AT -VA Gravel Springs Gap to Elkwallow Wayside 

I led this hike for the Maryland Trail Dames.  Seven women had RSVP’d and I knew for sure that four were coming because three were riding in my car and another was following in her own car.  Twenty-four miles south, after entering the northernmost gate at Shenandoah National Park, I pulled into Elkwallow Wayside.

I saw MamaPuma waving at me as she stood beside her big ass awesome pick-up truck. I pulled around, and we all quickly worked out who would ride with who back to our starting place, Gravel Springs. BUT WAIT! We must all go to the bathroom! Jees, is it at all possible for a woman to need a public restroom and NOT END UP waiting in line?!! 🤔

Okay, now in the cars, we headed to Gravel Springs.  “Just after mile 18, look for mile 18!” I called out.  Several minutes later, just after mile 18, cars ahead of us slowed. “Look! Look! Look!” I exclaimed jabbing my finger at the right windshield.  A mama bear lumbered slowly across the road, stopping to look over her shoulder.  I followed her gaze. Oh, there are cubs!  Her babies still cowered on the opposite side of the road clinging to a tree! 

A bear! Right before Gravel Springs! Maybe we would see them again! 😀😀😀

We parked, and of course, we were all very excited about the bear! I was on high alert as we started down the trail thinking mama and her cubs might cross our path. 

Coming to the first crossing of Skyline Drive, I let a little sigh of both relief and disappointment escape. Oh well, maybe next time bears. 

The AT is very well behaved, with a gentle incline, for the first two miles south of Gravel Springs, with a beautiful view just a bit before Little Hogback Overlook.

Then it was one, two, three, four…whew, five, six, seven, …ugh…eight switchbacks to reach the summit of Hogback Mountain. And no view. Whaaaaat!? A trail post promised a hang glider site which never materialized. That is a crime upon Mother Nature herself!!! No view. Harrumph. 

Still amazing though with fog floating through the tops of trees, the forest floor a carpet of verdant green, and the last of Azalea blossoms clinging together as if protesting the end of spring. Very Hansel and Gretel.

Once more across Skyline Drive to a very cool lunch spot! What a find!

Claiming this as my Spirit Tree!

It was all downhill now! The last mile was an easy slide into Elkwallow where we again mobbed the bathroom, then celebrated with Blackberry ice-cream! Hike on!

Thanks to Overkill for this instaClassic!

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 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!

 

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!

 

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!