go ahead and take my partner’s bag that is rated negative 15 degrees even though it is heavier!  It took all my will to get up and go to the privy! Brrrr!

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Finally up, I decided I would sit in my bag to stay warm while writing in my journal.  It was still dark, but I could see dawn trying to make its move on night.  The dark blue sky was now streaked with a sliver of light blue and I wondered whether we would get the reds and pinks with sunrise.

Several paragraphs later I glanced back up, ahh, light pink was seeping in at the lower edges of the light blue and I heard a flock of geese honking in the valley.  It was still too cold to go get my bag of food though.  No matter, I was warming up my hiking pants and insoles within my bag…my hiking socks were somewhere down in there too.  “Get warm little sockies, I need you!” I thought as I watched the sky dissolve into more of a peachy color.

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As I enjoyed the warmth of my bag, a few coyotes started yipping and singing, a beautiful moment.  I could now see the blue blaze on the trail to the spring.  Light had again conquered the Dark.  Time for hot chocolate – Hike on!

Poking Around at Pokagon State Park

Ah, Indiana in the winter…always a pleasure.  Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting my family around the holidays, but the weather, not in the slightest.  I hail from southern Indiana, where winter is more survived than enjoyed.  I did not grow up skiing the slopes or even sledding a whole lot.  I do remember being cold as heck huddled up to the barrel stove (built by Dad) in the cabin (also built by Dad).  I also remember slipping and sliding, in my shiny dress shoes, as I negotiated an ice laden porch in terror and my Dad lighting fires under my Mom’s car to warm it up enough to start so she could get to work.

And then there was Sara W.’s mom, who slipped on the ice and broke her hip.  She couldn’t walk for a really long time…and as I remember, the Methodist church built that ramp out back so she could be wheeled in for the service.

I want a more positive view of winter.  I really do!  I want to learn to love it, because I only have a maximum of 50 of them left in my lifetime.  😀  Therefore, I planned my visit to Hoosierland this year with a specific purpose: Do something that equates to winter fun.

Enter Pokagon State Park.  There is a toboggan ride!  It showed up on my Facebook feed since I follow Indiana State Parks…and it kept showing up…and I kept thinking about it.  I posted it to my son’s page, “Hey! Doesn’t this look super fun?!”…as insurance, I posted it to his girlfriend’s page too, “OMG, doesn’t this look like a blast?  Let’s all go on Christmas Eve!”  To which she responded that yes, it would be fun, but Logan (my son) would probably not ride.  Sounded like a challenge to me…

I made reservations for December 23 at the historic Potawatomi Inn at Pokagon State Park and literally prayed that 1) there would be snow on the ground but 2) there would not be a blizzard to keep us from going.

An old postcard of the Potawatomi Inn

With my niece in tow, we headed out to Terre Haute to pick up my son on the 23rd.  Two hours and a coffee shop stop later, we had him in the car.  Turn around, get on I-70 headed back east across the state to Indy, then north on I – 69 to the park.  No snow, but I drove north in a cold, dark, yucky rain for 3 hours before reaching our exit north of Angola.  But Hurray!! Food was still being served, there was SNOW on the ground, and sun was in the forecast for Christmas Eve!

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Nothing like a hot buffet with really good food!

 

Getting up early we headed down to the buffet and gorged ourselves, then headed to the Toboggan Ride!  The line wasn’t long, but we had to wait for the park staff to finish their inspection of the ice.  It was very cold, but sunny.  I looked at the slide with nervous anticipation – it was steep!  I would have fun, I would not freak out, I love winter, I love winter…

We got the toboggan.  Jesus Christ, this thing is heavy.  Well, this is why we have children, yes?  We managed to get it up the stairs to the beginning of the ride…and to contort ourselves into the requested riding position.  Niece in the front, son in the back, me in the middle, legs intertwined like we were playing some sort of weird twister..Here. We. Go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was scary BUT a ton of fun! We got up to 38 miles per hour before shooting out the end onto the snow covered lawn of the inn.  The line was pretty long after our first ride, so we opted to turn in the toboggan and take a hike instead.

Midwesterners seem to be incredibly pragmatic in naming their trails…we took Trail #3 as it went to one of the few spots with a descriptive name “Hell’s Point”.  The trail was short (2.2 miles) but had nice variety to it as it traversed marshes and woodlands.  Hell’s Point wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped, but it didn’t matter.  I was spending time with my son and niece, in the snow, in the cold, and I was loving it!

Of course, coming down from Hell’s Point on the stairs, all I thought about was Sara W.’s mom and breaking my hip…Hike On!

 

AT – VA Gravel Springs Gap to Compton Gap

Did you opt outside for Black Friday?  I headed down to Shenandoah National Park to complete a section of AT with my friend Lola and her daughter.

Slipping out of my house sans Sidekick Pauli always takes a bit of logistical brilliance…so boots and pack were stowed in the car the night before.  I absolutely avoided looking directly at her as I grabbed a grocery bag of food and headed out the door!  No worries for the dog…she will go out with me on Saturday somewhere. 🙂

The ranger at the north entrance reminded me the gate would close at 5 pm.  No problem, I will be long gone by then! You know unless tragedy occurs, which it won’t, but if it does, hmmm…nope, no tragedy today, period.  I made my sacrifice to the Trail Gods on Wednesday.

What timing!  I pulled into Compton Gap glancing into my rearview…and there was Lola right behind.  Excellent!  And it was now 50 degrees out.  Yay! Weather cooperating. We left my car at Compton Gap, then drove down to our starting point at Gravel Springs Gap in Lola’s minivan.

Now the passenger, I took the opportunity to scan the woods for wildlife (okay, bears) without having to watch the road.  I was pretty happy searching the woods until Lola and daughter saw a bobcat right off the road and I missed it! Ergh! The bobcat disappeared before I could see it.  Life lesson here…don’t go looking so far beyond that you miss what is right in front of you!

Took about 10-15 minutes to reach Gravel Springs Gap and I think the weather had chilled a bit.  However, I warmed up quickly as I headed up South Marshall Mountain, but not enough to shed a layer just yet.  I was just starting to look for a place to break when a great overlook presented itself.  Just off the trail, no extra effort required, thankfully!

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BoobOnARock atop South Marshall Mountain feelin’ like a boss! 😀

Next up…North Marshall Mountain.  The climb up went quickly and again, we were rewarded with an amazing view back to South Marshall.  I love it when I can look back at where I have hiked as it is such a feeling of accomplishment!

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Looking back at South Marshall Mountain from the overlook on North Marshall. Better than getting a ribbon!

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Coming down North Marshall

The first two climbs of the day had not been as difficult as I had anticipated.  The mist hovered and dipped down as we crossed over both South and North Marshall.  The scent of late fall hung in the air and recent wind storms had littered the path with deep piles of leaves. *crunch, crunch, crunch*  I felt like a kid again kicking in the leaves that came up past the top of my boots. I was brought sharply back to the present when I slipped a little on a rock beneath the leaves!  The humility…let me NOT be the sacrifice to the Trail Gods today, thanks. 🙂  —the gate closes at 5 pm— haha!

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Descending to Jenkins Gap. When the kid is caught just staring up into the sky, you know the hike is a win. I found myself doing the same many times. Beautiful day!

Reaching Jenkins Gap, it was time for the final climb up to Compton’s Peak , whew!  I stopped a few times to catch my breath!  Do mountains ever really get easier?  I am familiar with this stretch of AT though.  Once we passed the campsite on the left, I knew we were almost to the cut off to the view.  This is a view you have to work for…and even though the trail post says 0.2 miles, it feels like more.  Not a difficult walk down, just rocky, and when you are at the end of your hike, well…tempting to just pass it altogether.  But don’t, worth the extra walk!

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This pic I took of Lola on Compton Peak encapsulates the feeling of the entire hike.

We had the whole park to ourselves for most of the hike, or so it seemed.  Descending to my car at Compton Gap, we now shared the trail with many others who had decided to take a hike on Black Friday.  Welcome, and good-bye! Hike On!

AT – VA Skyland to Elkwallow Wayside

I led this as a backpack for Trail Dames.  I promoted it with “great views”…then blow the foghorn, folks! Three of us headed down the trail.  We couldn’t see the trees fifty feet in front of us, let alone the expansive views from Stony Man cliffs, Pinnacle or Mary’s Rock!

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Trail Dames of Maryland members Lola & Vickie atop Stony Man Cliffs

Didn’t matter, Shenandoah is beautiful in any type of cloak she decides to wear.  The foggy woods were magical.  Mist floated through the upper branches of towering trees, then settled into the forest, softening hard edges and damping sounds.  So very quiet on the trail as we stepped carefully to not slip on rocks glistening with moisture.

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The Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park

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The Appalachian Trail between Pinnacle & Mary’s Rock in Shenandoah National Park

This is the first backpack I have led and was initially hesitant to put it on the MeetUp site. Only experienced backpackers for this one.  In the future, I will think about leading a beginner backpack.  But this one…no.

It was not an easy first day.  Ten and a half miles, a few good climbs, then the long down from Mary’s Rock.  I was ecstatic to walk into camp at Pass Mountain! The tent went up and all my gear set up for a comfy, warm sleep.  Afterwards, I made a hot dinner and capped off with hot chocolate.  Yes, that hit the spot!

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Coming down from Mary’s Rock

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Pass Mountain Hut

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My Big Agnus the morning after…a little soggy!

It was getting dark by the time I finished.  Headlamp on, I went to hang my Ursack on the bear pole.  What a pain in the butt…I should have just walked out into the woods and tied it to a tree like usual.  But I wanted to follow all of SNP’s back country camping rules, especially since warnings about the bears were on several trees as we hiked in.  So in the dark, with my bag swaying precariously at the top of the rod, I tried to hook the loop to the top of the bear pole.  Good Lord, that rod is unwieldy!  Sway to the right, sway to the left, felt like I was doing the hokey pokey as I turned myself around! Hahahahaaa!  Finally, it looped…sweeet!  Into my tent, my fleece pants, my cozy shirt, and sleeping cap.  The ibuprofen/Benadryl mix was doing its thing so I soon nodded off contentedly as the pit patter of misty drops fell onto my tent.

dsc00977The weather was supposedly going to clear the next day.  However, we got up in the fog, left Pass Mountain Hut in the fog, and for the remainder of our hike…we were in the fog! The second we were in shouting distance of Elkwallow…yep, it cleared!  Enjoyed beautiful views on the way out of Shenandoah.

Here’s to wet tents, a dry pair of socks, and big smiles! Hike on!

 

AT – VA Ashby Gap to Manassas Gap

Connecting dots.  I started this section last year around the same time, then fell trying to dodge a cicada killer bee.  Cracked my knee, hobbled back to my car, and promised myself I would be back!  Luckily, this time around I had some hiking pals with me, so no out and back silliness!

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Look at the size of this tree that came down! Wow!

We met at the 725 trail head at Manassas Gap, then shuttled back to Ashby Gap to begin our trek.  After crossing Route 50, we came face to face with a young deer.  Go back in the woods, Bambi! Route 50 is a split highway with high speed traffic…no place for a deer!

The first mile or so, after meeting up with Bambi, was climbing.  Worth it! We came out in the high meadows of Sky Meadows State Park which were in full bloom.  Lovely!

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The High Meadow

We cruised along through Sky Meadows, taking our first sit down break at the intersection of the North Ridge trail.  And then, guess what???  An older Virginia gentleman, who had come up the North Ridge trail, recited a poem for us.  Always something interesting happening along the AT.  Haha! So cool! Definitely made my day! 🙂 I inserted a link to a video of his performance. 🙂

Poem on the Appalachian Trail

This hike had two memorable pieces for me and that was one of them.  The other was the visit to Dick’s Dome shelter,  a geodesic dome.  It looked like an Icosahedron to me…yep, math girl here! I was delighted by the equilateral triangles and just being in the dome. 🙂 🙂

IF I could somehow manage to spend a sabbatical researching mathematics along the AT…well, I’d be all set! Hike on!

 

In the Meadows High and Low

Sky Meadows is such a lovely state park in Virginia.  This park was a choice I made without a lot of thinking about it.  The weather was forecasted to turn cooler and I was in need of a walk alone…well, with Sidekick Pauli, but without other humans.  A total introvert retreat!

I parked away from the main parking lot.  Partly because I really didn’t want to see a lot of people yet, but partly because I needed to put my boots on, get my pack together, then get Pauli.  A bit easier without being in a tight parking lot.  So, I pulled right towards the picnic area just after paying my entrance fee at the gate.  No one was in this little lot yet!

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I hadn’t parked here before and found it to be a great spot with easy access to the Hadow Trail.  We took this trail around the lower meadow.  What a glorious morning! The wildflowers were thick along each side of the trail and throughout the woods.  Goldenrod, thistle, and other beauties whose names elude me waved gently in the breeze making the background of blue skies pop as if I were looking at them through polarized lenses.  And the scent of Autumn wafted by occasionally making me burst with happiness!  The change in seasons is coming!

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When the Hadow Trail intersected with the Boston Mill Road, we turned left to pick up the South Ridge Trail.  Well, I could tell it was still summer as the sun rose higher in the sky and we did the same.  Whew, broke a sweat!  Sidekick Pauli needed two water breaks before we made the ridgeline by taking the North Ridge Trail up the final ascent to the AT.

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Once on the ridge it was just bliss.  The breezes picked up and even felt slightly chilly! We left the AT to swing around through the upper meadow to the Paris overlook.  I didn’t want to come down the mountain.  It was so lovely looking down on the surrounding countryside with my feet propped up and mind wandering.  Sidekick Pauli took up residence under the picnic table, coming out only for cheese.

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It was here, my bliss bubble started to spring a leak.  This was September 11.  I had intermittently thought about that day on my way up the mountain.  Here at the top, my mind finally settled on those memories.  I didn’t lose anyone that day, thankfully.  But the day was awful and scary.  My son was 7 years old, so in a rare unification between his dad and me, we decided no media was the best media.  He knew what had happened before I picked him up from school, but as a 7 year old, he only knew so much.  He was scared too.  We lived in Bethesda, Maryland at the time, and the planes flew very low over the house all day.  My son would panic if we went upstairs because he was afraid the planes would fly into our house.  So unless we needed the bathroom, we stayed downstairs.  One of my sisters lived in New York, and of course, no way to know…but we figured she was fine…I mean, we reasoned, what would she be doing near the WTC anyway?  Another sister, who was a foreign service officer, was doing language training in Arlington.  She hitched her way back into Maryland, along with thousands of others.

It is a day I will never forget. The internet has made way too many images from that day too easily accessible.  I cannot un-see some of those images.  I can’t imagine the horror that first responders encountered.  I don’t want to even think about it.  So many people, in a flash, gone.

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I once heard that one should not mourn the dead, but instead mourn the living.  Wait, that may have come from a Harry Potter book…no matter.

A rather big wind, that blew my pack off the table, brought me out of my dark trip down memory lane.  I packed up and we hiked down the mountain.  I felt sad and I felt happy, a strange way to be.  But as long as I am gifted with this life I intend on living.  Hike on.

Closing out Summer on Massanutten Mountain

George Washington National Forest has been on the hiking list for awhile.  It’s not that far, but it is on the other side of Shenandoah National Park…so after driving an hour to Shenandoah, I’m like, um, this is good!

Well, I scheduled this one with some hiking pals so I would actually go ALL the way down to the trail head which is on Rt. 211 west of Luray, VA.  It was exciting to head off in a new direction, towards a new mountain, a new adventure!

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Route: Wildflower ->Massanutten South -> Bird Knob -> Forest Road ->Roaring Run ->Brown’s Hollow (11.7 miles)

We met up in Front Royal, then carpooled down from there.  The trail head had ample parking and isn’t hard to find…although, I passed by it before I saw the turn off.  No matter, there was a small place to pull off and turn around just afterwards…which I did.  Holy moly, the traffic coming up the mountain from both directions is FAST…had to gun it like a NASCAR driver when I pulled out! My RAV4 enjoyed the kicking up of gravel and trail of dust…

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Trail Head Parking

We set out down the Wildflower Trail, then climbed up on the Massanutten South Trail.  This was a big climb and I purposefully went up while it was still early in the day.  Once on the ridge, the trail is really nice!  Yes, rocks…but enough space in between to place my feet on soft pine needles.  The scent of those pines was particularly delicious on this morning, ahhh.  Back to school for me within a week’s time.  I would miss the freedom of summer, but not the heat and humidity.  This morning, up on the ridge, with a slight breeze, cool temps, and scent of pine …lovely.

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Hiking Pals at Overhanging Rock (almost on the ridge)!

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Yay! A rockpile! No, I’m serious, I love these! 🙂

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Top of the pile, here I come!

Given that I had no idea what to expect on this trail, I found the terrain pretty interesting! Huge rocks, rock piles, pine trees… Once on the ridgeline, we hiked along in comfortable silence until we came upon the overlook.  Wow! and there is a campsite up there.  I am definitely putting this on the backpack list!

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After the overlook, the goal was to visit Emerald Pond.  I’d heard about it, so I wanted to see it for myself!  Believe me, it is every bit as beautiful as I’d heard!  and more campsites!  It would be nice, if more people cleaned out their trash though.  We packed out a couple of bags along the way.

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Right Turn, I’m not getting on the forest road yet!

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Just before Emerald Pond. Camping allowed in the field.

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Emerald Pond

After Emerald Pond, there was a bit of hiking down a forest road which wasn’t super pleasant, but not too bad.  But oh, buddy, when we pulled off the forest road to Roaring Run Trail…wow, that was steep! It didn’t help that it was now the hottest part of the day! Trudge up it we did, then took a sit down break at the top near another campsite.  We then headed down and picked up Brown’s Hollow Trail to complete the loop.

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A few leaves are changing! Ready for Fall!

Brown’s Hollow would be gorgeous to hike through in the Spring as several waterfalls cross the trail on their way downhill to the creek. Loved this hike and Massanutten! Definitely coming back!

But now my summer is over…on to Fall! Hike on!