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 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!

 

Fogged in at Tentsite #43 (Day 2 – Saturday 9/26/2015)

I left this story as Sidekick Pauli and I were preparing for a night in the tent.  She was on her cushy mat covered with a fleece pad and I made myself as comfy as possible on my Thermarest pad. I had my 20 degree bag underneath and my 35 covering us both like a quilt.  It was quite cozy as darkness fell and Sidekick Pauli’s little snores kept me company as I read my book with a headlamp.  The soothing pitter-patter of raindrops soon had my eyes lids drooping, so I called it a night and drifted off into dream land.

Campgrounds!!! Boom-boom-whack-boom…a family had rolled in after dark and by the sound of it were constructing the Taj Mahal.  No need to worry about the bears…back to sleep…

Peeking my head out of the tent in the morning I couldn’t see more than ten feet in front of me!  That was pretty wild. I waited about an hour for a little more light to filter through the fog, then headed to the car. “Let’s go, Pauli!  This is car camping, I need coffee!”  and I found it at the Wayside…gladly paid $3.04 for a coffee they branded as a “large” but would have been classified as a medium (or a “grande” for you Starbucks folks 🙂 )

Need coffee...what a welcome site on a chilly, wet morning.

Need coffee…what a welcome site on a chilly, wet morning.

Then I headed south with the intention of finding a place to hike where the fog was not as heavy.  This turned into quite a quest!  I drove into the southern section of the park and found a few beautiful views.

Southern Section Overlook

Southern Section Overlook

We hiked a little of this and little of that as I drove back north towards Big Meadows, where it was just as foggy as I had left it!  I decided we could walk down the road to Rapidan.  I was NOT going into the Meadow in that fog…good God, I could have been lost for hours!!

I can't see anything!

I can’t see anything!

We had a good time and eventually the fog lifted in the Meadow, so we entered and found many beautiful wildflowers, in addition to an apple tree dripping with apples!  We were ready for lunch soon after stomping up, down, and around Big Meadows.

Walking into the Meadow on the Rapidan Fire Road.

Walking into the Meadow on the Rapidan Fire Road.

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Heading back to the tentsite I took in the spread of the Taj Mahal campers.  Two huge tents, food everywhere, and the number of red Dixie cups would positively have the Leave No Trace peep’s panties in a twist.  It even made me cringe…seriously, I think these campers produced more trash in two days than I produce in a month.

“Okay…stop judging them!!!” I made a conscience decision to STOP JUDGING them…I was camping.  “Just let them camp, girl! It’s fine…everything is fine!”  So I left it and enjoyed my lunch. 🙂

And it was fine!  Their kids came over and met Sidekick Pauli, and she adored them.  Mom was very nice, as was Grandpa!  How cool that the whole family was getting together for good times outdoors…I love that!

The fog had lifted, but it was still chilly.  Here is the issue with bringing my dog on a rainy weekend…there is not much to do with a dog on a rainy weekend if tenting.  I certainly wasn’t going to tie her to the tree and let her get cold, while I sat in a comfy chair reading my book.  She wasn’t allowed inside anywhere…and we didn’t come out here to hang out in the backpacking tent…so only one thing to do…hike!

I picked up the AT where we had left it yesterday and hiked south to a cemetery, then looped back on a horse trail.  Not a long hike, but long enough to stretch our legs once more before the rain started up.  Which it did, right on cue at 5 pm.  Even so, the tent was a welcome respite and kept us cozy one more night. 🙂  Hike on!

After our last hike of the day...time to relax in the den!

After our last hike of the day…time to relax in the den!

Big Meadows Never Disappoints!

Big Meadows, in Shenandoah National Park, is a place that is as much spiritual as it is physical.  From a picture or a drive by in the car it may just look like another big field.  It is so much more.

Big Meadows

Big Meadows

We set off Friday morning with the dogs to wander around this area before the throng of weekenders descended.

It is probably best to forgo a heavy regimented hiking plan in this area.  There is no map for the meadow, and we usually just kind of wander around, feet following our “oh!” and “ahhh!” moments.  This doesn’t mean there are not any trails.  There are MANY trails, all made by deer as they criss-cross the meadow in what seems a haphazard, confusing fashion. Once on a trail and fully immersed in the meadow it begins to make sense as our feet find our own crooked, nonsensical route to happiness. 🙂

Since the dogs were with us today and we wanted to avoid the ticks, if possible, we walked down the road to Rapidan to the trail head for Stony Mountain trail, then back.  We think it was about 4.5 – 5 miles in total.

Little Caesar with Farmdog Jett & Sidekick Pauli

Little Caesar with Farmdog Jett & Sidekick Pauli

Taking a road like this one is deceptive because even though it seems flat, it is descending.  On a previous hike, we walked up this road from Rapidan, Hoover’s camp…and it was six miles of not so fun!  😉

Today, however, with a bit of fog rolling over the trail from time to time, was quite pleasant.

Walking down the road to Rapidan

Walking down the road to Rapidan

The road has some hairpin turns! The trail head for Stony Mountain trail is located just off of the first big hairpin turn.  This was our turn around point.

The first big hairpin turn, along with Little Caesar and Farmdog Jett.

The first big hairpin turn, along with Little Caesar and Farmdog Jett.

On the way back up I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the road, having drifted off into la-la land.  All of the sudden, I was looking down on a rattlesnake! Both Sidekick Pauli and myself jumped, then skittered over to the other side of the road, while I was yelling “Holy Crap-a rattlesnake”!!  Once a safe distance away, I asked aloud, really more to myself, “Why no rattle? Why did he not warn us?”  then as I took another look figured out he was probably dead.  I wasn’t going to prod him to check it out, but I was pretty sure. I snapped a picture and moved on.

Looking at the picture later, I confirmed that he had to be dead.  Still…what a shocker!  I kept to the middle of the road after that!!! 🙂

The best reason, in my opinion, to visit Shenandoah right now in the middle of hot, hot summer are the wild flowers and the fungi! These made climbing back up the road not so bad.  We were also lucky to have that rolling fog which kept us cool throughout our hike.

Wildflowers! And a Fungi!

Wildflowers! And a Fungi!

The fog greeted us as we left the woods and made our way back across the meadow.

An everchanging landscape…brightly sunny to dramatically foggy.

In the meadow, hike on!

Myterious? Melancholy? Fog settles over Big Meadows

Myterious? Melancholy? Fog settles over Big Meadows

 

Secret Cemetery, Crazy Water Crossings, and An Old Abandoned Car: SNP – Elkwallow Area Loop

Elkwallow Picnic Area, finally…after two hours in the car!  Sidekick Pauli was whining to get on the trail, I was waiting for two backpackers to finish with the privy.  Ahhh…finally.

On the trail at 11:07am…wow, it was windy! I stopped to check I had everything I wanted at 11:10.  🙂  I always feel like I am forgetting something.

Always nice when the trail head has a privy!

Always nice when the trail head has a privy!

We cut around the back of Elkwallow Wayside where there is a little store, gas and bathrooms during the main season. Today, however, nothing was open.  Turning right onto the AT, we crossed Skyline Drive and began our first climb of the day ascending 500 feet up to the Piney Ridge trail.  As I drove to the trail head this morning, the thermometer in my car kept rising and falling as I wound my way down Skyline Drive.  When it showed 39 degrees, I worried I hadn’t brought enough layers.  Well, as I plodded up that first hill my fears were put to rest! Plenty warm with that sun out…and the occasional gusts of wind became a welcome occurrence.

Turn off for the Piney Ridge trail.

Turn off for the Piney Ridge trail.

At the turn off for the Piney Ridge trail is a another trail (looks like a driveway in the picture above) that goes to the PATC Range View cabin.  This would be an excellent place to stay as there are many good loops you could hike in this area! Made a note since I am a PATC member!

The Piney Ridge had some areas of Pines, but was mainly a woodland trail.  I was able to get a view of the surrounding mountains through the trees which was a nice bonus to being on the trail so early in the Spring! Spring, I can finally taste it!!! 🙂 🙂

The Piney Ridge trail drops, rounds a mountain, then meets up with the Fork Mountain trail.  Along the way down, I happened to glance to my right and saw something odd sticking up…I went to investigate and found a little secret cemetery! What a beautiful spot.  I murmured many a “I’m sorry” as I stepped on graves, over graves and around graves to read the tombstones left intact.  I don’t know why I feel a need to talk to tombstones, but I do…who knows…maybe the spirits are still around and I would rather be on good terms!  When I left, I said “Thanks for welcoming me, I enjoyed this place” and felt an immediate warmth fill me.

Back on the trail I felt I was no longer alone.  Just before the Hull School trail there was a big old tree.  As I approached, on this very windy day, I asked the tree to hold on to all of its branches while I passed beneath it on the trail.  It was gracious enough to grant me my wish.  Another hundred yards up the trail I heard a massive thud behind me…the tree could hold no longer…a huge branch lay across the trail where I had just walked.  Thank you spirits of the mountain!

I love visiting old cemeteries!

I love visiting old cemeteries!

A quick break was welcomed at the intersection of the Hull School trail.  We had descended 1000 feet since stepping off the AT.  Reading the cement trail marker I saw we had only 0.8 miles to go before getting to the Thornton River trail where we would begin to ascend back to Skyline Drive.

Approaching the intersection of the Hull School Trail.  Dead center is Fork Mountain!

Approaching the intersection of the Hull School Trail. Dead center is Fork Mountain!

A right on Thornton River trail…I was already thinking about the river crossings…you know what I forgot? River crossing shoes…way to be prepared…ergh.  The first crossing was just not possible.  It was deep, it was fast and all the regular stepping stones were covered with rushing, whitecapped water!  So I bushwhacked upstream and found a place where a bunch of downed branches and logs had formed a dam.  It looked pretty sturdy…so I tucked Sidekick Pauli’s leash into her harness and said “Let’s go!”  I have NEVER been more reliant on my dog to do the right thing…she was a ROCKSTAR!!!  As I climbed up precariously, I could see her picking her way up onto the dam of branches, then walking across one of the larger logs with amazing balance and dexterity to reach the other side.  She then walked down to where I was crossing and waited for me to make it across.  I love this dog, the best!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

So on up the trail we went…BOOM! Another crossing already???  This one wasn’t as bad, but all the stepping stones were still covered with water.  So I stopped and looked for a better place to cross…found one, then slipped, and the water rose to mid calf…so much for not getting the boots wet!  The cold water felt good on my aching feet, so what the heck, I stood there in the middle of the river for a brief moment before climbing out on the other side.  Then it was slosh, slosh, slosh up the trail.  The next two crossings were uneventful and then the river became a stream, became a trickle and then was all the sudden gone altogether! Ahhh, Spring in the mountains. 🙂

Once reaching Skyline Drive I had planned to access the AT again and follow it back to Elkwallow.  I had wet boots and my legs were tired from the extra bushwhacking!  Taking the AT would have meant another 2.5 miles to my car. After 8.5 – 9 miles …UMMM…I don’t think so!!!

When I saw the AT access was almost another 1/2 mile in the opposite direction...I literally said HELL.NO. and road walked  back to the car!

When I saw the AT access was almost another 1/2 mile in the opposite direction…I literally said HELL.NO. and road walked back to the car!

So I turned to the right, slowing making my way down Skyline Drive and back to Elkwallow with my super dog, Sidekick Pauli, at my side…

Hike on!

On the Trail with Sidekick Pauli and Little Caesar! June 21-22, 2014

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Last weekend was the FIRST weekend of “ahhhhhhh” that I have had since we started getting the house ready to sell.  Well, the house is now on the market! It went on the market on June 17, our anniversary…it wasn’t planned that way, but is so symbolic as remodeling the house just about killed our […]