Fogged in at Tentsite 43 with Sidekick Pauli (Day 1 – Friday 9/25/2015)

Tentsite 43 – Big Meadows, Shenandoah NP

I had the site reserved well in advance.  This was planned to be an outing with my nieces “No Bend Barbie” and “Jedi”, but No Bend is finishing up her Master’s in Geology and was way too deep in research to come…so we postponed until next May.

So I figured I would take Sidekick Pauli!  My first solo camping trip and a long time since Pauli has been on an overnight with me.  This would be fun!  We could chill out at the campsite, enjoying the crisp autumn air, watching the leaves fall, and take an occasional hike.  Hey, I even bought a new camp chair for the occasion at the REI sale a few weeks ago!

As our weekend approached I got nervous…too many nice weekends in a row…oh, the probability for a rainy weekend…

Right on cue, the forecast said occasional showers, then rain at 6 PM on Friday night.  Okay, okay, I will get there early and set up the tent.  We can get a hike in  before it starts raining…

Cruising up to Sperryville, Virginia, I glanced at the wall of mountains before me shrouded in white…uh oh…

Well, I will just drive on up to the park entrance and see what is happening.  As my car climbed up, the fog rolled in, and soon I was moving at about 20 mph, hands gripping the wheel, as shapes swirled in and out of the fog in front of me.  Hmmm, It’s not raining…maybe we just need to gain a little altitude, you know, to get above the fog bank.  So I flashed my pass at the gate and turned south on Skyline Drive headed for Big Meadows (still at 20 mph, but now with the addition of the hazards blinking merrily to the sorry souls who dared hug my bumper).

Turning into Big Meadows, I was mollified somewhat.  The fog had lifted a bit and my optimism for an adventure had returned!  Tentsite 43 let’s go!

Great site by the way.  Way back in the woods.  There is a picnic table, bear box and tent pad.  There were also a few little trails behind the site.  These trails made walking Sidekick Pauli late at night very easy!

After setting up the tent, We set out for Lewis Spring Falls.  This trail is a 3.3 mile loop which I was able to reach by walking from my site (a nice plus!).  The fog was again falling through the trees which made my traverse along the Appalachian Trail magical.

All of my previous doubts about staying the weekend disappeared as walked along the AT.

All of my previous doubts about staying the weekend disappeared as walked along the AT.

The trail followed the AT south past the lodge, then a right turn on the fire road, passing an exhausted looking family unit. “Hey, how are you guys?” I cheerfully greeted them…Dad says, “We’re great!”…Mom says, “Kill me now…”  The teenagers were happy though!  I left them to their resting spot and headed on to the falls.

This was going to make that Mom like her hike again! Did I just walk into a fairytale?

This was going to make that Mom like her hike again! Did I just walk into a fairytale?

Whoa…lots of switchbacks!!! It sprinkled a bit, but I had dropped below the fog and could now see distant peaks.  Reaching the top of the falls, everything was wet and the rocks were slippery.  I guess to actually see the falls I would need to descend a little more…but knowing my propensity for taking a tumble and that at the moment I was hiking sans hiking poles (and with a dog)…I decided not to go any further!  I didn’t feel even the least bit sad about that decision either.  Some people just love waterfalls, I am not one of those people.  I like them, they are pretty, but I don’t have to see them in person…unless of course we are talking about Niagra…

An unexpected view on this foggy day!

An unexpected view on this foggy day!

I wondered why everyone was going back up the same switchbacks they came down…then I figured it out.  When you loop, the trail gets pretty rocky.  Holy crap! I hadn’t bargained on this for my easy, afternoon, 3.3 mile hike!! Careful, whew! I didn’t slide and I didn’t fall!!

Back at the site, I proceeded to make dinner.  As soon as I had finished cleaning up and putting things away, then rain started in earnest.  It was 6 pm.

Happiness is a warm puppy!

Happiness is a warm puppy!

We didn’t come out of the tent until after dark so Sidekick Pauli could have a little walk into the woods, so to speak.  Then we were in for good! Into the fog…hike on!

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!

AT – VA Compton Gap to US 522 with the Trail Dames

I will remember this day as hiking through the sky with Dames, then descending into the valley with Angels.

Before all of this, however, was donuts.  Tenacious D was driving and I had hitched a ride to the trail head since my car is no longer to be trusted on long trips.  I felt very grateful to have a ride down to Virginia for this section hike and stopped at Dunkin Donuts on my way to meet Tenacious D for coffee and donuts as a token of appreciation for the ride.

Wow, it was raining. and cold. and windy.  Glad I put gloves and hat in the back pack before I left!

We were the last to arrive at the trail head…Tenacious D says being a bus driver for so many years makes her just drive slow all the time!  I didn’t mind, we weren’t more than 3 – 4 minutes late, and the drive had been lovely.  We pulled over and rolled down the window as Dirigo (the hike leader today) approached. She asked “Can you all help shuttle?” “Sure!”  Another Dame jumped in and away we went up into Shenandoah National Park.

We met up with everyone at Compton Gap trail head, about 10 miles into the park.  Donning our layers, rain jackets, hats, gloves, and grabbing our hiking poles we set off into the foggy woods.  Pretty easy walking, although it began to rain making me wish I hadn’t left my big red poncho back in my car before riding down with Tenacious D.  Oh well, my rain jacket, plus layers did a fine job anyway!


Tenacious D enjoying the trail!

The forest was magical with the heavy fog.  Lines between heaven and earth were smudged giving everything a soft ethereal glow.  It felt like we were part of the sky.  Then my eye would catch a tree with its brilliantly colored leaves in the forest reminding me that the sky had descended on the mountain, we had not risen to the sky.

We reached Possum’s Rest, which on a clear day has a beautiful view, without much trouble.  Today, all one could see was the fog.  Coming down from Possum’s Rest was a little tricky!  We were climbing down from the ridge and it was a sharp decline, even with the switchbacks, littered with wet leaves and rocks.  It was slow going…but no one fell, no one slipped!

Just before reaching the Tom Floyd Wayside, we heard barking.  Lake Front Royal is a neighborhood which backs up to the AT, so the dog was probably over there.  Happy to get out of the rain we sat down for lunch at the shelter.  A PB&J and half a bag of cheezits later I was feeling quite content.  I stretched out my legs and sat there looking out into the mist.

Tom Floyd Wayside

Tom Floyd Wayside

There is was…that barking again…louder this time.  We discussed where the dog could be, then brushed it aside as we packed up and left the shelter.  Headed downhill, then all of the sudden there it was, a small older beagle, lost, cold, wet, shivering, and very scared.  She came right up to me.  It was clear she needed help.  At first we got her to follow us, but soon realized she needed to be carried as her paws were rubbed raw.  I carried her for awhile,

then Python cleared out her backpack and together we fit her inside.  She loved that! So cozy!  And that is how Python packed her out.  As we continued towards Rt. 522 we passed directly by a few houses in Lake Front Royal.  Python asked a guy out on his deck if he knew anyone who had lost a beagle.  He didn’t but turned to get his wife.  Turns out the wife works in a vet clinic and offered to take the dog so they could follow up on the license number and scan for a microchip.

So you see, the Dames had become Angels arriving at just the right time and place for this lucky little pup.  I am ever so happy she spent the night inside, safe and warm.

A Journey Taken

A Journey Taken

Hike on.