Early Fall Hike in the Shenandoah National Park
Starting on October 9 and ending on October 12, 2009, my hiking buddy, Bob, and I wandered through the southern 45 miles of the Shenandoah National Park. For a variety of reasons, it was my first successful hiking trip in almost two years - the last two attempts had ended early due to catching a bug that would have interfered with a comfortable experience in the woods.
This time was different - I was feeling great and energized by the crisp fall weather. Bob and I drove down to Waynesboro after work on Thursday, October 8 and spent the night at the downtown Quality Inn so that we could get an early start the next morning. Our plan was to drop off one car near where I-64 crosses the Skyline Drive at the southern end of the park and then drive up US 340 to US 33 to park the other car and begin the hike. Bob had scoped out the northern and southern locations and found out that it was standard practice for the rangers to allow registered hikers to leave their cars in designated parking areas inside the gates of the Skyline Drive where they would not be disturbed.
We had a couple of curious visitors meet us for the send off. Even though I see them all of the time in my own backyard, deer still fascinate me. As we were getting our gear out of Bob's truck and doing the final preparations, two doe were walking up the middle of Skyline Drive heading right for us, looking for all the world like they wanted a handout. When I pulled the camera out of my pack and snapped a photo, I guess the flash went off - it was just before 8:00 am so the sun was still pretty low - and spooked them.
As you can see in the photo, the fall colors were not fully out; there was still a lot of green, especially on the first day. Bob and I agreed that doing a lot of biking and not much weight carrying hiking in the weeks before our trip did a lot for our cardiovascular endurance, but not very much for our leg strength. We were both dragging a bit by the time we arrived at our prearranged destination shelter - Pinefield Hut. When we arrived it was just 4:00 pm, but there were already two temporary residents who introduced themselves as Chris and "Spoonful". They were both 30-year old DC apartment dwellers who had grown up together in Maine. Spoonful was on his first day of a planned hike to Springer Mountain, Georgia at the southernmost end of the trail, Chris was on a weekend "send off" hike with Spoonful.
They mentioned that they were going to be joined later in the evening by a couple of young ladies - one girlfriend - Maureen - and one friend - Celina. They also reported that their weather report indicated that it would rain during the night - news that encouraged us to decide to sleep in the shelter rather than dealing with wet tents in the morning. Chris, Spoonful and Bob gathered some firewood - I relaxed and made some fresh coffee in an attempt to build up some strength after the hike. (I was pooped; that 6 week layoff in July and August had made more impact than I thought.)
By the end of the evening we were joined by a pleasant group from Newport News, VA and enjoyed a typically interesting trail evening of sharing stories by the campfire. I turned in a bit early to do do a bit of reading; I had brought along The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown, on my new Kindle. I learned quickly that there was a distinct disadvantage to sleeping in a shelter compared to sleeping in a tent; my headlamp attracted moths and other insects, making it difficult to keep reading. Before turning in, Bob and I put all of our food and other items that tend to attract critters into a "bear bag" and hung it up on one of the designated poles designed to make it hard to access if you do not have opposable thumbs that can control a long pole hook.
We hiked a couple of miles before breaking for a trailside breakfast of hot oatmeal and coffee. I had a momentary scare when I saw that the outside pocket of the fanny pack that I carry on the outside of my knapsack had a moused chewed hole in it. The scare was because that is exactly where I had stored the car key. It would make for a bad day to find out that I had dropped that on the trail - it was the only copy I had for the vehicle parked at the end of our hike. Bob laughed and told me how he had just heard a story around the campfire of someone else's pack being attacked by mice in a shelter. Apparently, the attraction to my pack was a stored powerbar wrapper.
It was not long before Chris and Spoonful along with their two female companions caught up with us and passed ahead. We thought that their younger legs would result in them leaving us in the dust, but it turned out that we alternated lead throughout the day and shared an interesting conversation while getting a snack at the Loft Mountain Campground store. The visitors at the store were quite bundled up - I was heated up from the hike and comfortable in convertible shorts and a knit tee shirt designed to wick away the sweat.
We stopped for the night at the Blackrock Hut. The spur trail leading to the hut displayed visible evidence of a recent visit by at least one bear - who apparently ate something that did not agree with his/her digestive system. Once we arrived at the hut, it was a comfortable place with good company and a fair number of what looked like good tent sites. Unfortunately, I did not notice the slope until after I had turned in for the night. During the evening around the fire, we shared stories with the foursome who had taken the same path as we did during the day and met a pleasant couple from the Newport News area. We learned that Maureen was nearly finished with law school and that Celina was in the market for a new job as a park ranger. Both she and Seth had worked together at a hiking lobbying organization.
During the conversation in the evening, we found out that Chris was a linguist who had worked for the World Bank for several years and was waiting for an assignment to spend a few years in Columbia. The things you learn and the people you meet on the AT. We hiked out on Monday and after another successful and enjoyable trek.