AT – VA Loft Mountain to South River Picnic Grounds

Midway through Fall and stuck deep in a pile of ungraded projects…and part 2 of my take-home mid-term from my grad class.  No wonder I want to stop everything and go back to summer!

Fond memories of backpacking in August with the Trail Dames of Maryland.  I am getting better at leading these backpacks…but I am no pro!  I love giving these women the opportunity to get out in the woods for a night or two.  and Honestly, what I get in return is so much more than I ever anticipate!

We backpacked the weekend of August 11 – 13, 2017.  Setting off from the Loft Mountain camp store, we promptly crossed paths with a rattlesnake…that I initially thought was dead.  Um…NOT DEAD! However, it was quite diplomatic and did not rattle at us, instead, after tasting the estrogen soaked air with its pink flickering tongue it very politely slithered across the trail and into the woods. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

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The first day went uneventfully, but had some good ups and downs.  By the time we arrived at the first shelter we were beat!

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We had lunch by this beautiful waterfall

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Right after we had to climb a big hill…of course! These views don’t come for free! 🙂

I will say the first night was not my shining moment.  I had the WORST nightmare about a bear pushing in on my tent and trying to mouth my arm.  In my sleep, I thought “oh, Lola is tented right up the hill.  Let me yell loud enough to get her attention.”  And then, you know, I couldn’t make a sound because that is the way nightmares do you! So, I kept trying and this bear kept butting into my tent, and I couldn’t make a sound and it WAS SO REAL!!!!  and then finally, AAAAHHADAHLGOGGEOJ01%^#@856y27542uhfwiurhtfa;wp293456891205-9815 LOUD AND CLEAR! and my eyes shot open…nothing, I was staring at the ceiling of the tent, heart pumping wildly, ears pricked for any sound and then I  was like “holy crap, I just yelled out loud…I AM AN IDIOT! 😀 Oh my God, please, tell me that no one heard me…

Day 2 was a filled with bigger climbs and a bigger threat of rain.  The last climb to Hightop Hut was muggy and long.  Sheer exhaustion steered us straight to the shelter for a well deserved sit down before setting up tents, gathering water, and all the other little tasks that needed to be done.  And then there was thunder…okay, tents up NOW!  We were lucky that all of us had our tents up and were back in the shelter when the skies opened up for a beautiful thunderstorm.  It was truly lovely after walking in the hot, humid, sticky forest all day.

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Always nice to have a helping hand when navigating around downed trees! This is what makes Trail Dames great! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Love ❤

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Breakfast at Hightop Hut

The final day we headed towards South River Picnic Grounds with absolutely gorgeous weather.  The thunderstorm and knocked out the humidity and walking was pleasant again.  We were a good team and found ourselves laughing out loud at some of the silly things we saw or did.

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Hightop may never be the same!

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More gorgeous views!

And then there was a dare to climb up on a pile of rocks.  And me being BoobOnARock…I did.  Hike On!

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BoobOnARock on a rock hahahaahaaaa! Photo credit to “Overkill”

AT – NC Wayah Bald to Tellico Gap

Day 5: Wayah Bald to Tellico Gap, June 28, 2017

“I’ll just hike a little ways with you”

Words from Momma Puma as we pulled into the Wayah Bald parking area.  I barely heard her as my senses were overtaken by the sheer jaw-dropping vista this morning at Wayah Bald.

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The Wayah Bald fire tower, substantial as it is, sustained a clear amount of damage from the fires.  It’s majestic nature has not been affected in the slightest, I am happy to report!  The interior chamber of the fire tower on the ground level would be a great hiding place in a storm.

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Done exploring at the fire tower, we headed north on the AT and downhill.  We passed the sign for the shelter, then promptly, went the wrong way!  I figured the sign for the shelter meant it was a blue blaze, twenty minutes later I am shaking my head as it seemed we were headed around the mountain and below the fire tower.  The one time I have used technology on the trail to actually check my location…and a good call!  Guthook’s guide app showed that we were indeed off the Appalachian Trail…it didn’t show what trail we WERE on (a drawback to the app is that it doesn’t show all the intersecting trails) but we knew we were on the Bartram Trail.  It was encouraging to see that I was correct in where I thought I was…anyway, we backtracked…ugh.

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You know some people get off trail because there is no signage…me…sign right in front of me, but I assumed it meant a blue blaze to the shelter. 😀 Extra credit miles today.

Once back at the intersection, Mama Puma, decided she didn’t want to climb back up the hill to her car.  Too funny! So she joined me, for better or worse, to Tellico Gap.

The woodsy trail was a delightful change from the rugged, eroded trail into the NOC I’d hiked the day before.  Lush green engulfed us all of the way to Tellico Gap.

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It was a long hike with my pesky blisters making themselves heard with every step after four miles.  At the shelter I sat down for a break…a real break…and changed the bandages on the blisters.  After about 25 minutes, Momma Puma indicated we needed to get moving, so I regretfully pulled on my boots.

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Momma Puma

The new bandages were helpful, but as we neared Tellico Gap I was singing “Tellico, Oh Tellico, these old boots have got to go” as my feet screamed for freedom.  You do whatever gets you down the trail!

Yes! The light at the end of the tunnel was NOT an oncoming train!!! After being teased with peeks at the fire road for a mile or so, we reached the parking area at Tellico Gap.  Flip flops here I come!

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In my trusty RAV4 once again, we drove down the not scary side of the mountain, then made two more stops: 1) back to Momma Puma’s truck at Wayah Bald, then 2) repark my car at Winding Stair in preparation for my last hike for this trip…Wayah Bald to Winding Stair.

Blisters be quiet because I am hiking on!

 

AT – NC Tellico Gap to NOC

Day 4: Tellico Gap to Nantahala Outdoor Center 6/27/2017

Backpack between Deep Gap and Winding Stair complete, Momma Puma let me know that she could not continue hike due to the knee injury she acquired climbing up Albert Mountain.

hmmm…

hmmm…

You know that sound a video game (and I am so dating myself right now), the sound right before the end, 

Insert deep foreboding voice, GAME OVER!

Anyway, that was what played in my head as Momma Puma told me this news.

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Then I started planning for how I could continue the trek.  I came down to NC to complete the section from Deep Gap to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or NOC, and gosh darn it, I would find a way!  Momma Puma graciously extended the offer to shuttle (thank you, thank you).

I was willing to backpack it alone, but needed more information on the trail.  I sent out feelers to hiker friends in the area.  Ann L. texted back, stating there wasn’t anything harder ahead than I had already encountered and no more Albert Mountain-like stuff.  My hiker friend Google (remember her from my GA, MD, and PA sections?) got back to me with a sweeter offer.  Stay at her cabin in Hiawassee and day hike from Winding Stair to the NOC.  She had split it up into three sections that would make the shuttling easier: 1. Tellico Gap to NOC (leaving my car at Tellico Gap), Wayah Bald to Tellico Gap (pick up my car at Tellico Gap and repark at Winding Stair Gap), then the last section would be Wayah Bald to Winding Stair.

Great plan, Google!

So here we were climbing the fire road (Tellico Road) to Tellico Gap, me in my RAV4, and Momma Puma in her big ass truck.  Holy Moly, people…that road is ridiculous!  I kept thinking “jees, this should be a one-way stretch. God forbid, I meet someone coming the other way!”  It was one lane, dirt/gravel, with a massive drop off that became visible at every hairpin turn.  Momma Puma had to actually back up to maneuver around one particularly tight turn in the road. Pretty sure she was holding her breath!

At the top, we parked the cars, exited our respective vehicles and silently (well, almost silently) mouthed “Holy shiiiiiiiiiit” to each other. That was crazy!

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Look! Another RAV4 🙂 🙂 🙂 Great little mountain climbers

Gathering my day hiking gear, I set off headed north to Wesser Bald Fire Tower.  It was a gorgeous day, sunny with a temperatures that were going to climb no higher than the mid-70s. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Lucky me!

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And off I go!

The climb was a long one, but not especially strenuous.  The trail was flat, not a lot of rocks, and it moderately climbed to the fire tower.  I pulled over for a break under the fire tower.  The fire towers I passed in this section of North Carolina are so cool.  I love climbing up and taking in the view from the top.

However, something weird happened on this trip that is new to me…vertigo on the fire tower steps.  Never had that happened before.  At Albert Mountain, I got to the second platform and stopped.  Here at Wesser Bald, I made it half way up the second flight of steps, then had to sit down. I could of butt climbed the rest of the way to the top, but since I had a good view where I sat, I decided to stop there.

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Wesser Bald Fire Tower

After my break I headed down towards the shelter.  The trail started to narrow dramatically after passing the shelter.  Fire damage and erosion has taken an immense toll on this section of trail.  Most of the day I was on a narrow strip of trail, the sides of the mountain falling off on either side of me.  I watched my step!

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Skinny trail just past the shelter

The damage to the trail came to a head at the “jump-off”.  I was flabbergasted at the condition.  I had thoughts running through my head like, “I shouldn’t even be walking on this.” and “Holy mother of God, is this the trail???”  Just below the jump-off, the trail was about 10 inches wide on an otherwise precariously steep slope that had seen some slide damage due to erosion.  There was a place where a tree had fallen or shifted, leaving a gaping hole in the trail that needed to be stepped over.

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I was happy to leave that part of the trail behind as I continued steeply downhill!  I found a nice log to sit on down the trail a bit and had some lunch, while texting Momma Puma my approximate time of arrival to the NOC.  The rest of the trail down to the NOC was steep in places, and there were signs of erosion, but nothing like what I experienced at the top.  I was soon down and headed across the Nantahala River to don my flip flops and relax in an Adirondack chair while waiting for Momma Puma to show up. Bliss, I tell you!

The NOC has free Wifi, so I tapped into it.  After sending another message to Momma Puma, I checked out Facebook.  and there I saw it…Momma Puma was having a beer somewhere here at the NOC! What???? Beer??!!

Apparently, even though I had Wifi, my text messages weren’t reaching her…travesty when there is celebratory beverages concerned!  …oh, I found her pretty quickly after that… 😀

Grab a cold one and Hike on!

 

AT – NC Deep Gap to Winding Stair

Day 1 Deep Gap to Carter Gap Shelter 6/24/2017

Oh how fitting, how absolutely perfectly perfect in a way that is just not cool, not cool at all!! When I finished the Georgia section (a few years back) I ended by splashing down the trail turned creek into Deep Gap.

On Saturday morning, my hiking buddy, Momma Puma, and I set off for Deep Gap in a heavy, dripping fog.  You know the kind.  It wets the roads, damps down sound, and makes mountains disappear.  I dropped my car at Winding Stair, then jumped in with Momma Puma for the ride down to Deep Gap on the fire road.  We wound around on that road so long that we both were convinced we had somehow missed Deep Gap!

A magical, if a little messy, start to our traverse from Deep Gap to Winding Stair (then eventually the NOC).  “Welcome back” I heard the woods whisper as I slipped past the first white blaze.

I glanced back at Momma Puma a couple of times.  This was her first long distance backpack and she was visibly excited! I remember that feeling…the awe, the nervousness, then the reality of climbing the first big hill.  The loss of confidence, the gaining of confidence, then the reality that every hike, every backpack, no matter how many I have completed, brings the loss and gain of confidence…every.single.one. ! 😀

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Momma Puma

The first day was a gain in confidence for me.  Standing Indian is not as hard a climb as it looks on the map.

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credit to Momma Puma for this pic!

Before we knew it we were cruising into the Carter Gap Shelter while still early in the afternoon. And just in time…soon after we arrived so did the rain.  A few others came in after us and then…Torrential for about 10 minutes.  I was feeling pretty dry, happy, and quite literally, smug, until I realized the shelter was leaking ON MY BAG.  Could this get any better?

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Cozy until my bag got wet. 😦 Darn drippy shelter!

After the rain, a few more hikers showed up.  And let me tell you, this was the worst bunch of shelter mates I have ever had, in terms of bear safety, that is.  No one was going to hang their food.  These two younger guys were literally going to leave their dirty dishes in the shelter (near to where I had put my sleeping pad, mind you!).   A man with a dog was throwing chunks of cheese to his dog…who missed several times and would not eat the crumbs off the ground.  SERIOUSLY???  NO. NO. NO!!!!! Momma Puma and I were incredulous.  Speechless.  Are these people for real????

We, Momma Puma and I,  contemplated putting up our tents down the hill…but with the rain threatening, decided we would stick with the shelter.

We began reciting every story we knew of a bear coming in because someone had barely sneezed cheese crumbles in their tent. hahaaaa! 🙂 🙂

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Bad hiker leaving dirty plates in shelter until we told so many scary stories they were at least shamed into getting this crap out of the shelter.

Thank you to Laralee Bliss for the recent story about the tent snooping bear in Shenandoah NP.  It did the trick.  I don’t know how they hung their bags and don’t care.  They all got their food out of the shelter.  And we had a quiet night…for the most part.  There was talk of an animal crashing through by Momma Puma, but I heard nothing in my Benedryl induced slumber.

Day 2  Carter Gap to Long Branch Shelter 6/25/2017

We were up and moving the next morning as others in the shelter were just starting breakfast and I was happy to move on…hoping the food offenders would not show up at the next shelter!

The trail was quite exciting between  Carter Gap and Long Branch.  I was hoping to walk through some of the fire damage from last fall’s fire and boy, did we ever.  Miles of burned out areas left us in an indescribable state.  I was floored.  I have never seen anything like the fire damage we hiked through.

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View from the charred ridge

Just after Mooney Gap, there is the area I will just refer to as the land between the fire roads.  It started off innocently enough with a nice climb through rhododendron bushes, but then circled the mountain and became a cliff side walk…one wrong step…haha! And then, the big event of the day…Albert Mountain! I was looking forward to this in the same way I was looking forward to Lehigh Gap when I hiked Pennsylvania.  However, I knew less about Albert Mountain.  Was it really a rock scramble?  It was fitting that I was set to climb it on my dad, Albert Cross’ birthday! What a way to celebrate, too bad there was no birthday cake at the top for me! 🙂

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Momma Puma in the land between the fire roads

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View from a slightly scary place on the trail in the land between the fireroads.

Albert was a combination of rock scramble and stairs.  Without a backpack on, it would have been a lot more fun, for sure!  With the backpack, it made me nervous, then made me feel like a badass. I would definitely climb it again! At the top, sans birthday cake, was a great fire tower with great views.  Wonderful payoff!

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Hugging the white blaze on Albert. Happy Birthday Daddy! (credit to Momma Puma for this pic)

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Momma Puma on Albert Mountain

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A just reward!

 

It began to sprinkle while we were taking a break at the fire tower.  To don the rain poncho to not…

We descended the mountain, passing the old location of the shelter.  It was a rough, but exciting day of hiking!

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We were plum tuckered out when we reached the Long Branch.  Thoughts of my dinner kept me going…I packed an avocado! Downright exciting! Dinner was Capellini with tuna and avocado…and it was exceptional!!!  Afterwards I crashed in this most beautiful of shelters. 🙂

Day 3 Long Branch to Winding Stair Gap

Morning came and I set out to retrieve our bear bags.  No one else was awake so I sat out on a stump and watched far off mountains go from black to purple to pinkish to blue.  I stretched out my legs and my arms.  I felt so at home here in the woods this morning.  It was so quiet.

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Greeted with new blooms this morning!

We made the last day of our first section without incident.  We were both sporting new aches…Momma Puma strained her knee on Albert… and I had a few raw spots on my heels from blisters.  The blisters irritated me.  I had hiked several miles on rockier terrain than this with no blisters before this hike.  The only thing I can think is that the added weight of the pack caused my feet to rub differently.  Oh well, the NOC is calling…wrap them up, put on those boots and hike on!

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The end of the first leg of our hike

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!