AT – VA Dripping Rock to Rockfish Gap

Backpacking with my gal pals last weekend! How is it to know these women, these outrageous trail bitches who understand this is not a frivolous hobby? We understand each other in a deep way even our life partners don’t get. We see the desire burning in each other’s heart for the outdoors, for the forest, for walking in and not having to walk out right away. Hiking and backpacking is something we do because it is what makes us whole! and it is what makes us reasonable human beings in all the other areas of our lives.

With that in mind, we all piled into Akela’s minivan, WHICH HOLDS ALL SEVEN OF US AND OUR GEAR!! Headed south to Dripping Rock, one of us has forgotten her cell phone…turn around, back to Rockfish Gap…OKAY, now we headed for Dripping Rock … for real! 😀

A sunny, but very chilly morning, at 20 degrees! Thankfully, climbing first thing. It is a lovely stretch of trail up the mountain. Some of us hike a little faster, some a little slower, … all of us hike with optimism, smiles, and support for one another.

The views at the top were amazing, of course! We stopped for lunch at the highest point of our hike. A nice break on the sun splashed rocks until the sun went on hiatus and the wind decided to pick up and play chicken with us. Okay, okay, we are going, seriously! Gloves and hats back on! Ladies, someone has an issue with letting us soak in the sun!

We felt good as we started down towards Paul C. Wolfe Shelter. Golden leaves covered our path in spots as we hiked one way, then the next, zigzagging down the mountain on a kazillion switchbacks. A big nice trail for the most part!

It was a great day filled late Autumn forest magic. A gust of wind showered us with leaves, a beam of sunlight warmed us for a few minutes, a deer silently sneaked a peek at us, and birds called out to each other as we passed. I arrived at the shelter free of all regular life stuff. No place but here, no time but now.

I got my tent up and had dinner as the forest went dark. The moon was almost full giving me all the happy vibes. 🙂

A couple of dads and their sons were camped at the shelter. “NO worries about bears tonight”, I thought, as those boys ran up and down each side of the creek having the time of their lives.

I crawled into my tent, broke open some ‘hothands’ to warm up my tootsies and my sleeping bag, then fell promptly to sleep…at 7:00 pm. Woohoo! Hiker midnight!

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Morning now nigh…Dang, it is always a tough time getting out of the bag on a cold morning!! Deep breath and up I was. Packing up warms you up, so move, move, move! And, oh crap, I have to filter water…oh, but what a nice view I had!!

Hot oatmeal warmed my insides and coffee made me a little more coherent, then it was down the trail we went. It was much warmer on Sunday morning and with temps climbing we were soon plenty warm. The trail had some disaster blow downs which gave us an aerobic edge to our hike. We were shedding layers like crazy! “Lost&Found” had to do an extensive striptease on the trail since she needed to get her long johns off…if that would have been me, I know a fricken entire boy scout group would have appeared! Luckily, she got it done without any such embarrassment!

We spent several minutes at the Lowe cemetery. Akela suggested that it would be a good cleanup project. I have to agree. A tree had fallen over a few graves in the back of the cemetery.

Next stop was Mayo Homestead…a very nice place it must have been with that big fireplace! I can imagine riding a horse up to the cabin and seeing smoke drifting up out of the chimney. A promise of freshly baked bread or other delight waiting for me!

Along the last stretch we met ‘Walking Spirit’, a south bound thru hiker. He was sitting by a nicely flowing spring, enjoying his break. That is what is great about solo hiking. You hike, you break, you eat, you sleep, all without needing to check in with anyone. On the flip side, you get to an amazing view or beautiful tree and you want to share the awe with someone, but all you have is you.

I love solo, but my trail gals…awwwww yeah… that’s my heart!

Hike on!

AT -VA Gravel Springs Gap to Elkwallow Wayside 

I led this hike for the Maryland Trail Dames.  Seven women had RSVP’d and I knew for sure that four were coming because three were riding in my car and another was following in her own car.  Twenty-four miles south, after entering the northernmost gate at Shenandoah National Park, I pulled into Elkwallow Wayside.

I saw MamaPuma waving at me as she stood beside her big ass awesome pick-up truck. I pulled around, and we all quickly worked out who would ride with who back to our starting place, Gravel Springs. BUT WAIT! We must all go to the bathroom! Jees, is it at all possible for a woman to need a public restroom and NOT END UP waiting in line?!! 🤔

Okay, now in the cars, we headed to Gravel Springs.  “Just after mile 18, look for mile 18!” I called out.  Several minutes later, just after mile 18, cars ahead of us slowed. “Look! Look! Look!” I exclaimed jabbing my finger at the right windshield.  A mama bear lumbered slowly across the road, stopping to look over her shoulder.  I followed her gaze. Oh, there are cubs!  Her babies still cowered on the opposite side of the road clinging to a tree! 

A bear! Right before Gravel Springs! Maybe we would see them again! 😀😀😀

We parked, and of course, we were all very excited about the bear! I was on high alert as we started down the trail thinking mama and her cubs might cross our path. 

Coming to the first crossing of Skyline Drive, I let a little sigh of both relief and disappointment escape. Oh well, maybe next time bears. 

The AT is very well behaved, with a gentle incline, for the first two miles south of Gravel Springs, with a beautiful view just a bit before Little Hogback Overlook.

Then it was one, two, three, four…whew, five, six, seven, …ugh…eight switchbacks to reach the summit of Hogback Mountain. And no view. Whaaaaat!? A trail post promised a hang glider site which never materialized. That is a crime upon Mother Nature herself!!! No view. Harrumph. 

Still amazing though with fog floating through the tops of trees, the forest floor a carpet of verdant green, and the last of Azalea blossoms clinging together as if protesting the end of spring. Very Hansel and Gretel.

Once more across Skyline Drive to a very cool lunch spot! What a find!

Claiming this as my Spirit Tree!

It was all downhill now! The last mile was an easy slide into Elkwallow where we again mobbed the bathroom, then celebrated with Blackberry ice-cream! Hike on!

Thanks to Overkill for this instaClassic!

AT – VA Rt 601 to 2nd Parking Area South of Sky Meadows SP

Riveting title don’t you think. 😉

Started early last Saturday (before the Labor Day Weekend) …Sidekick Pauli in tow.  We had the whole day to hike!  I found the Rt.601 parking lot without difficulty, but wow! what a drop off into the parking lot!  I switched out my sandals for hiking boots, grabbed extra water for Pauli, then headed down the blue blaze towards the AT.  Heads up, people, the heat was back in town!

Left turn onto the AT, then in about 0.2 of a mile we were cross Rt. 50, a major highway, which thankfully was pretty quiet this morning.  Sidekick Pauli was already in tongues out mode as you can see in the pic below!

On the trail just after cross Rt. 50.

On the trail just after cross Rt. 50.

The trail hugged Rt. 50 climbing gently until reaching the parking area on Liberty Hill Road.   Afterwards, the climb becomes more steep, but not unreasonable so.  I had plans to take the Old Trail (the old AT) up the hill and AT back down the hill.  I had never taken the Old Trail and had conjured up a trail that was overgrown, filled with briers and ticks, with a faint path leading through it.  I pictured faint or non-existent blazes on the trees…and quite honestly, I imagined getting lost!

The Old AT!

The Old AT!

I could not have been more wrong.  The Old Trail is marked clearly and often with purple blazes and the trail is pristine! What a nice surprise.  The only part I didn’t like was the multitude of spider webs spanning the trail.  Goodness, I must have taken twenty little spiders hiking with me…and their webs were in my hair, on my pack, everywhere.

A calm ascent up this little hill before the real heat of mid-day set in. Butterflies owned the pipeline where wildflowers were abundant.
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Then it was back into the woods for a short stretch before we reached the AT. We were now in Sky Meadows State Park proper.
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New colorful signs are replacing the old standard brown and white. I allowed myself a moment of nostalgia looking down at the classic brown and white sign that had been tossed to the side, then admired the brightly colored new trail marker with improved information.

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We turned right, then took a nice sit down break at the intersection of the North Ridge trail. It is a proper resting spot with a bench! Sidekick Pauli crawled underneath finding a cool spot to rest and to keep a watchful eye on anyone coming up the trail. 🙂 My traildog!
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The plan was to continue south to the first parking lot off the Thompson Wildlife Management Area. This would allow an easy starting point to continue this section at a later date. The PATC map showed Orchard Parking to be about another 0.7 miles, not too far.

I passed an overgrown path to the right and thought, “If this were Indiana, that would probably be the trail”…snarky I am at times…

After a while, I was more suspect that the overgrown path had indeed been the trail to Orchard parking, as I was not finding any other paths to take. I finally came upon a little sign with a tent symbol and, hallelujah! A PATC trail maintainer! I talked with him a bit and confirmed that I had passed the trail to Orchard parking. So, time to turn around and head back to route 601, this time following the AT through Sky Meadows.
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It was such a beautiful day, and I was in no hurry since earlier in my hike I had dodged a huge bee…lost my footing, and fell, cracking my kneecap on a rock. Surprisingly, while it was plenty painful, enough endorphins were flooding the area to keep it manageable!
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I was ever so pleased to get to blue blaze that took me back to my car!

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Hobble…I mean, Hike on!