AT – VA South River Picnic Area to Big Meadows

Shenandoah National Park seemed a reasonable choice for leading a Trail Dames backpack.  Fool’s Weekend was so apropo for this event!  We had some new backpackers along and this route tested the limits of some.  However, WHAT FUN!!!!  Who better to test limits with but Trail Dames!

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On our way! White blaze of the Appalachian Trail.

Clouds moved in and out all day.  One moment we would be basking in the warmth of the sun and the next pulling on an extra layer to guard against the gray sky and stiff chilly breeze.  We hiked about six miles on day 1, and that was quite enough for some of our group.

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BoobOnARock skipping down the mountain 🙂

We all set up our tents around Bearfence Hut, then gathered around the firepit to eat dinner.  AND OF COURSE, there was a fire! Kathleen & Overkill did a fantastic job getting a fire started with wet wood.  Nice! Smoky at first, but worth it. 🙂

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Trail Dames leaving Bearfence Hut – Morning of Day 2

As I sat in my tent, snuggled into my bag for the night, I realized I was exhausted.  Leading a day hike is one thing, but taking responsibility for a group of women on a backpack, is leveling up in a huge way.  Did I pass? I think so.  Could I have been more supportive? Probably.

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A welcome break at Hazeltop summit

So I sat there and thought about things that had happened during the day and found myself writing a silly little poem…which I will now share here…remember I am a math instructor not a poet.  🙂 🙂 🙂

Wind blowing

Fire crackling

Where did the miles go?

Water boiling

Teeth chattering

Listening to everyone’s woes.

Snap of a cracker

Crack of a twig

Make the tea

Take a swig

Feeling the warmth of my insides grow.

Hike On!

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!

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!

 

First Solo Backpack – Adventure Hiking Trial, oops, I mean Trail!

The Adventure Hiking Trail provided me with some unique challenges during my first solo backpack this weekend.  I couldn’t anticipate all of what was in front of me, but I did research the trail as extensively as possible.  It is a 22 mile loop around O’Bannon Woods State Park.  A big shout to Ron White of the Ohio Valley Backpackers for the heads up on the trail head parking, recommendations for water caches, and some other general stuff!  The Hoosier Hiker Council website was a great resource as well with links to a few good maps of the trail.

I had never hiked a trail where I had to cache water and was a little nervous that my cache would disappear before I got to it!  Didn’t happen, my water was waiting for me!

This trail is in southern Indiana, which has a Karst topography.  This topography includes highly soluble rocks such as limestone.  There are many underground drainage opportunities, in addition to caves and sinkholes (of which I saw several).  The water just doesn’t hang around on top, so all the creek beds are dry.  Oh you might find a small pool here and there, but not nearly enough to keep one hydrated.  Thus the water cache.

Friday night I checked into the Forest Office, then stashed water at two trail crossings, the crossing on Cold Friday Road and the one on Old Forest Road.  Driving down Cold Friday Road was an adventure unto itself! Gravel, rutted in spots, and with one place where the road fords the creek (must happen only in a big storm because it was just a low bridge when I went over).  As I placed my gallon of water, with my name and date of pickup labeled clearly, a rumble of thunder sent a chill up my spine.  Okay, good enough, behind a tree…now for cache number two!  Old Forest Road was a regular paved road. What a relief!  I pulled off the road, thunder and clouds rolling, threw my gallon up in the woods and ran for it!  I swear, I love and I hate thunderstorms and it all depends on where I am when they hit.

Anyway, water cached successfully so I headed back to Corydon, Indiana where I had a room at the historic Kintner House Inn.  No hiker trash hotel for me!  The woman who owns place is super accommodating and I recommend it to anyone coming to this part of the country.

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The Joe Zimmerman Room at the Kintner House Inn.

They made me a special early breakfast so I could get to the trail early.  It was a decent day for the middle of summer, mid-80s, low humidity, and no storms!  My car parked at the 462/Old Forest Road lot (space for maybe 3 creatively parked vehicles), I did a last minute check of gear, then headed in a counter-clockwise (west) direction headed for the Ohio River Shelter.

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Test #1: Do you like spiders?  Or rather do you like spider webs…in your face, in your hair, draping from your nose and your cheeks to your ears and your chin to your chest?  I looked like a freaking drum major marching down the trail raising first one hiking pole and then the other in  quick succession in order to catch as many of the webs as possible before they hit my face once again.  Every once in a while, I’d get lulled in a false sense of security, then WHOP, right in the face, spider on my eyeglasses, ugh.  After about the billionth spider web, I gave up.  I just started to plow right through them, with my lips tightly pressed together.  NOTE TO SELF: Buy a hat with a brim and put mosquito netting over it.

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My hiking poles were used as weapons of mass destruction. Sorry to the Spider Subdivision.

Test #2: Do you like wet feet?  My feet were wet from dew in about 30 minutes of starting my hike and they didn’t dry out all day.

Test #3 Do you like to bushwhack?  Because if you don’t, then stay off the trails in southern Indiana in the summer.  All those winter pictures of the Adventure Trail that I found online…yeah, totally get it now.  In general, I backpack at an average pace of 2 mph.  It took me 5 hours to go 5.5 miles!!! Holy moly! When I reached the Iron Bridge, I sat down to have lunch just shaking my head.  Was the rest of the trail going to be like this?  Bushwhacking takes a lot out of you!  On the positive side, the trail is extremely well marked!  After I would fight through another bunch of overgrown grasses, briars, and young tulip poplars I was immediately rewarded with a trail marking.  The emotional gratification of that trail marking cannot be overstated here!

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A lesser bushwhack that greeted me just after starting the trail.

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A more substantial bushwhack…do you see a trail…THAT’S BECAUSE THERE ISN’T ONE (or so you think)!  This was on day 2 between Homestead and Indian Creek Shelters.

The trail improved after the Iron Bridge, so I was able to make faster forward progress, which put my head back in the right place.  I followed a nice wide fire road from the Iron Bridge up to the Horseman’s campground.  This was a planned water stop for me.  While at the campground, I also took the opportunity to wash the spider webs out of my bandannas and clean my glasses which had so many webs crisscrossing them it was hard to see! Felt like a new woman!

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The rest of the trail to the Ohio River Shelter was lovely.  Well marked, well maintained. I reached my destination at 3:30pm.  Shortly, afterwards, two guys came in from the other direction and we had a fun conversation about what we each had experienced thus far.  They were out for a long day hike.  In fact, I had just passed their water cache, which they had put in a tote bag, and chained to a tree…omg!  I told them, “I was wondering about that bag and thought, wow, there must be something pretty special in that bag.  I might have just found a use for my pocket knife…”  They were good guys!  Terrible, I can’t remember their names now…I’ll just call them the Evansville crew.

The Evansville crew gave me some good info on the trail ahead.  There is more bushwhacking and the last two miles (their first two miles) was like my first 5.5.  They also said, “There will be a place where you literally can’t see which way to go.  Go straight ahead. It won’t look like it, but go straight ahead” I gave them my map and they pointed approximately where they thought that place was located. God, I felt like I was in Hunger Games.

The Ohio River Shelter is a popular spot.  I was visited by a bunch of trail riders, a fellow backpacker from Indianapolis who I continued to leapfrog with all weekend, and a nice family who were taking their kids on their first campout.  I tented, Adorable Family got the shelter, and I was totally okay with that!  The shelters along the Adventure Trail are nice, but too closed in for my liking.  They seem dark and dank.  I preferred my tent.

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Please don’t let that horse poo by my tent!!!

It was a beautiful first night out, with a bright moon shining down on me.

The next morning I was up and on the trail before anyone in the Adorable Family was stirring.  It was going to be very hot today and I was hoping I could finish hiking at about 2 pm.  First stop was Cold Friday Road to get my first water cache.  Yay! There it was, waiting for me!  I filled up my 3-liter bladder and 1.5 liter bottle, then drank what was left.

While I was there, my Indianapolis buddy came by.  This is when I found out he had not cached water.  He had a filter and thought he would be able to get water on the trail….oh, buddy.  He started up the next hill and I followed after smashing the now empty gallon jug and attaching to my pack.  I caught up with him again, sitting on a slab of limestone in the middle of an almost dry creek.  He had found a small pool at which to filter water.  Thank goodness!  I continued on up to the Homestead Shelter for a lunch break.

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Homestead Shelter, great tent sites here! Also, a little history behind this site…original chimney!

Indianapolis buddy passed me while I was munching away.  However, it wasn’t long before I caught up to him again.  Honestly, I was kinda worried about him.  He definitely was not drinking enough water, but I didn’t have any extra to offer him, but would have given him some if he had asked.  The bushwhacking had come back full force today and it was freaking hot, like 95 degrees.

We hiked together then until we reached the Indian Creek Shelter, my stopping point.  I know my limits…and heat is one of them.  The bushwhacking was a trial for me and for Indianapolis buddy.

Ohhh…I forgot Test #4!

Test #4 Do you like climbing over blowdowns?  If so, then you would love this trail!  I lost count at 50.

It was nice to have to someone to share the bushwhacking and blow down hopping experiences with, for sure.  I mean, here I am, in the middle of bushes that are taller than me, and I have to decide what to do when I don’t immediately see a blaze.  It’s unnerving.  I had to backtrack at one point to regroup and think it through.  God, and it was so hot! I was so glad to stop hiking that day! Poor Indianapolis had to hike out…5 miles and less than a liter of water.

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Very little tent area at Indian Creek Shelter, but I managed!

I took a look inside the shelter, immediately saw spiders.  I sat down at the picnic table, immediately had a teeny little tick crawling up my leg.  What is this place?????!!!!!  Ummm…I think I’ll tent again.  When I rolled up my tent the next morning, ants everywhere…I knocked off as many as I could…the rest have met with an unfortunate demise within the folds of Big Agnus.

Officially ready to end my first solo backpack, I headed down the trail immediately meeting my first blow down of the day.  Despite the blow downs, this section from Indian Creek Shelter to Old Forest Road is definitely the prettiest section I hiked.

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Gorgeous morning view!

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Last Bushwhack!

There was more bushwhacking, and it took a while to get to the road, but it wasn’t as bad as day 1 or 2.  I had my last water cache at the road.  However, when I exited the woods the weather had taken a turn.  Thunderstorm was on the way!  The wind picked up and I left my cache and took off down the road to my car (1.5 miles away).  Walking as fast as I could, I watched the clouds blacken and start swirling around.  Thunderstorms in Indiana, oh god, yeah, great, a fitting end.

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Angry clouds!!!

Test #5 Do you like hiking in Thunderstorms?  Me either.  After I passed a field of cows, I started looking for houses.  The sky was seriously black now and really scary.  I pulled in to a house and knocked on the door.  Thank you, thank you, thank you to Carol K. for going out of her way and giving me a ride back to my car.  Whew! That was a close one!

This trail tested me and I rose to the occasion, but I am paying an itchy price.  Chiggers, poison ivy, ticks…and despite my using copious amounts of bug spray, my waistline is covered with red welts where I plucked off one little bugger (could have been a tick, could have been a chigger).

So while I dab on another layer of Calamine and pop another Benadryl…Hike On!

 

Going Out Solo…Sasquatch Beware!

Done teaching my summer class, so now I am breaking free!  I started preparing for my first solo backpack at the beginning of June.  Over the last two weeks I have checked the weather where I am headed a gazillion times, changing my route each time to accommodate thunderstorms.  But now, hooray! Thunderstorms are no longer forecast!

I usually do a long section of the Appalachian Trail in the summer, but that wasn’t going to work out because of the summer teaching gig and I wanted to go back to Indiana to visit family.  So I have combined the family visit with a short backpack.  I grew up in the woods in southern Indiana.  My dad would scare us silly about things that lurked in the woods…like Sasquatch!

Well, I can assure you that in my preparation for this trip, Sasquatch has been showing up in my dreams…as have tornados (A little PTSD from the annual viewing of Wizard of Oz when I was a kid).

I have tried to do everything I can think to be prepared.  Like call the Forest Office (no answer), the state park office (*gasp* “you’re not going by yourself, are you?), check hunting seasons (it’s crow, bullfrog, and turtle season just in case you are wondering), and tracking the weather.  I have the map memorized and know exactly where I am going to cache my water.  My route is mostly finalized, but, if you backpack, you know how that goes…

With each little piece of planning, the trip becomes less daunting and more exciting.  I can do this!  It will be fun! So watch out Sasquatch…because I am coming to dance with you!

Hike on! 🙂

BoobOnARock & Queen V do Flip Flop Festival 2016

Walking to the Flip Flop Festival from Weverton, I was going against the traffic of several hikers that looked like they were out to do something serious. My mind wandered to something my hiking friend Google told me a few years ago (when I was hiking through Georgia).  “You oughta be here in the Spring” she told me,  “hiking south through Georgia is…interesting.”
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Here in Maryland, the thruhikers I usually see are lean, determined, and move very fast! They have 1000 miles under their belts and have settled in for the ride.  Today, as I strode quickly down the canal to meet Queen V, I passed several clean, not lean, well, okay, some were lean…but not in that “I’ve been beating the trail and the trail’s been beating me” kind of lean.  The backpacks were flashy…can I say that? I felt like I was walking through the REI website…oh yes, and I’ll take one of those…two of these…oh, and how cute is that, he is dragging his pack behind him on a wheelie thingy!  Oh, I wanted to see that guy drag the wheelie thing with his pack up Weverton. 🙂  A little sadistic, yes, I am.

“You’ve got to give a little, take a little,
and let your poor heart break a little.
That’s the story of, that’s the glory of …”  What the hell, Bette Midler’s song from Beaches?  Where did that come from?!!  Walk faster, Bette must be left behind! These hikers would deal or not.  I had to get to Harper’s Ferry…it was now 9:24 am and I was supposed to meet Queen V at 10 am.  I had my phone on airplane mode and was blissfully not getting any of her texts…

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Tramped over the railroad bridge to Harper’s Ferry at 9:50! Quick stop at the train station, then up the hill to the ATC.  It was getting hot!  By the time I met up with Queen V I was ready to shed one of my layers. Then it was time for some exploring.

First stop, of course, is to get someone to take our picture in front of the ATC.   Yeah, I have like fifteen pictures in front of the ATC…but you know…it’s my Alamo.  So there.

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We went around back to check out the vendors, and most importantly, scope out the food situation.  The food truck looked mighty promising with its sweet potato and black bean burrito (it was freakin delicious!).
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Queen V, as usual, being the diva that she is demanded requested sweetly to have her picture taken in various locals…(she is now hounding me to get this post done as quickly as possible).  I did mention that “narcissism becomes her”!  😉
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There was a workshop at 11:30 am we were going to attend.  I knew the presenter by name only here in blogland…but I am happy to say I have now met Sisu face to face and a nicer guy he could not be! 🙂  He did a great presentation and it was just so neat to meet someone I had only known through comments on this blog.  Here’s to meeting up again sometime, Sisu! 🙂 🙂
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Oh, and by the way, the weather for this event was just the best!  However, that did not stop me from hitching a ride back to my car (Thanks Queen V!).  Yeah, after that sweet potato & black bean burrito…and a creamsicle…I kinda lost my mojo for huffing it back down the canal to my car.
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So good luck flip floppers! and all thruhikers!  And even if Maine eludes you, the adventure of the dream did not! Hike on! 🙂

Living it Up on the Loudoun Heights Trail

Mid-Week hikes are a luxury.  While the rest of the world shuffles off to work, the Maryland Trail Dames were getting ready to cross the 340 bridge by pulling our gloves, hats, and layers into place.  The crossing of the bridge would be the killer with traffic whizzing past blasting us with cold air and fumes.  A necessary evil in order to start climbing Loudoun Heights on the other side of the Shenandoah River.  At 10 am Wednesday morning it was bitter cold, yet bright and sunny, so we anticipated shedding some of those layers as we climbed almost 1000 feet to ridge!

The parking lot is a fee area, so pay the $10 bucks to support the NPS.  The pass is good for three days, so after I finish this post I might head back for another hike in the area! 🙂

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340 Bridge over the Shenandoah River looking towards West Virginia side

Once we crossed the bridge, we climbed the AT up, up, and up and as AnnaMarie would say “Suck it up, Buttercup”!  As expected a few layers came off!  Thelma, a fellow Trail Dame, suggested we take the orange trail first, then loop back on the blue trail.  Great suggestion!  The orange trail was extremely pleasant! It was a nice change from constantly going up.  It is level and well marked which allowed us to make good time with little effort!

In the summer, this hike would have only the views marked on the map…two at power lines, then another at Split Rock.  But in winter? Ahhhh…all the views you could want!  No leaves make mountain hikes even more glorious.

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Holy crap! I think my lips are purple! 🙂

The path became more rolling once we met up with the blue trail.  We went to the left, headed for Split Rock.  It all seems so easy…because the trail is going down to Split Rock.  The view here though is worth it!  and the women on the trail with me were so funny!

“Suck it up, Buttercup!”  became a repeated joke as we met each hill with gusto.  At each overlook we had a micromanager or two when it came to picture time…after being asked to tilt the camera this way and that way, and move to the right, then to the left I busted out laughing…”What is your job anyway???” Snorts of laughter permeated the air. 🙂  and don’t even let me start with the selfie stick…oh jees’…It was a good thing no one else was on the trail!

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Looking across at Maryland Heights

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View of Harper’s Ferry from Split Rock

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Like a Model Train Set!

After lunch at Split Rock, we climbed up to the ridge once more.  There were some sweaty faces in that last push to the ridge!  Then it was easy, a little rocky, but easy sailing on the blue trail and a quick trip down the AT back to the 340 bridge.

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Looking calm, cool, and collected…like they hadn’t even exerted themselves. 🙂

In the whole time we were on the mountain, we did not see any other hikers! So if one is looking for solitude on this hike, go on a weekday.  I have heard that on the weekends it can be crowded at Split Rock.  I totally get that because it is such a great place!

We finished at 2:30 and the sun never really made it over the ridge.  Still seemed like morning with the long shadows filling the valley.

Off to more chilly adventures! Hike On!