Atomic Diversions

Atomic Diversions shares thoughts and photos from diversions that interest Rod Adams. Feel free to comment, but it really does not matter much if anyone else cares.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

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.

That was good - we did not have any desire to feed the local wildlife. Besides, I do not think that deer like freeze dried hiking food.

Our first couple of miles includes some rather steep climbs, but we were feeling fresh and kept up a good pace. It did not take long at all for us to peel off the outer layers and enjoy hiking in just shorts and wicking tee shirts, even though the temperatures were in the low 50's. There is nothing like carrying a 40-50 pound pack up rocky trails to cause some internal heat generation. (I am still amazed when I read about the loads carried by soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Better men than I.)

One of the great things about the Appalachian Trail is that it was apparently designed by people who just love to reach summits and gaze out over the resulting vistas. That is also one of the bad things about the AT for people who live a life that is just a bit too sedentary - those ups and downs can be a real challenge by the end of the day! The best way to make it is to take frequent rests to enjoy the view. As Bob and I tell each other, there is no hurry about making it to our end of the day destination - the hike itself is our destination so we need to enjoy it along the way.

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.

The next morning, Bob and I woke up early and hit the trail without much fanfare. Though we enjoy the company and conversation around a campfire in the evening, bumping into lots of other people while getting packed up in the morning can be a bit irritating. It was a bit on the drizzly side, so I wrapped up my backpack in my ground cover - thank goodness for the extra long bootlaces that I usually keep in my ditty bag. Those made it pretty simple to keep my pack dry and made me thankful that I had not spent the money or carried the additional weight of a pack cover.

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.

In comparison to the muted transition colors that we saw on the first day, the leaves were more spectacular. The two photos below were taken just a few minutes apart from each other in the same location - the difference was that the sun came out from behind the clouds between the one above and the one on the right. The ups and downs were not quite as steep as the first day, we were comfortable with our packs, and we saw some excellent vistas.

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.

The next morning, the ladies headed back north as Chris, Seth, Bob and I headed south towards Waynesboro. We had one more full day and night to go with a hike out on Monday. Unlike Saturday, this day was bright and sunny from the beginning, allowing me to put my bootlaces and ground cloth into their normal storage locations.  We completed a 13 mile day and stopped at the Calf Mountain Shelter. Compared to many places along the trail, there were some real luxuries - like several leveled tent sites marked off with honest to goodness frames and no roots. It turned out that Chris had left his car very close to where Bob had left his truck, so we offered to save him the cost of a taxi service on Monday.

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.

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At 2:09 PM, Blogger Bob said...

Another Super outing - thanks for being there! Bob


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