AT: US-60 to US-501/VA-130

Day One: US-60 to Mile 51.7, Blue Ridge Parkway

Having a long day of hiking ahead of us, Maple and I wanted to get on the trail rather early in the day, so we spent the night before at a hotel close to Liberty University in Lynchburgh. We saw plenty of “Vote for Trump” signs and not a single sign in favor of Hillary Clinton. We were definitely deep into central Virginia.

Usually, the beginning of a hike takes us out of a gap and up a mountain or steep incline to a ridge, but this was an exception. A smooth and easy trail, covered in autumn leaves, followed Brown Mountain Creek for nearly two miles. At Brown Mountain Creek Shelter we spotted a couple of backpackers, who appeared to be just beginning their day. Just beyond the shelter is a footbridge over the creek. A mile further we crossed the second footbridge, near a swimming hole, and then left the creek behind us.

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The trail takes the long way around Lynchburgh Reservoir, but neither of us were complaining, as the trail afforded several nice views through the trees of the artificial lake and damn. Walking around several gullies reminded Maple of hiking the Tonto Trail in the Grand Canyon, where one has to walk around side canyons and creeks.

After circling around Lynchburgh Reservoir, at about the 6.5 mile point, we crossed the suspension bridge over Pedlar River and, then, began our 1200-foot ascent of Rice Mountain. The trail was still technically easy, but the mountain was the most difficult part of the day’s hike. While hiking up the mountain we came across two other hikers, the only ones we saw on the trail this day.

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All-in-all, it was a pleasant day-hike of 10.9 miles. The trail itself was about as easy as one can find on a ten-mile stretch of the A.T., and the fall foliage and cool weather made for beautiful scenery and comfortable hiking.

Day Two: Blue Ridge Parkway to US-501

After a great hike the previous day, Birch and I were really looking forward to this hike. We, were wimps, I admit, and stayed overnight in a hotel. We needed to go over 10 miles and still have time to get home (5 hour drive) so going without all the backpacking gear seemed the best bet.

The hike began with a sharp ascent of about two miles. At the .4 mile mark we saw the turn off to Punchbowl Shelter. Punchbowl Mountain was not too impressive since there were no overlooks. We barely knew we had reached the summit. About a mile later we reached the top of Bluff Mountain and this had an amazing panoramic view of the Shenandoah Valley.

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We had a one-mile descent and then things leveled off as we passed Saltlog Gap. There we saw one person camping. It was a pretty quiet day on the trail, considering that it was a Saturday with unusually warm weather.

10-29-1300We stopped for coffee just before Big Rocky Row and 10-29-1301then came to Fullers Rocks overlook. It was the perfect spot to take in the view, eat a sandwich, and rest in the sun. As we made the – descent we began seeing other folks going up the trail for a day hike. This included a rather rambunctious group of boy scouts (maybe 20?) all excited to be on the trail.

The last part of the hike is really beautiful. We walked along a beautiful stream and were able to enjoy a bit of serenity before having to make our way back home. Birch liked this hike better than yesterday but both are great day hikes.

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Appalachian Trail: VA-56 (Wye River) to US-60

9-23-842Day One: VA-56 to The Priest Shelter

Maple and I stayed at the Amherst Inn on Wednesday night, so we could get off to an early start Thursday morning. The weather was perfect. In the upper 70s, with clear skies. What we were more concerned about was the availability of water on top of The Priest. Maple and I had both made inquiries, and what we were told left us thinking that, to be sure of water, we had to carry it with us. (Thanks Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club!) So I packed on an extra 4 liters, and Maple carried an extra 1.75. That, plus four days of food and clothing, made us feel that we were carrying the heaviest packs ever.

We had seen The Priest mountain before, when descending to VA-56 through the Three Ridges Wilderness one month ago. It was an imposing sight, with a peak stretching upwards through a canopy of clouds. “That is what we have to climb on our next outing?!” we said, with no little anxiety. Yet, we did it. One step at a time. Having experienced a rather calamitous fall during that former backpacking venture, I was especially careful to keep my eyes on the ground before me, so as not to get tripped up. Maple and I made a game of counting the switchbacks: roughly, 35. (What counts and does not count as a switchback is a consideration that will lead to varying results.)

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We stopped to have lunch on some rocks about two-thirds of the way up, at an overlook, and took pictures. A little snake seemed to take an interest in us, and came so close that it peeked up at us from under Maple’s backpack. She screamed and sent the critter scrambling under leaves. From here on the hike seemed to get more difficult. Ultimately, we were pausing every ten to twenty yards to catch our breath. Finally, we reached the top, where, over the rocks to our right, 9-22-1351was the last overlook. Maple insisted I check it out, and since it was level ground, I consented. But, I got careless, and my boot got caught on a root, sending me diving face-first into the dirt. In the presence of The Priest, I cursed. I confess I was pissed off at myself, since I had tried so hard to be careful before taking this short detour.

F9-22-1657inally, we arrived at The Priest Shelter. There, we found that we had carried the extra water unnecessarily, that the spring was flowing, however so gently. We set up our camp, made coffee, filtered water, and relaxed. After making dinner, we played a game of backgammon, retired, and day one was over.

 

Day Two: The Priest Shelter to Seeley-Woodsworth Shelter

Day two was expected to be an easy, 6.7 mile jaunt. This area was once a logging area, and much of the larger trees were wiped out in the 1930s or so. It did seem like there was more new growth than some areas we’ve hiked before. However, it was beautiful. It was far enough away from main roads to be very quiet and peaceful.

9-23-842The trail descended sharply going south from the Priest. Then, it offered a series of ascents and descents (overall going up about 1,000 ft.) before reading “Spy Rock”. Spy Rock is a very popular day hike. It was fun to see people ooh and aw over our “big” backs. “You are obviously professionals,” someone said. Yeah. Right.

We had lunch at Spy Rock but never did get to the top. I’m sure it must be possible but it required a bit too much effort for our liking. Apparently, this was once a great place for the Confederate troops to track the forces from the North. I’ll have to take others’ word for it.

In about 2 1/2 miles we reached Seeley-Woodsworth Shelter. It has a tremendous, well-running spring that enabled us to fill up to our heart’s content with water. There, we met “Star Man” and “Fire Starter”, two brothers who valued fellowship over tough hikes. They had skipped the Priest but had experienced other fun adventures on the trail. A surfer/massage therapist/Costa Rican named Todd joined us at the shelter and we had a blast sharing stories. Overall, it was a wonderful day.

Home Sweet Home at Seeley!

Home Sweet Home at Seeley!

Day Three: Seeley-Woodsworth Shelter to Cow Camp Gap Shelter

Day three was, potentially, our hardest venture, with 10.2 miles to hike to get to the blue trail leading to the shelter—another .5 miles. It was the furthest we had ever committed ourselves to hiking with full backpacks. Having been previously informed that the spring at Cow Camp Gap was dry, we stashed a water supply off the trail at a clearing two miles north of Cow Camp Gap. So, at least we didn’t have to carry extra water as far as this clearing.dscn0631

The hiking wasn’t too difficult, and we arrived at Hog Camp Gap at about noon. There we rested under apple trees, had an apple with our lunch, and were about to begin our descent up Cole Mountain when I suddenly realized that this was the place that I had stashed water. I hadn’t known exactly where I had stashed water, only that there was a sign indicating that it was two miles before Cow Camp Gap. When I saw the sign, I realized that Hog Camp Gap was the place. So, we retrieved our water, and with the added weight, climbed Cole Mountain.

On our ascent, we encountered a woman with a melodious southern ascent who assured 9-24-1326us that Cole Mountain rewarded its climbers—that it was like that hill that Julie Andrews climbed in The Sound of Music that inspired her to break out in song. Well, Cole Mountain did, indeed, have a wonderful panoramic view (not quite 360 degrees, but still rather impressive for a hill—not quite as majestic as The Priest). We did not sing, not that we did not want to—perhaps, we were out of breath. A little ways south, we encountered a father and son team who volunteered to take our picture.

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Finally, we arrived at Cow Camp Gap Shelter and discovered that the spring was flowing. Once again, we had carried extra water unnecessarily. The good thing about it was that we had no need to filter water. We had plenty of water to spare. As there was a small family inhabiting the shelter and playing their music, we decided to hike further down the creek. There we found good tent spots and quiet. Todd, the surfer dude that we had met at Seeley-Woodworth, had made it here before us, but there was ample space, and Todd hardly made his presence known.

Day Four: Cow Camp Gap Shelter to US-60

Our campsite.

Our campsite.

We awoke in the middle of the night to rain. By morning, everything was soaked, especially (for some reason) the inside of our tent. Birch was kind enough to get up and make coffee. After warming up with the cup ‘o Joe, we decided that the best thing to do was to eat a power bar and get moving. We packed up quickly and put on a bit of rain gear. However, by the time we went the 1/2 mile back up to the AT we decided that wearing the rain gear wasn’t worth it. We were too hot!

The fresh, cool, rainy weather was just what we needed to ascend the 2 miles to the top of Bald Knob. There are no overlooks here, which is just as well since we were fogged in. The descent is long (over two miles) and steep (a 2000 ft descent.) We made great time and were back to the car well before noon. US-60 has plenty of parking and the wayside was full of cars, many with AT bumper stickers. I guess it is a popular spot. I can’t wait to get back here for our next adventure, as we continue south on the trail.

Appalachian Trail: Dripping Rock to Route 56 ( and lessons in first aid!)

After finishing off the AT in Shenandoah National Park, Birch and I were able to jump back to our southern most point in the trail, at Dripping Rock. Our plan was for an uneventful two day backpacking trip with a stay at Maupin Shelter. This area is known as the Three Ridges.

On the map, this looks like a piece of cake. In fact, the first six miles are fairly flat. The heat was a bit of a challenge, and by the time we got to the shelter it was about 1:00 pm. DSCN0593We ate lunch, filled our bottles with water, and debated our next move. It seemed a bit early to stop hiking. Should we stay at the shelter or move on? Looming on the horizon was the threat of major thunderstorms the next day. The last thing I wanted to do was a 9 mile hike in bad weather (especially the upcoming 3 mile ascent to a mountain peak – possibly during a thunder storm.)  We continued our hike, thinking that if we can at least get over the next peak, we’ll be that much closer to completing our trip before the storms get the best of us.DSCN0588

Theoretically, this was a good idea. Practically, it was a huge mistake. The big ascent, after already backpacking six miles, got the best of us. Birch was definitely suffering from heat exhaustion. We ALMOST decided to camp on the peak. But after a rest, Birch was feeling better and we felt that getting to the next shelter was doable.

About a half mile into our descent, near the middle ridge, Birch slipped on loose rocks, lost his balance, and tumbled down an embankment for about 20 feet. He was stopped by his arm getting caught in a tree limb. He suffered significant gashes to his head, a gash on his nose bridge, black eye, a big cut on his leg, and abrasions everywhere. His glasses? Lost! Talk about scary! The first aid kit was not well supplied, but we did the best we could to stop the bleeding and clean the wounds. Getting off the mountain that night was not an option. We were tired and it was getting dark.

We camped on the side of the trail overnight and I kept watch for any signs of confusion, etc. The next morning, we slowly descended a very rocky, difficult section of the trail and came to the  shelter. We used the stream water (filtered) to further clean wounds. Then, we  ascended a small hill before descending down a very steep area for about another two miles.

A tough trail!

A tough trail!

In the end, Birch got to the emergency room and was stitched up. Did you know that there is only a 24 hour window before stitching is not an option? We barely made that window! He definitely had a concussion so we were very fortunate that things turned out ok. The lesson? Don’t skimp on the first aid kit! I’m going to add a small squirt bottle that makes it easier to clean wounds. In a really bad situation, those little alcohol swabs don’t cut it (no pun intended). Make sure you have phone numbers for emergency assistance – just in case.

 

Tod looking great at the beginning of the hike

Birch looking great at the beginning of the hike

On the mountain after the accident.

On the mountain after the accident.

 

Appalachian Trail: Jarmans Gap to Rockfish Gap

The terrain on this part of the A.T. is surprisingly varied and somewhat more difficult than what Maple and I have experienced on the A.T. elsewhere in Shenandoah N.P. We generally cover two to two-and-a-half miles per hour, but this eight mile stretch took us a full five hours to complete.

Our trek began by ascending Calf Mountain, and, no doubt, this is where we were slowed down. As we came to the top of the mountain, we saw a bear foraging near the trail. I said, “There’s a bear,” Maple screamed, and the poor bear went running off as fast as its legs could carry him.

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The trail took us through patches of wildflowers on Little Calf Mountain. There we saw deer and rabbits.

DSCN0584After having part of our lunch at Beagle Gap, we crossed Skyline Drive and ascended Bear Den Mountain, on which are several power stations. Shortly after passing these, we ran into two other section hikers that we recognized as having met in Pennsylvania. These were O.G. (Old Guy) Bob and O.G. Rick (a.k.a. Grey Cloud).

After crossing the road again at McCormick Gap, we ascended Scott Mountain, and then continued on a ridge parallel to Skyline Drive. On the map, this looks like a smooth three miles, but the terrain is actually quite rocky.

Overall, this was a great hike, one that is probably overlooked by all but a few visitors to Shenandoah N.P.

Appalachian Trail: Brown Gap to Riprap Trail Parking Area

Since Maple and I had hiked the short distance from the Loft Mountain Campground Store to Brown Gap during our last camping trip, we resumed our hike at Brown Gap.

DSCN0567This 6.7 mile trek reminded me of “The Roller Coaster” north of Shenandoah N.P. When we were not going up, we were going down. But the only peak that had a name was Blackrock Summit.

I was very impressed with the work that had recently been done to the trail on Blackrock Summit. Although the trail goes across rocks, the path had been made smooth by the laying down of great quantities of gravel, which ultimately made the path smooth. Question: Why isn’t this done on the A.T. across Pennsylvania?

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Someone or some persons had recently placed a wind-chime on a tree limb overhanging the trail on Blackrock Summit. It was placed in memory of Nate Fletcher.

Maple and I saw several NB thru-hikers, even though they are rapidly going out of season in Shenandoah.

All-in-all, it was a very pleasant, if not particularly distinguished, hike. Although the temperature was in the mid-80s, the humidity left Maple and I quite drenched in our own sweat.

Appalachian Trail: Rip Rap Trail Parking Area to Jarmans Gap

It is day three of hiking, and Birch and I have hit our stride. This hike was very easy and – to be perfectly honest – a bit boring. The trail is lined with mountain laurel, rhododendrons, and ferns. The train itself is wonderfully smooth. After a short ascent we were fortunate to have a 3-mile descent. That was very unusual and very much appreciated. The only challenge was that, being the first on the trail, I was ensnared in quite a few spider webs.

Along the way we came across another area where a fire had occurred, long ago. It is so neat to see how resilient a forest can be. While there were not many tall trees, there was plenty of new growth.

My favorite part of the trail was at mile seven, when we came across a section of the trail blanketed in wild flowers. The butterflies were numerous and too busy tapping the flowers to worry about a couple of hikers.DSCN0576

Appalachian Trail: Simmons Gap to Loft Mountain Camp Store

Birch and I have not been on the AT in a while so I was excited to be going on an 8 mile hike, and even more excited about the prospect of hiking four days in a row. Loft Mountain Campground is a perfect place to hang out for the week while we indulge in some time on the AT.DSCN0543

The hike from Simmons Gap begins with a 500 ft./ 1 mile ascent. About 15 minutes into the hike, Birch shouted, “Bear, left!” Where? I didn’t see it. “No, the trail bears left,” he said with a grin. Yeah, very funny. Unfortunately, his sense of humor was in fine form the entire hike.

The trail goes up, down, up, then down. We stopped at an overlook to have a snack and met a father/son duo hiking from Georgia to Harper’s Ferry. I think it is so cool to see families doing the trail together.

I was fascinated when we went through a section of the trail that had experienced a major forest fire this past spring. The area is really bouncing back. The birds seemed to be very happy here. DSCN0550

After hiking a while once more, we were startled by a commotion in a tree about 10 yards ahead of us. A bear half leaped, half stumbled out of the tree! I’m very glad he saw us before we saw him because “Bear, left” was much better than having the bear land on top of us.

We ate lunch at a viewpoint and were ready to be done. The heat was getting to us! How awesome was it to end the hike at the camp store, where Gatorade and a cool shower awaited!?!.

Appalachian Trail: Swift Run Gap to Simmons Gap

For a second weekend in a row, Birch and I stayed at Loft Mountain Campground so that we could hike the AT in Shenandoah. This weekend was much cooler. For me, that makes a BIG difference. Cooler weather cuts down my fatigue as well as my need for fluiids.

After dropping one car off at the turn off for the Ranger Station (Simmons Gap) we pulled over to the side of the road with the other car just south of the Swift Run Gap park entrance.  The first part of the hike is straight up, about 800ft in about 1 1/2 miles. Since its the beginning of the hike, I felt pretty fresh and it was very manageable. As you can see from the photo below, the view was well worth it. This is High Top Mountain. It isn’t as crowded as some of the more popular areas of the park, and this makes it a nice destination in itself.DSCN0519

After admiring the view, down we went! The trail descends about three miles, passing the Smith Roach Gap Fire Road. I couldn’t help take some photos of the ferns near here. So beautiful! DSCN0523

After crossing the parkway at Powell Gap we ascended less than a  mile before we got to a beautiful overlook. There was a sign there (made of sticks) marking this as the 900 mile mark of the AT (from the south, of course.) Tod and I used this as an opportunity to take a nice long break. After eating our sandwiches we put on our fleece jackets and made coffee. It is times like this on the trail that make all the hard work worth it. We really enjoyed the opportunity to relax and enjoy our surroundings.  We could see the parkway way below us, houses in a town far away, and an incredible blanket of trees that seemed to go on forever.

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Coffee + hiking + view = bliss!

Coffee + hiking + view = bliss!

It was a quick hike back to the car, which was less than two miles away. When we exited the trail we realized that there was a small parking lot across the road from the Ranger Station entrance that we could have used. This is good info for next time, when we continue our southward adventures.6-16_7

 

Appalachian Trail: Loft Mountain Campground to Browns Gap

After enjoying a relaxing Sunday in camp with perfect weather, Maple and I decided to hike the short distance of 4.3 miles from the camp store at Loft Mountain Campground south to Browns Gap. Oddly, there is no signpost for the AT at the camp store, but the AT is accessible by going down a short distance on a connecting trail that runs behind the adjoining restrooms into the forest. The AT southbound, then, makes about three quarters of a loop around the campground.campstore

The trail to Brown Gap is well marked and easy to follow, but the directional posts that the NPS has placed along the way wherever trails merge appear to provide distances that are incongruent with each other, and at least one post suggested that the distance between our two points was a full mile shorter than that which is indicated on the PATC map. I pointed this out to a northbound thru-hiker, and he pointed out to me that it made no practical difference.

Anyway, Shenandoah was absolutely gorgeous in green on this windy day in June.

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Lewis Mountain Campground to Swift Run Gap

A beautiful day and an eight mile hike is a great combination for a June day. We began our hike at Lewis Mountain Campground. There is limited parking by the camp store but there is plenty of parking near the  picnic area. The AT is a gentle, downhill trail for about a mile before leveling off. The easy trail is a nice break before the gentle slope UP that brought us to the top of Bald Face Mountain. There really aren’t any switchbacks (it isn’t steep enough for that) but there were several spots where they had these really cool set of stairs. (It feels a bit magical to ascend up stone steps in the middle of a forest!) I was hoping that there would be a great view but no such luck.  There is a nice slab of rock and boulders at lewis mountainthe peak. It is a perfect place to stop for lunch but the foliage prevents one from seeing the countryside.

Birch and I pressed on until we reached the bottom of the mountain near the South River Falls Trail. We knew there was a picnic area about a mile away but we decided to have lunch here.  I’m glad we did. This spot has a number of nice boulders for sitting. The picnic area turned out to be about 1/10 of a mile off the trail. Along the way, there is a variety of vegetation. My favorite is always the mountain laurel. However, there were giant (I mean GIANT!) ferns that I liked as well.mountainlaurel

The last part of the hike was about 1 1/2 miles up (perhaps 500 ft change in elevation) and 1 1/2 miles down. Along the way we met a really nice family from New Zealand, taking a 5 month vacation on the trail. Their son was probably 5 or 6 years old. He was having a great time. After all, he had just seen a snake! I’m always amazed at how the AT brings so many people from different walks of life together.

We reached our other car, parked at Swift Run Gap, in no time. Afterwards, we visited the Loft Mountain visiting area for some blackberry ice cream. Hiking + ice cream! Perfect!

Shenandoah is known for Blackberries. Blackberry ice cream? Yum!

Shenandoah is known for Blackberries. Blackberry ice cream? Yum!