[at-l] trip report, Shenandoah AT section

Amy Forinash aeforinash at gmail.com
Mon Oct 10 12:16:18 CDT 2011

Crossposted to trailjournals:

2011/10/8 Gravel Spring Hut
Tent 5.8 miles

JD made us a manly breakfast this morning - French toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, gravy, and biscuits. I skipped the sausage and gravy and added mango lime chutney to my biscuit. Yummy. 

Right on schedule (at 9) we got out the door and on the road. I was surprised by the heavy traffic, but with the fantastic weather everybody must have made plans, and more power to them. We had an uneventful drive out to Front Royal. 

I had hoped to get on the trail by eleven but it was nearly twelve when we started hiking. Right away I got funny looks. I had strapped a silver umbrella to my backpack this morning. Small children pointed, adult hikers commented, and one guy took a picture. It looked goofy, but it did its job, which was to protect me from sunburn. My skin is hyper-photosensitive right now, thanks to antibiotics for Lyme disease. I may have picked up a little color on my face, but I have no blisters so I'm calling it a win. 

DeLee and I meandered down the trail, stopping at every overlook and a number of comfortable sitting spots. Despite our minuscule loads, our feet hurt. I haven't been super active because of being sick, either, so I was not exactly the energizer bunny. But I chose a short, easy day on purpose and it was just about right. 

When we arrived at the hut, it was fairly full, mostly because of the full size dome tent set up inside. The guys were nice, but really? A huge tent in the shelter on a busy weekend?  It's not even raining, or buggy, so there's no reason to use it. DeLee and I planned to camp anyway so we set up at nearby tentsites. 

I will also say this: they carried in a glass bottle of whiskey (another hiker offered me some single malt scotch. I declined as I already had Kahlua) and a package of pepperoni which they said had to be used up immediately after opening it. Weird. I ate some rather than have it land in the fire. I hope they didn't really try to burn it, as the smell may attract bears to the shelter. With luck they'll be too drunk to notice. 

It's a beautiful night with a nearly full moon. I have my tent fly pulled all the way back. DeLee forgot her stakes so we are sharing mine. I can't stake out the sides as well as the fly with fewer stakes, but I'd rather see the moon anyway. Rain is not predicted. I felt chilly earlier as I cooled down from hiking but at the moment I am toasty warm, half in my sleeping bag. 

Lunch was ham and cheese on French rolls. (I won't eat as well tomorrow, I assure you.) Dinner was one of the best prepackaged dehydrated trail meal I've tried -  Trailside Burritos from Packit Gourmet. Really delicious. It's not often that I can say that about trail food. 

I have once again brought along my Nada Chair, and once again love the lack of back pain when I sit in camp or on a break long enough to unpack a little. it's such a delightful little invention. I think it should be standard gear for the geezer crowd. 

I haven't hiked much in Shenandoah in recent years. It was a pleasure to renew the acquaintance. Wide, well groomed trails, frequent conveniently placed logs to sit on, gentle grades, and frequent views. Shenandoah is the reason I started hiking as an adult. Regular visits of my college physics club to the park for camping and hiking trips led me to fall in love with the place. I'm here now with different friends, lighter gear, and a significantly crappier physique, but the park is just as sweet as it always was. And I love it just as much. 

2011/10/9 Compton Gap
7.8	home

I knew the moon was bright, but it didn't really sink in until I shut off my light and lay down.  I could clearly see the woods around me.  This was helpful, as we had run across many giant piles of bear scat during the afternoon, and also the particular hut we were camping near had a reputation for bears.  A family of bears in the nearby field, to be exact.  So every falling leaf set off my "BEAR!" reflex.  With the fly tied back and the woods lit up, it was easy to see that there were no bears nearby.

I put in my earplugs to try to quiet the sentries.  I could hear the cicadas through the earplugs.  The cicadas did me a small favor by drowning out the falling "BEAR!" leaves.  

I was happy to have brought my Rockdancer hat, as I really needed something to cover my eyes so I could sleep with the moon shining in.  Every time the hat slipped up and I opened my eyes, it felt at first as if somebody were shining a flashlight into my tent.  Boy that was bright.

Noise and light aside, I snuggled down into my sleeping bag and sleeping pad and was so, so comfy.  Delee wasn't terribly comfortable on hers, as it turned out.  But I was making "oh, yeah baby" type noises over in my tent, and feeling content.  It was just the right temperature to be warm and happy in my sleeping bag.  The huge screened area over me kept out any bugs while letting me feel as if I were cowboy camping under that big moon.  So happy.  So perfect.

In the morning I cracked an eye open to see DeLee standing by her tent.  I asked if it were time to get up, and she said no.  So I rolled over and went back to sleep.  Within a few minutes, however, I grudgingly gave in to the quickly lightening sky and sat up inside my sleeping bag.  It looked like a beautiful day.  And DeLee had hot chocolate with marshmallows for me.

I got dressed, quickly stowed as much gear as I could, and crawled out of the tent.  I knocked down the poles inside but left the rest to be packed after breakfast.  It turns out that if you wait for the water to cool just a little before you make your hot chocolate, the marshmallows don't melt.  I drank my extremely marshmallowy hot chocolate and ate a couple of granola bars for breakfast.   Between packing up and signing the register and visiting the privy, we were ready to go at nine.  Oddly, the hike back up to the trail to the AT was much shorter than the hike down the trail from the AT.  That is not how it is supposed to work.

We immediately started encountering crazy beautiful views.  The section between Gravel Springs and North Marshall Mountain are lousy with them.  I took many pictures.  At the southern edge of North Marshall Mountain, we finally climbed the rocks I've walked by on many earlier occasions.  The climb up was super easy, and the views were outstanding.

On Hogwallow Flat, I FINALLY found the spring.  It's on the map, but I'd never been able to find it before.  I think mainly it's because I'd always gone by during cold weather, and so there were no plants to help me identify it.  (The spring is unmarked and off the trail.)  As usual I scanned  the woods with the hope of finding it, and this time I actually did.  First I noticed ferns growing (there weren't any in the preceding few miles) and then I walked off  the trail to check, and sure enough!  Spring!  You cannot imagine how proud I was of my Sherlockian spring-finding skills.

After Hogwallow Flat, the scenery got less scenic, although we did find quite a few holes which were probably basements once upon a time, and also the still-recognizable concrete foundation of a house.  The house was probably the size of my bedroom or smaller.  Whenever I see proof that a hundred years ago it was normal to live in a house the size of my shed, it boggles my mind.  I immediately feel like I have too much stuff and I should get rid of it all.  Then I am overwhelmed with how much work that would take and give up the idea.  And then I continue having massive amounts of stuff.

I was feeling fantastic and loving the easy trail in the Shenandoahs.  This weekend renewed my love of the park in many ways.  As I keep saying, if I hadn't started hiking the AT in Shenandoah, I probably wouldn't have started at all.  Shenandoah just makes it so easy for the hiker.

Unfortunately, DeLee wasn't having quite the same experience I was.  She became dehydrated, overheated, nauseated, and exhausted.  By the time I figured out what was going on, she was totally miserable.  Luckily I found a spring running on Compton Peak, and got her to sit down while I filtered some cold water for her.  She drank some electrolyte mixture and perked up almost immediately.  We were only about a mile from the car, so after a rest we got walking again and made it safely there.  I think it's safe to say that DeLee has seldom been so happy to see her car.

While the weekend's hike was sublime (for me, anyway) the trip home wasn't.  We attempted to head north out of the park to Front Royal.  Within four miles we encountered a backup.  We weren't sure how big it was, or how long it had been there, but there were people out of their cars and sitting on the stone wall by the road.  So it seemed like maybe it had been a while. I advised DeLee to turn around.  She drove the 20+ miles south to Thornton Gap so we could drive home the long way.  But first, we encountered:

	A momma bear and two baby bears crossing Skyline Drive.  Traffic stopped for them, but the people in the first cars LEAPT out of their vehicles and literally chased the bears with cameras.  DeLee and I were livid.  I felt that they deserved to be mauled.  Momma bear looked so harassed.

	A dead deer in the road with its neck snapped, and a Miata which looked like it would need to be towed.

	At least a dozen cars which were furious that DeLee was driving the speed limit, although they had ALSO driven by the dead deer.  I guess they felt that speed limits and deer hazards did not apply to them.

	A man standing in the middle of the road on a curve, who as it turned out was the flag man for his idiot friend, who was standing on the edge of the road on the curve, photographing some plant.  We definitely would have hit the photographer if not for the flag man.  But we felt both of them were idiots.

	Many official vehicles racing northward toward the backup ( / dead deer / multi-car accident / whatever) near the north end of the park.

	Stopped traffic on route 29, as everybody tried to merge into the exit lane for 66.

	Stopped traffic on route 66, due to lane closings.

	Stopped traffic on the beltway, due to lane closings.

Our trip home was definitely more eventful than our hike.

I had such a fine time over the weekend that I have developed two new goals.  

	1.  Thruhike Shenandoah next year. So far Vera and Delee are both interested in joining me.
	2.  Hike all the trails in Shenandoah.  I think I will clear the slate and start as if I had never hiked any of them.  Possibly I will hike them in order from south to north or vice versa.  Or possibly I will pick and choose based on how much time I have available in a given weekend.  Either way, it should be fun.  :)

Also, I have decided I need to learn how to do cold weather camping properly, so that I can enjoy hiking in the winter as much as in the fall.  It's on my to-do list.

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