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! 🙂

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 😍 Hike on!

AT – NC Max Patch to Garenflo Gap

July 20, 2018 – July 21, 2018

After hiking into the NOC and staying the night, most of the Dames went home. Lola, “Akela” and I scooted up to do another micro section before doing the I-81 shit show north to Maryland. OH, WHAT A SECTION!!!!!

We drove up to Garenflo Gap to park my car first thing in the morning. The last short section of “road” to the parking area is more like a rutted out driveway up to someone’s mountain hideaway, but the parking area itself was great! However, Akela vowed to never drive her Toyota minivan up it again. 😀 No worries there, my RAV4 made it just fine.

Off to Max Patch!

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Oh my! This is my new favorite place on the planet! I’m sure it was made even more memorable with the fabulous weather. Big puffy clouds in a blue, oh, so blue sky, floated with the breeze as we reveled in the fresh cool air which had settled on the bald.

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Glorious!

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There was a lovely campsite just over the high point of the bald, then several more after we descended off the bald into an area that looked very park-like. Lush green grass, tall trees, almost Eden. We made note to include this section when we come back to head south into the Smoky Mountains. A little further down the trail is Roaring Fork Shelter which also looks to be a delightful place to make camp!

All the way to Lemon Gap the trail was just a delight to walk. So different than the trail between Fontana Dam and the NOC! We were ready for a change and the trail delivered!

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After Lemon Gap, we started back uphill and discussed hiking past the next shelter to the campsite listed on Guthook’s App. It seemed logical, I mean we weren’t tired and, add to that, big storms were moving in tomorrow. I would like to be out of Garenflo Gap, and down that sketchy rutted road before those storms moved in!

Well, of course, once we made the first campsite, we kept on to the second. The trail was overgrown waiting for that controlled burn we read about on a sign at Lemon Gap!

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Now we were pooped! It was about 6??? Time doesn’t mean a whole lot to me on the trail, but I know it was after 5 o’clock when we pulled into the campsite. We had filtered water at a very low running stream that crossed the trail on the way down the mountain, my Katahdin sucked it right up, but Akela had to take a few more minutes to fill up her bag to use, oh what was it, a Sawyer? Anyway, it took a while. I love my Katahdin in times like these!

We set up camp, made dinner, enjoyed the sunset, then crashed!

Sleeping soundly into the night, ahhhh!

*sleeping soundly*

*possible snoring*

*dreaming of bears*

“Kylena…”

I was surprisingly not startled by Akela kneeling outside my tent in the middle of the night.

“What?” *notices wind has picked up*

“There’s a really big storm moving in.”

“okay.”

“A really big storm.” *lightning flashes…rumble of thunder*

“okay.”

I’ll just say here, that I am not at all bothered by storms. I grew up in the Midwest and tornado warnings were just part of life. We lived in the woods and I loved a good storm. I don’t really want to be in a tornado, but a good thunderstorm is weirdly comforting to me.

The thunder rolled over the mountain singing me to sleep. I did keep track, for a while, to the time elapse between lightning and thunder and quickly realized, while a good lightshow was upon us, the storm itself wasn’t right ON us.

Akela wasn’t so sure. However, she eventually got back into her hammock. Maybe she went to sleep eventually. 😦

I was up early as usual, still raining, then another storm moved in. Akela and I texted back and forth…nice to have cell service at times like this! I packed up everything in my tent, except the pad I was sitting on, waiting to make my exit as soon as the rain let up.

I have been through this before…everything in the pack, pack cover on, rain poncho on…rain slows, then stops. Go time! Back out of tent with poncho on, place pack so cover keeps somewhat dry, deflate pad, disassemble tent…shove into pack pockets and get the heck off the mountain!

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Nearing Garenflo Gap (thanks Akela for the pic!)

The rain did not return as we hiked down the mountain to my car waiting at Garenflo Gap. Sunlight coming through the trees filtered down in rays creating an almost postcard like scene. Thunderstorms don’t last forever! Hike on!

AT – NC Fontana Dam to the NOC (part 2)

7/18 – 7/19/2018 Stecoah Gap to NOC

After a night at the Hike Inn, we were smelling good, feeling rested, and ready for another overnight on the trail.  I had looked forward to this section all year…Cheoah Bald!! A real bald!

Breakfast could have been fabulous.  I dreamed of scrambled eggs, toast, hash browns, and coffee.  Alas, nothing was open when we wheeled out of the parking lot headed to Stecoah, so I made do with trail bars and Gatorade. 😦

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Let’s Go!

It did the trick somewhat.  My stomach was not in its best form today.  The restaurant we went to the previous night did not have any viable vegan options, so I chose what I thought was a dairy-free meal, since that is the big culprit to my system.  Regrettably, it was not dairy-free! I tried my best to scrape off all bits of dairy…but no luck and as I climbed out of Stecoah Gap I was feeling it.  It did not keep me back, but it kept me in check all the way up to Cheoah! Not my best day hiking!

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They said there would be water somewhere at the gap.  This is totally true if you want to climb down like 700 feet to get it.  I’ll pass!

My hiking gals were none the wiser, thank goodness!  I climbed, and climbed.  That is one long uphill!  It got a bit hot, so we stopped and used my backpacker fan (which I procured for free at the Summit).  That fan was a BIG win!

Then as the trail leveled out, I caught a glimpse of something amazing through the rhododendron bushes.

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The bald, the bald!!!! We HAVE ARRIVED! 😀 😀 😀

Amazing, and just like that, all memories of that hard climb evaporated into the bright blue sky!  I pulled out my big red poncho to spread on the ground, then sprayed myself down with bug spray…no ticks on me, please.  Falling back on the poncho I undid the laces on my boots and kicked them off, perfect!

Now it was time to relax a bit.  Big climb over, I took it all in.  The blue of the sky, the big, white puffy clouds that drifted lazily from right to left.  The breeze as it made its way through the towering grasses, the bees as they hummed about me, the soft scent of hay and clover, the birds chirping to each other, the butterflies as they floated by,  and me.  I was able to hear, no, …really hear, and see, and feel, and smell! Oh, what a day! What a place! I felt I was a lucky person, indeed!

 

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After the bald, it was a short downhill roll to the shelter.  And guess who was waiting for us?

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No guesses?

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Uncle Charlie’s crew…sans Uncle Charlie…who had, indeed, ditched out due to his bum leg and hitched his way into the NOC.  Who was, according to brother and son, currently rafting down the river loving life! Oh, Uncle Charlie! So happy you were having a great time! 😀

I pitched my tent down the hill, then immediately had to visit the privy, which was like a kazillion feet above me on the hill.  Oh, the humility. Ugh.

It was a good sleeping night! haha 😀

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Making our way down to the NOC!

The walk downhill to the NOC was not as bad as I thought it might be after my experience coming into the NOC last summer on the opposite side (which had major erosion due to fire damage).  This side of the hill was a piece of cake compared to that!  I kept waiting for the “jump-up” listed on the map.  I finally decided to check Guthook’s App…turned out we were sitting just downhill from the “jump-up” taking in a lovely view while eating some snacks!  Wow, didn’t think anything about it…I mean does it even warrant a nickname like “jump-up”???

The rest of the way down took a long time, for sure! and our feet were beat! For the last two miles, I fantasized about soaking my feet in the river.  We could hear the happy din of people playing on the river as we made our way around and down the mountain.  It added to my desperate fantasy!  I needed to be at that river like a mile ago!

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The Dames 🙂

And then we were there.  And if you have ever backpacked into the NOC, then you know how good it is for your morale…people treat you like a superstar! They want to talk to you about the trail, they are in awe that you are carrying a backpack, on and on…All the good vibes! Hike On!

AT – NC Fontana Dam to NOC (part 1)

7/15/2018 – 7/17/2018 Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam

Trail Dame Summit is history! So I rushed to Sylva, North Carolina to meet up with everyone at City Lights Cafe for lunch, then off to the mountains!  Highly recommend City Lights Cafe and may need to go back to check out the book store upstairs.  They had a few wonderful vegan options…which gives them 5 stars in my book! 😀

The weather forecast indicated possible thunderstorms that evening but we stayed dry until we hit Jacobs Ladder after Sweetwater Gap.

“Oh, hello, North Carolina, I see you waited up for me.”

Sweat soaked us as we laboriously lifted one foot over the other to make slow forward progress.  It was up, straight up, and boy, was I glad the rain held off as this was one of THOSE hills! Rain would have felt amazing, but it would have resulted in each step forward being followed by two steps sliding back.  Thankfully, it was a short hill, and we quickly finished our big 2.4 mile day to Brown Fork Shelter.

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Yes! Made it and no rain yet!

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Brown Fork Shelter…The site of the Mice Massacre

Brown Fork Shelter is a nice shelter. It is up off the ground, seems clean enough, sturdy.  In the early morning, I got up and walked toward the privy in the deep fog that had descended on the mountain, beautiful until I almost stepped on a mouse.  Then, *quick inhale*, I saw that it was dead. “Oh my gawd” I had glanced around and could not unsee the littering of dead mice as I arrived back at the shelter.  Creepier still was the trash bugs were crawling under them to make it appear they were still moving and a huge bullfrog sitting on the side of the shelter looking down on the massacre as if he had ordered it.  UGH.

So, I have a question.  Do trail maintainers ever put out mouse poison to cull the herd, so to speak?  We found the powdered stuff under the back of the shelter.  I was livid.  Mice eat the poison, bugs eat the mice, birds eat the bugs…you get it.  Yes, the mice are sometimes the most annoying opportunists, but humans made this problem.  Sloppy humans who left food around.  😦

I took my irritation down the trail with me that day and had to hike it out.

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Tallahassee Tom … did you kill those mice?

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Bully Bullfrog…did you order those mice killed? (oh, and please don’t eat the bugs)

The hike was pleasant as we rolled along the AT to Cable Gap Shelter.   Wildflowers lined the trail in places and after getting to the top of one hill we were blessed with a view of the peaks of distant mountains rising above a sea of valley fog.  With each breeze, spanish moss lifted and swayed, floating with the wind for just a few seconds before falling back to cling to the bark of its tree. And it was quiet, so quiet.  You can hear yourself think up here.

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There were some rocky spots 🙂

 

I was apparently fully recovered from the mice massacre when we arrived at Cable Gap since I decided to again sleep in the shelter.  The threat of rain was imminent…and I wanted to keep my tent dry for at least one more day.  I could feel the stillness, the humidity.  I could see the leaves tipping over.  Yes, it was only matter time.  I got my pad set up just in time to watch the skies open up and dump.  Time for a relaxing afternoon in the shelter!

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Uncle Charlie, brother of Uncle Charlie, and son of brother of Uncle Charlie came trooping into the shelter area from Fontana Dam about then.  These three were a comedy of errors and had us both shaking our heads and laughing.  Uncle Charlie had injured his leg early in the day leaving his nephew, son of brother of Uncle Charlie to carry two packs…his own and Uncle Charlie’s.  The son wore one on his back and one on his front…

Leave no trace was not part of their dinner plans, apparently.  Uncle Charlie dumped his left over stuff on his plate right in front of the shelter… I totally called them out on that!  OMG, dead mice and now this!  As they headed up the hill to their hammocks, the son asked if he could leave his pack at the shelter (he left it outside on the ground).  No problem as long as there is NO FOOD IN IT.  He came back in about 15 minutes, sheepishly, and took out a couple of trail bars to hike down to their “bear bag”.  Good Lord, still shaking my head!

During the night, something…maybe a possum, maybe a raccoon, or maybe an army of mice turned his pack over scaring the living bejeezus out of me.  I turned on my headlamp and shot it out to his pack.  The light met with a wall of fog…I saw nothing, but did not sleep particularly well the rest of the night!

I was one sleepy hiker the next morning! No matter, we were headed to Fontana Dam, then to the Hike Inn for a shower and real bed for tonight…I vowed to pop a benedryl.

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All the things that go bump in the night show in our eyes! *yawn*

It was a gorgeous hike into Fontana, but a little demoralizing after we got to the Marina and found we still had about a mile and a half to go.  It was hot as Hades down around Fontana Dam and that last mile *whew* the cool waters of Fontana Lake mocked me. I just wanted to jump in, but it was so far downhill!

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Lucky for me I had gotten a second wind at the Marina and was charging … well okay, I am not really capable of charging, but anyway, keeping a swift pace to Fontana Dam.  Then came the stairs, and the road walk, and it was hot…I got to the Dam and literally sunk to the ground to feel the cool grass.  I tore my boots off and let my feet go “ahhhhhh”!!!

I wanted to get a good look at the Smoky Mountains just on the other side of the dam.  They were intoxicating and pulled me in.  I got up from my shady spot and with my bare feet started across the parking lot.  In the middle of the sun blasted lot I broke out into a slight jog, then, dang it! a run for the grass on the other side as I felt the asphalt burning into the underside of my feet, hahaha, flashbacks to my wonder years growing up in Texas!

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Fontana Dam

Yeah, and after I gazed at those lovely Smoky Mountains I had to run back to the other side… 😀 ouch, ouch, ouch…Hike on!

 

AT-VA Loft Mountain to Turk Gap…completing Shenandoah!

I ended the AT through Shenandoah where I began it long ago. Several years back my sweetie and I backpacked the Moorman River Loop which traversed the AT from Turk Gap to Blackrock Gap…loved that trip!

Anyway, here I was with the Dames at Loft Mountain pulling out my gear for a quick overnight on the AT. It was going to be a hot one!

Shorts? Check!

Prehydrate with Gatorade? Check!

Backpack packed light? OMG OMG OMG OMG 21 POUNDS!!!!! WHAAAAAT?

That has never happened…are you kidding me? 21 pounds?!! I’m so proud of myself 😂

Okay, let me collect myself, whew…

The first day was sweet! Gorgeous trail, interesting rocks, and tremendous views from Blackrock Summit.

Pulling down into Blackrock Hut, we got set up quickly. I decided that I was going to have a lazy weekend and took advantage of a mostly empty shelter! The ridgerunner, Papa Bear, showed up, in addition to a slew of thruhikers and weekend warriors.

Papa Bear was a great conversationalist and I soon found out we knew some of the same trail folk. This type of encounter is what I truly love about the AT. The trail connects us in ways we cannot possibly understand or anticipate; it is almost magical. 😊

A few of the guys tenting down the hill spotted a mama bear and cub on the opposite side of the ravine! We all ran down to watch them until they ambled off. Then it was to bed for me! Next morning I heard that the bears came back…the guys down the hill had to come out of their tent, yell a bit, made a bunch of noise until the bears again left. 😲

I heard nothing from the bears, but oh! The whipporwills! A lovely serenade long into the night.

The following day I treated the dames to slackpacking the last 8.5 miles. I would say it was a treat for me too, but recall my pack was ONLY 21 POUNDS!! 😄😄😄

It was a great decision. Four good climbs, temps climbing into mid-80s, and a delightful mugginess moved in. Yummy.

It was one of those days. Climb up 100 yards, stop to rest, up, rest, up, rest…

The wildflowers along the way made it bearable!

Turk Gap was a welcome sight! A few of us capped off the weekend at Loft Wayside before dragging ourselves back to the real world. Here’s to good friends, the trail community, and whipperwills…hike on!

AT-VA Turk Gap to Beagle Gap

I left off telling the story of our hiking weekend back in March to attend my dad’s funeral.  It has been hard getting back to writing on the blog since then.  I wasn’t particularly close to my dad, but he was an enigmatic force and all things “Albert” could have a lasting affect on all who knew him. Alzheimer’s paired with old age got him in the end…but what a life he led!

One thing I had in common with him was his love for the woods.  So it is back to the woods we go!

Earlier in the weekend, Shenandoah National Park had been closed due to snow and ice.  It had opened AFTER we had started hiking on the previous day hiking AT – VA Rockfish Gap to Beagle Gap .  What a difference a day made!

Driving to Turk Gap we dodged an army of squirrels intent on licking up something that was on the road, possibly salt.  The road was clear, the sky was blue, and the snow was still pristine in many spots.  Evidence of other hikers was there, but still lovely!

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Capital Cheezy Shot at the Trail Head 😀

This section took us down, down, down to a lovely stream valley, then up, up, up Calf Mountain.  In the snow.  Trudge, trudge, trudge…it was kicking my butt!  I was making my best effort to love winter, but honestly, after this weekend I didn’t care to see another flake of snow for a looooonnnnnnggg time!!

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This gorgeous view was the first road crossing at an overlook.  Regardless of how I feel hiking in snow today, I absolutely go all gaga for this kind of view!

I waited so long to write up this section on the blog that is is now long past winter and warm weather has arrived.  And I use the definition of warm from the Mid-Atlantic weather dictionary…hot, muggy, and what the hell happened to Spring???

So, it is with a bit wistful yearning that I revisit this section. 😀

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Climbing Calf Mountain … hiking friends helpful on this snowy climb! However, the snow had been melting all day. Out in the distance there are snow free mountains!

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After that climb I AM NOT hiking down 0.3 miles to take a gander at the Calf Mountain Shelter. Just no.

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Hallefrickenlujah!!!!! The summit of Calf Mountain! YES, YES, YES!!! Now where is my damn sticker?

After the Summit of Calf Mountain, it was pretty smooth sailing, thankfully!  One more lesser summit on Little Calf Mountain, then down the field to the cars closing out out our hiking weekend.

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Summit of LIttle Calf Mountain-JUST LOOK AT THE SKY!!!

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View from Little Calf Summit – A very nice closer! Well done Appalachian Trail, well done indeed!

Three great hikes with four great gals! Hike On!

 

 

 

AT – VA Rockfish Gap to Beagle Gap

March 24, still not spring!

The hiking weekend to kick off my spring break…ha!  The house we rented in Staunton, Virginia is lovely and made a great place to plan out alternative hikes…or as I like to think of them, plan B, C, D…

After the hike at Trimble Mountain, we knew that the chances of Shenandoah National Park being open in the morning were pretty close to ZERO.  Throw the maps out on the table and discuss a few possibilities.  None of them were as appealing as hiking the AT, which was Plan A.  We had already used up Plan B at Trimble Mountain, so we went with Plan C, an out and back on the AT starting at Rockfish Gap.  We would hike to McCormick Gap and back…about 7.5 miles.  In the deep snow that would be enough!

Yes, a plan!  We parked at the old HoJo’s at Rockfish Gap and made our way over to the south entrance and cut-off to the AT where we donned our microspikes and headed up into the woods.  Another gorgeous day!

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We were lucky several had passed this way before us packing down the snow a bit on the trail.  It was still icy, so microspikes had been a good call!  We trudged uphill, taking occasional breaks to catch our breath, let the heart rates return to normal, and to generally take in the quiet, snow-laden forest that surrounded us.  Until the crow saw us…he chattered non-stop, either saying hello or get the heck out of my territory… not sure which, but he was quite animated!

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Then I heard it. The hum, the slap of melted snow runoff on moving tires, Skyline Drive must have been opened.  At first one car, then silence.  As we neared McCormick Gap, the number of cars on the drive had picked up considerably…the word was out!

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We stopped for a break at McCormick Gap and made a decision to continue to Beagle Gap and hitch a ride back to Rockfish for the car.  The Hiking Weekend Adventure was in full throttle!

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I was excited!  Reaching the top of the mountain there are several communication towers and oddly enough, tractor seats.  I had seen them many times in pictures and looked forward to breaking there and having a sit-down before descending to Beagle Gap.  It was everything I expected and we all took a nice rest in those tractor chairs!

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The sun was trying to make its way out of the clouds.  Lola pointed out that a rainbow had formed around it.  I looked up, and up, and back, and up, and then…oh gawd…I was falling out of the chair! All I could think was, not today, please, not today, the ground is wet, the ground is muddy…no, no, no, this would NOT happen to me today!  I struggled to keep myself in the chair by one-arming myself off the ground, believe me, not a particularly ballerina moment in my life! 😀  But ladies and gents, it worked!

I arrived at Beagle Gap, high and dry…AAROOOOO!  Hike On!