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!

AT – VA Gravel Springs Gap to Compton Gap

Did you opt outside for Black Friday?  I headed down to Shenandoah National Park to complete a section of AT with my friend Lola and her daughter.

Slipping out of my house sans Sidekick Pauli always takes a bit of logistical brilliance…so boots and pack were stowed in the car the night before.  I absolutely avoided looking directly at her as I grabbed a grocery bag of food and headed out the door!  No worries for the dog…she will go out with me on Saturday somewhere. 🙂

The ranger at the north entrance reminded me the gate would close at 5 pm.  No problem, I will be long gone by then! You know unless tragedy occurs, which it won’t, but if it does, hmmm…nope, no tragedy today, period.  I made my sacrifice to the Trail Gods on Wednesday.

What timing!  I pulled into Compton Gap glancing into my rearview…and there was Lola right behind.  Excellent!  And it was now 50 degrees out.  Yay! Weather cooperating. We left my car at Compton Gap, then drove down to our starting point at Gravel Springs Gap in Lola’s minivan.

Now the passenger, I took the opportunity to scan the woods for wildlife (okay, bears) without having to watch the road.  I was pretty happy searching the woods until Lola and daughter saw a bobcat right off the road and I missed it! Ergh! The bobcat disappeared before I could see it.  Life lesson here…don’t go looking so far beyond that you miss what is right in front of you!

Took about 10-15 minutes to reach Gravel Springs Gap and I think the weather had chilled a bit.  However, I warmed up quickly as I headed up South Marshall Mountain, but not enough to shed a layer just yet.  I was just starting to look for a place to break when a great overlook presented itself.  Just off the trail, no extra effort required, thankfully!

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BoobOnARock atop South Marshall Mountain feelin’ like a boss! 😀

Next up…North Marshall Mountain.  The climb up went quickly and again, we were rewarded with an amazing view back to South Marshall.  I love it when I can look back at where I have hiked as it is such a feeling of accomplishment!

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Looking back at South Marshall Mountain from the overlook on North Marshall. Better than getting a ribbon!

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Coming down North Marshall

The first two climbs of the day had not been as difficult as I had anticipated.  The mist hovered and dipped down as we crossed over both South and North Marshall.  The scent of late fall hung in the air and recent wind storms had littered the path with deep piles of leaves. *crunch, crunch, crunch*  I felt like a kid again kicking in the leaves that came up past the top of my boots. I was brought sharply back to the present when I slipped a little on a rock beneath the leaves!  The humility…let me NOT be the sacrifice to the Trail Gods today, thanks. 🙂  —the gate closes at 5 pm— haha!

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Descending to Jenkins Gap. When the kid is caught just staring up into the sky, you know the hike is a win. I found myself doing the same many times. Beautiful day!

Reaching Jenkins Gap, it was time for the final climb up to Compton’s Peak , whew!  I stopped a few times to catch my breath!  Do mountains ever really get easier?  I am familiar with this stretch of AT though.  Once we passed the campsite on the left, I knew we were almost to the cut off to the view.  This is a view you have to work for…and even though the trail post says 0.2 miles, it feels like more.  Not a difficult walk down, just rocky, and when you are at the end of your hike, well…tempting to just pass it altogether.  But don’t, worth the extra walk!

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This pic I took of Lola on Compton Peak encapsulates the feeling of the entire hike.

We had the whole park to ourselves for most of the hike, or so it seemed.  Descending to my car at Compton Gap, we now shared the trail with many others who had decided to take a hike on Black Friday.  Welcome, and good-bye! Hike On!

AT – VA Ashby Gap to Manassas Gap

Connecting dots.  I started this section last year around the same time, then fell trying to dodge a cicada killer bee.  Cracked my knee, hobbled back to my car, and promised myself I would be back!  Luckily, this time around I had some hiking pals with me, so no out and back silliness!

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Look at the size of this tree that came down! Wow!

We met at the 725 trail head at Manassas Gap, then shuttled back to Ashby Gap to begin our trek.  After crossing Route 50, we came face to face with a young deer.  Go back in the woods, Bambi! Route 50 is a split highway with high speed traffic…no place for a deer!

The first mile or so, after meeting up with Bambi, was climbing.  Worth it! We came out in the high meadows of Sky Meadows State Park which were in full bloom.  Lovely!

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The High Meadow

We cruised along through Sky Meadows, taking our first sit down break at the intersection of the North Ridge trail.  And then, guess what???  An older Virginia gentleman, who had come up the North Ridge trail, recited a poem for us.  Always something interesting happening along the AT.  Haha! So cool! Definitely made my day! 🙂 I inserted a link to a video of his performance. 🙂

Poem on the Appalachian Trail

This hike had two memorable pieces for me and that was one of them.  The other was the visit to Dick’s Dome shelter,  a geodesic dome.  It looked like an Icosahedron to me…yep, math girl here! I was delighted by the equilateral triangles and just being in the dome. 🙂 🙂

IF I could somehow manage to spend a sabbatical researching mathematics along the AT…well, I’d be all set! Hike on!

 

In the Meadows High and Low

Sky Meadows is such a lovely state park in Virginia.  This park was a choice I made without a lot of thinking about it.  The weather was forecasted to turn cooler and I was in need of a walk alone…well, with Sidekick Pauli, but without other humans.  A total introvert retreat!

I parked away from the main parking lot.  Partly because I really didn’t want to see a lot of people yet, but partly because I needed to put my boots on, get my pack together, then get Pauli.  A bit easier without being in a tight parking lot.  So, I pulled right towards the picnic area just after paying my entrance fee at the gate.  No one was in this little lot yet!

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I hadn’t parked here before and found it to be a great spot with easy access to the Hadow Trail.  We took this trail around the lower meadow.  What a glorious morning! The wildflowers were thick along each side of the trail and throughout the woods.  Goldenrod, thistle, and other beauties whose names elude me waved gently in the breeze making the background of blue skies pop as if I were looking at them through polarized lenses.  And the scent of Autumn wafted by occasionally making me burst with happiness!  The change in seasons is coming!

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When the Hadow Trail intersected with the Boston Mill Road, we turned left to pick up the South Ridge Trail.  Well, I could tell it was still summer as the sun rose higher in the sky and we did the same.  Whew, broke a sweat!  Sidekick Pauli needed two water breaks before we made the ridgeline by taking the North Ridge Trail up the final ascent to the AT.

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Once on the ridge it was just bliss.  The breezes picked up and even felt slightly chilly! We left the AT to swing around through the upper meadow to the Paris overlook.  I didn’t want to come down the mountain.  It was so lovely looking down on the surrounding countryside with my feet propped up and mind wandering.  Sidekick Pauli took up residence under the picnic table, coming out only for cheese.

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It was here, my bliss bubble started to spring a leak.  This was September 11.  I had intermittently thought about that day on my way up the mountain.  Here at the top, my mind finally settled on those memories.  I didn’t lose anyone that day, thankfully.  But the day was awful and scary.  My son was 7 years old, so in a rare unification between his dad and me, we decided no media was the best media.  He knew what had happened before I picked him up from school, but as a 7 year old, he only knew so much.  He was scared too.  We lived in Bethesda, Maryland at the time, and the planes flew very low over the house all day.  My son would panic if we went upstairs because he was afraid the planes would fly into our house.  So unless we needed the bathroom, we stayed downstairs.  One of my sisters lived in New York, and of course, no way to know…but we figured she was fine…I mean, we reasoned, what would she be doing near the WTC anyway?  Another sister, who was a foreign service officer, was doing language training in Arlington.  She hitched her way back into Maryland, along with thousands of others.

It is a day I will never forget. The internet has made way too many images from that day too easily accessible.  I cannot un-see some of those images.  I can’t imagine the horror that first responders encountered.  I don’t want to even think about it.  So many people, in a flash, gone.

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I once heard that one should not mourn the dead, but instead mourn the living.  Wait, that may have come from a Harry Potter book…no matter.

A rather big wind, that blew my pack off the table, brought me out of my dark trip down memory lane.  I packed up and we hiked down the mountain.  I felt sad and I felt happy, a strange way to be.  But as long as I am gifted with this life I intend on living.  Hike on.

Closing out Summer on Massanutten Mountain

George Washington National Forest has been on the hiking list for awhile.  It’s not that far, but it is on the other side of Shenandoah National Park…so after driving an hour to Shenandoah, I’m like, um, this is good!

Well, I scheduled this one with some hiking pals so I would actually go ALL the way down to the trail head which is on Rt. 211 west of Luray, VA.  It was exciting to head off in a new direction, towards a new mountain, a new adventure!

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Route: Wildflower ->Massanutten South -> Bird Knob -> Forest Road ->Roaring Run ->Brown’s Hollow (11.7 miles)

We met up in Front Royal, then carpooled down from there.  The trail head had ample parking and isn’t hard to find…although, I passed by it before I saw the turn off.  No matter, there was a small place to pull off and turn around just afterwards…which I did.  Holy moly, the traffic coming up the mountain from both directions is FAST…had to gun it like a NASCAR driver when I pulled out! My RAV4 enjoyed the kicking up of gravel and trail of dust…

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Trail Head Parking

We set out down the Wildflower Trail, then climbed up on the Massanutten South Trail.  This was a big climb and I purposefully went up while it was still early in the day.  Once on the ridge, the trail is really nice!  Yes, rocks…but enough space in between to place my feet on soft pine needles.  The scent of those pines was particularly delicious on this morning, ahhh.  Back to school for me within a week’s time.  I would miss the freedom of summer, but not the heat and humidity.  This morning, up on the ridge, with a slight breeze, cool temps, and scent of pine …lovely.

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Hiking Pals at Overhanging Rock (almost on the ridge)!

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Yay! A rockpile! No, I’m serious, I love these! 🙂

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Top of the pile, here I come!

Given that I had no idea what to expect on this trail, I found the terrain pretty interesting! Huge rocks, rock piles, pine trees… Once on the ridgeline, we hiked along in comfortable silence until we came upon the overlook.  Wow! and there is a campsite up there.  I am definitely putting this on the backpack list!

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After the overlook, the goal was to visit Emerald Pond.  I’d heard about it, so I wanted to see it for myself!  Believe me, it is every bit as beautiful as I’d heard!  and more campsites!  It would be nice, if more people cleaned out their trash though.  We packed out a couple of bags along the way.

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Right Turn, I’m not getting on the forest road yet!

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Just before Emerald Pond. Camping allowed in the field.

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Emerald Pond

After Emerald Pond, there was a bit of hiking down a forest road which wasn’t super pleasant, but not too bad.  But oh, buddy, when we pulled off the forest road to Roaring Run Trail…wow, that was steep! It didn’t help that it was now the hottest part of the day! Trudge up it we did, then took a sit down break at the top near another campsite.  We then headed down and picked up Brown’s Hollow Trail to complete the loop.

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A few leaves are changing! Ready for Fall!

Brown’s Hollow would be gorgeous to hike through in the Spring as several waterfalls cross the trail on their way downhill to the creek. Loved this hike and Massanutten! Definitely coming back!

But now my summer is over…on to Fall! Hike on!

May 29 Last Full Day Shenandoah Weekend!

Today I revisited a trail I had not hiked in 20 years.  The last time I was on this climb to Hawksbill, I had baby Logan on my hip.  He was about 2 years old and walking like a fiend! So I would put him down to walk for awhile, then carry him for awhile when those little chubby legs got tired.  🙂

I started from the upper Hawksbill parking lot, then after visiting the view at the top, looped down to lower Hawksbill, around on the AT, then up again on the Salamander trail.  Nice loop!  And Sidekick Pauli made three summits this weekend!!  Mary’s Rock, Loft Mountain, and Hawksbill – good job, doggie!

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“I’m a freakin’ mountain goat.” ~Sidekick Pauli

Coming around on the AT I ran into “JustSue” setting up a table of Trail Magic for the thru-hikers at Hawksbill Gap.  Trail Magic in the form of ham sandwiches, Little Debbie’s  and other delights.  I didn’t have anywhere to be very fast, so I stopped and chatted with “JustSue”.   She had her grandson helping her but he had run off down the trail somewhere so at the moment it truly was just Sue!  Sidekick Pauli also enjoyed meeting JustSue, but was ready to move after a bit, so we said our goodbyes and sidled on down the trail.  I left her in good spirits and was able to pass the joy to thru-hikers coming down the trail.  “TRAIL MAGIC AHEAD!!!”

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“JustSue” and her Trail Magic!

I love this section of the AT.  The rocks are beautifully adorned with fern, succulents, and other wildflowers.  The talus slopes (think rock slides) made me a little nervous with Pauli along and no hiking poles.  Thought I would have trouble negotiating through, but nope! We got through like champs, we did!

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Arriving at the intersection of the Salamander trail, a great rock awaited us providing a lovely spot for lunch.  With the added benefit of being able to lighten the load in the pack before climbing up to Hawksbill again! 🙂   Ever the opportunist.

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Salamander Trail to the left, AT to the right, Lunch!

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Salamander Trail…going up!

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Holy cow!!! I found the Keebler’s Elf House! I asked for cookies, but those darn elves didn’t answer my knock on the door. 😦

 

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One more look at the summit of Hawksbill, then back to the car we go!

We timed the route around and back to the car just right. Plop…plop…plop, ping, plop, ping, plop, ppppppppplopitypingpingplopplopplop…deluge!  Sidekick Pauli is amazing at getting me back to the car before it rains! We were high and dry!  Not so for many other sorry folks I saw dragging themselves back to cars parked too far away for comfort.  I could feel their shivers as I drove back to the campsite.

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Another Momma, not the Dog Hater, but not a dog lover either.  Escorted us kindly, but firmly, out of Big Meadows that morning!

After the rain and back at the campsite, guess who comes strolling with determination towards our tent?  The dog hating Momma deer.  Great.  I took Pauli to the car and waited, but forgot my hot coffee on the picnic table.  “Don’t mess with my coffee, Miss Momma of the Year!”

No trouble here, I’m just visiting!  Hike on!

 

 

May 28 Day 3 of Shenandoah Weekend!

Shhh…I did something totally against the rules today…sorry, sorry, sorry, it was a total blunder on my part, but no one saw us and we left NO trace.

More on that later.  Let’s start at the beginning.  Sidekick Pauli not wanting to get up!

At home she has hours of down time to kick back and relax.  Here in the campground she was on constant alert.  Add that to 7 up and down miles yesterday in the heat…and well, no smiles this morning.

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Don’t worry, once the “Bully Biscuits” were out, ALL was good! 😉

I gave her some down time by heading south to Loft Mountain.  She crashed in the back of the car and came out a new dog once we reached Loft Wayside.  Even so, I figured an easier day of hiking wouldn’t be a bad thing.

It looked like a pretty nice hike could be had by taking the Frazier Discovery Trail up to the AT, then loop around Loft.  Straight uphill, so much for taking it easy! We found a spring of nice, cool water, which Pauli immediately claimed for the next few minutes lapping furiously.

The Frazier Discovery Trail has some pretty cool rocks along it, but I wondered what else I was to possibly discover.  Mostly wooded, I continued to slog uphill.  It was already hot and it was only 8:30 AM!

Reaching the AT, I found an awesome outcropping where we took a short break before continuing along the AT.  Short because I could feel myself getting skin cancer out there on the rocks.  Seriously.  It.Was.Hot. (and super sunny)

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Summit Smooches are a Sidekick Pauli specialty!

The loop around Loft Mountain on the AT ended at the Amphitheater.  At which point I met up with a woman I had previously passed on the trail.  She was camping at Loft and wanted to do the Loop, but she couldn’t take her dog on Frazier Discovery Trail since DOGS ARE NOT ALLOWED!!! “Oh crap!” I exclaimed, “I just came up that way!”  Now, for most people, maybe they wouldn’t care that they had just done something like TAKE THEIR DOG IN A PLACE SHE WASN’T ALLOWED…but I felt really, really, guilty! But there was no sign.  I looked when I went back down the hill, because, seriously, it bugged me.  There was a sign for “no bicycles” but nothing about no dogs.  I can say, though, that my dog was on leash AND I cleaned up after her…left NO trace!  But now that I know, well, I won’t do it again.

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Back at the campsite, the neighboring campers came over and warned me about a deer that is especially aggressive towards dogs.  Apparently, this is the deer who has been stashing her baby fawn in the campground area.  I happened upon this fawn yesterday over by the Big Meadow picnic grounds.  I got a picture with a zoom!

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Anyway, good for the deer! This place had become a cluster…and so many people had dogs off leash without any kind of voice control. ergh…

When I was a kid at camp, one of the activities we did was to close our eyes and just listen, making note of the sounds heard.  I closed my eyes…wind in the trees, families conversing, buzzing, birdsong, rangers beeping at people out on the main road, motorcycles, Pauli turning over in the grass, and MusicMan’s radio…Hike On!