AT – VA Compton Gap to Rt. 522: My 5 Favorite Things!

My 5 favorite things from yesterday’s day on the Appalachian Trail – not in any particular order! ūüôā

1. We, the Maryland Trail Dames, were blessed to see a woman break the record for running the AT through Shenandoah National Park!

2. A deer quietly walked by us, stopping for a moment to take us all in.

3. Creek crossings!

4. Meeting ‘Disco’, a flip-flop through hiker making his way down to Springer Mountain.

5. The pictures and stories by Ms. Harron’s 2nd Graders at Ressie Jeffrey Elementary that are displayed in the kiosk at the Rt 522 Trailhead in Front Royal! Love, love, love…read every story!

I am just so happy to see the trail and love for nature nurtured in children!

This is what trail magic looks like to me ūüėć 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. ūüôā

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! ūüėÄ

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. ūüôā ¬†—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!