I started hiking seriously in 1995. I needed a hobby, and this is the one I chose. I hiked many trails in northern Jersey, including most of the Appalachian Trail in N.J. The AT went north into New York, and south into Pennsylvania. I followed it. After a few years, I ran out of sections to day hike. I took up backpacking. That means that I had to carry everything that I would need on my back. This year, I carried thirty-seven pounds in my pack, for a 60.5 mile section. My next section south was the northern and central sections of Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Here is my journal.

June 16, 2004. Day 1. AT, from the No. Va. 4H Club Convention Center to Gravel Spring Hut. 11.7 miles. 6 hours 50 minutes. 1.7 MPH. 3200’ of climb. Cloudy. Temp about 60. I parked my car at the No. Va. 4H Center (upon the advice of the shuttler). I was trying to keep my pack as light as possible. I weighed it at 37 pounds. There was a fairly steep climb up to the Tom Floyd Wayside. My outdated book said that this is where I should obtain my ‘Backcountry Permit.’ I met the Ridge Runner Q-Tip here. He said that the permit station had been moved further up the hill, into the National Park. I took a rest. I take a lot of rests! I hiked further up to Possum Rest, for an obstructed view, and onward to the permit station. A Backcountry Permit is necessary to camp, or use the shelters, in Shenandoah National Park. I did not find the instructions on how to fill it out very helpful, so I fudged it. No one ever asked to see my permit anyway.

I found PATC’s blazing in Shenandoah to be whimsical at best. An early example was the turn onto Compton Gap Trail. The common ‘blaze over blaze’ to indicate a turn should be followed by a blaze to indicated that one has turned the correct direction. There was none here. I prefer the offset blaze over blaze, which indicates the direction of the turn.

The trail, and I, continued to climb over Compton Mountain, and North Marshall Mountain. By my rest atop North Marshall, I had cramps in both calves, and in both feet. I could hear my skeleton creaking as I walked. I had taken my piroxicam the previous night. It worked well for the sciatic pain, but not for all the pains. I hiked over south Marshall, and down to Gravel Springs Hut. Here, shelters are called huts. Oh, well. Chalk it up to regional dialects. I like shelters with springs at the same elevation! The shelters in Shenandoah have an upper shelf for an extra three or four. Here, I met Rambler, and the Hobbits, Heidi and Holly (or River Otter and Popeye). There was a pretty flower growing along this section of tail (and indeed, throughout Shenandoah). It has leaves like a lily, with a long stem, and a spike of whitish flowers at the top. Popeye was carrying a flower book. We identified it as Fly-Poison. Such a sad name for such a pretty flower. It is toxic. Early farmers were said to grind it with sugar, to kill flies. There were four of us in the shelter tonight. I was tired; it was quite a bit of climbing to get here. I slept well. There was a youth group from Ohio camped up the hill.

June 14, 2004. Day 2. AT from Gravel Springs Shelter to Pass Mountain Shelter. 13.1 miles. 7 hours 35 minutes. 1.4 MPH. 2600’ of climb. Cloudy, and cool. ~60 most of the day. I climbed over Little Hogback and Hogback Mountains. I took two ibuprofen in the morning. The cramps and tendonitis of the previous day did not return. Thank heavens! The trail through most of Shenandoah is obviously CCC from the 1930’s. Thank you, Senator Byrd! The trail is nicely graded. There are quite a few stone walls forming a side-mountain trail. The trail would not follow the route it does, clinging to the sides of slopes the way it does, if it weren’t for the CCC. I saw two bears today. Both were about ten feet off the trail. When they heard me coming, they ran. I prefer bear tails to bear snouts. One of them fell out of a tree to avoid me. Everyone speaks of Shenandoah as the place to buy food along the trail. I stopped off at Elkwallow Wayside for a burger and blackberry milkshake. The milkshake was good! Service was slow and inattentive. Many hikers were resting in the picnic area, enjoying the food, and water from the drinking fountain. Between the views and the wildflowers, Shenandoah is beautiful. There were many PUDS, but such is the trail. Pass Mountain was a Pointless Up and Down. I rested atop Hogback Mountain (as is my wont). A butterfly landed on my right sleeve to suck salt. I think of these as ‘vampire butterflies’, though it’s the salt that they’re after. (Okay, so YOU try taking a good picture of a butterfly perched on your right shoulder!)

There were eleven people in Pass Mountain Shelter, and many more tenting. I enjoyed chatting with Meanderthal. I wish him luck in his journalism career. Too many names to remember. Salt-Lick, 2 Cents, Noname, Strange Love… Lint had retrieved almost a case of beer dumpster-diving at Panorama. But, only B.L.A.H.S. got beer. Oh, well. The spring was fifty feet behind the shelter. Arthritis did not bother me this day (nor again), but I did not sleep well on my Thermarest. I sleep on my side, and the Thermarest is too shallow to support my hip. I was uncomfortable this night, and the remaining ones on the trail. It showered again this night.

June 15, 2004. Day 3. AT from Pass Mountain Hut to tenting site near Nicholson Hollow Trail. 8.2 miles. 7 hours 30 minutes. 1.1 MPH. 2200’ of climb. Temperature hit the mid-80’s, humid. I filled my 3-l Platypus at Pass Mountain spring, and set out. The options were to try for Rock Spring Hut (14.6 miles), or split the distance and take two shorter days. I looked both ways crossing Skyline Drive, and saw a very large bear crossing in the other direction, a few hundred feet north. The 1300’ climb in two miles out of Thornton Gap was tough, but the views were spectacular. This was obviously more CCC side mountain trail. I took the optional side-trip to Mary Rock. Byrd Nest 3 is listed as having ‘water available during season’. Either June 15 is ‘out of season’, or their isn’t enough money in the budget for maintenance. The Byrd Nests are CCC shelters for ‘day use only.’ Another climb brought me up the Pinnacle, with a descent to the Pinnacle Picnic Grounds. Here, at least, there was water available. Several NOBOs were relaxing at a ‘handicapped’ picnic table.

Tired I was, on my third day out. There were more major climbs before Rock Springs. I decided to search for the site of the old Shaver Spring Shelter. “Abandoned trail leads 0.3 mi. downhill to the right to spring near location of razed Shaver Spring Shelter.” ‘Abandoned’ was putting it mildly! The trail was completely overgrown, and impossible to follow. I abandoned the attempt. I’m not sure that I understand why a trail to a spring would be abandoned. Is it haunted? (Interesting semantics here. The razed one was a shelter. All others are ‘huts’. Was the terminology changed after it was razed?) The literature promises water and restroom facilities at Hughes River Gap ‘in season’. That made me a little apprehensive, wondering when ‘in season’ would start. I found a place to tent opposite Nicholson Hollow Trail. Heavy showers started in the late afternoon. With nowhere else to stay dry, I climbed into my tent. I slept on and off till daybreak.

June 16, 2004. Day 4. AT from stealth campsite opposite Nicholson Hollow Trail to Rock Spring Hut. 6.9 miles. 6 hours 30 minutes. 1.1 MPH (with excuse). 2000’ of climb. Weather: warm with some clouds. I was down to a liter of water, so I didn’t make oatmeal for breakfast. It’s only 0.3 to Hughes River Gap parking area, with water and toilet facilities. “Pipe Break. No Water.” Tarnation. At least, I got rid of my garbage. Very nice views from Stony Man Cliffs. The map shows a spring near the Passamaquoddy Trail. Darned if I could find it. I hiked up the switchbacks to Stony Man Mountain. 0.2 mile trail leads to the summit of Stony Man Mountain. At 4011’, it qualifies as a 4. Finley is ecstatic! Finley is my avatar. He weighs four ounces, thinks that he is very photogenic, and delights in having his picture taken on mountains over four thousand feet.

The next spring listed on the map is Furnace Spring, at Skyland. It’s 0.4 off the trail, steeply downhill on the Furnace Spring Trail. I’m sure that there must be a place to get water at Skyland, but the trail came first. Furnace Spring Trail is very badly blazed, where blazed at all. The only blazes I saw were occasional ones marking it as a horse trail. Furnace Spring is the biggest spring I’ve ever seen. The water shoots out from a twelve inch pipe. Water is pumped from here to a water tank, to supply water for Skyland. Platypus filled, I hiked back up to Skyland, and south on the trail. More switchbacks bring the trail partway up Hawksbill. Salamander Trail leads 0.9 miles to the top of Hawksbill. At 4050’, it is the tallest mountain in Shenandoah National Park. I continued onward 0.4 to Rock Spring Hut. I hung my food from the bear pole and put most of my gear in the hut. With almost no weight, I made it 1.3 miles to the top of Hawksbill in a half hour. As Finley posed for his picture atop the wall, a fellow exclaimed, “Here’s someone who carries a fish to mountain tops to take its picture.” He’s lucky that Finley didn’t bite his nose! I explained that Finley was a dolphin, not a fish, and that he’s my avatar. After that, we had a nice chat, and his wife took our picture (Finley and mine). Finley bagged his second 4 in Virginia! Another half hour brought me back to Rock Spring Hut. I like slackpacking!

The spring, indeed, flows from beneath a rock. There’s a cabin downhill that PATC rents. It is, of course, locked. Five others hiked in. They tented up the hill, in the tenting area. In Shenandoah, there are specific tenting spots near each hut. Anyone else must tent a minimum for a hundred yards from the shelter. We chatted for a while. It rained heavily for hours. The roof on Rock Springs Hut leaks in the middle. My pad and sleeping bag were at the right side of the hut. I kept dry. After the rain stopped, and the others went to their tents, deer came around the shelter to eat grass. I tried taking flash pictures of them. They jumped like gazelles when the flash went off.

June 17, 2004. Day 5. AT from Rock Spring Hut to Bearfence Hut. 11.4 miles. 7.5 hours. 1.5 MPH. 2100’ of climb. High temp 84. Nice overlook at Franklin Cliffs. The trail detours around Big Meadows. Just beyond the Black Rock Trail, I saw a bear sitting in the middle of the trail.

I took his picture, and tried to convince him that he should move off the trail so that I could pass. This bear, near the campgrounds, was not afraid of people. I finally whistled at him, and he sauntered off. I’d been considering a stop at the camp store, but the 0.4 trail led steeply uphill. I wasn’t that interested in another blackberry milkshake. Hazeltop looked like a fairly easy climb, and it was. Though, I did rest a few times on the way up. My arms are kinda long, and it can be a struggled to get them into my backpack. When I stopped at the top, I found I’d lost my watch. It was probably at the last stop, a mile back, and three hundred feet lower. Oh, well. There are witch hazel on Hazeltop. Bearfence Mountain Rock Scramble had me a bit worried, but it’s not on the trail. It’s a parallel trail. I was the first one into Bearfence Hut. The fall over the short wall will remain unmentioned. I forgot to write down most on the NOBOs who came in. April Showers camped up the hill.

Some thoughts on ‘consideration’ (a trait that seems to be disappearing.) Yes, I smoke. I’m certainly not the only hiker who does. I carry out my butts (except when I find a garbage can). If someone objects to my smoke, in the open, with the breezes blowing, I move off a bit. A rather obnoxious dude hiked in, to sign the register. He complained about the both of us who were smoking. Dude, get a life. The trail is also about getting along with people. In this section, he was the only one who complained. We were not smoking within ten feet of him, and were in the open air. Get a life, dude. I, being a Scorpio, will note that he blue-blazed his way out, and missed 0.1 of trail.

Point 2) The sun goes down at 8:18, or thereabouts. Most of us are asleep by 9 PM. Four hikers and a dog came in after that. Between them, they puttered around for about an hour, shining their headlamps into the shelter as they cooked. I really could have used the sleep. There were two empty spots in the shelter. The designated campsites were full. Shenandoah National Park rules are: No tenting within 100 yards of a shelter, or other park building. Three tents were put up within ten feet of the shelter. One was right across the trail to the privy. They’re lucky that no one fell over their tent in the middle of the night. Rules may not make any sense, but they are rules.

June 18. Day 6. AT from Bearfence Hut to Rte 33 (Swift Run Gap). 9.1 miles. 5.25 hours. 1.7 MPH. 1200’ of climb. Nasty little black bugs bit during the night. Warm and sunny, hazy, rain and a heat wave. A few more hills to go. I stopped by the Lewis Mountain campground for water. The fountains were not working; I got my water from the men’s room. The store wasn’t open yet, but I got a Pepsi from the vending machine, and made my motel reservation. I decide that the way I smelled, it was better to reserve my room by phone. Over Bald Face Mountain (with some nice views), and Saddleback Mountain. Shenandoah National Park is one of the most beautiful sections of trail that I’ve ever hiked.

The phone at the entrance station did not seem to work, so one of the rangers called Bobby Jenkins, the shuttle, for me. He had a car parked there, so I drove to his house in Luray, and he drove me back to the 4-H Center. He’s a very nice guy. My car was still where I’d parked it. Thank you for your kindness, 4-H. There was a nasty thunderstorm on the way to Luray. After it passed, the temperature hit 95 degrees. I am thankful for the great hiking weather that I had! Off to the Comfort Inn in Stephen City. And the all you can eat buffet next door at the Western Steer. Friday night was fish night. All the people of northwest Virginia who enjoy overeating come here to eat. After six days on the trail, I gave them good competition. For $12.35, I had six frogs legs, six crawfish, six mussels in cheese sauce, a salad, mashed potatoes, a hush puppy, green beans, some shrimp, a Pepsi. Then I hit the dessert buffet. When I got home, I was down ten pounds. Another section done. 60.5 miles in six days. That brings me to 984.4 miles in only ten years. Circles and I still have our plans for the Presi Traverse in August. I should hit my 1000th mile somewhere near Mount Washington.

~ Paul (AHikingDude@aol.com)

© Photographs by Paul (AHikingDude@aol.com)

© July 2004



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