5/6 – Mile 877 to Loft Mountain Campground/Mile 890.4
5/7 – Mile 907 to Loft Mountain Campground/Mile 890.4
5/8 – Mile 907 to Big Meadows Campground/Mile 925.9
5/9 – Big Meadows Campground to Skyland resort/Mile 933.4
5/10 – Skyland resort to Thornton Gap/U.S. 311/Mile 943.1
5/11 – travel to Chapel Hill, NC
The basic rule to complete properly a “thru-hike” of the Appalachian Trail is to walk its entire length (this year: 2,190 miles) within any 12-month period. In the fall of 2017 I did most of my “shakedown” hikes on the AT north and south of Rockfish Gap – the point on the Trail that is closest to my home. When I realized I might have to come off the Trail for Brooke’s PHD graduation, I made an effort to cover a 50-mile stretch from south of the Shenandoah National Park into the Park and some miles north. More specifically I hiked from Spy Rock to a trailhead on the Skyline Drive.
This background will help explain Week # 12. When I hiked north to Spy Rock, (Mile 824) two friends (Wally and Ned) met me and took me to Devil’s Backbone for dinner and then we spent overnight in Waynesboro. (We were also pleased to give Sleeves a ride and take him to dinner beforehand.). Ned had been out to Roanoke to hike and Wally was getting ready to join me for five days.
The following day, after doing an interview with Mighty Blue for the podcast, we headed up the Skyline Drive into Shenandoah National Park. Ned left Wally and me at the trailhead parking lot at Mile 877 – the spot farthest north I covered during my shakedown hikes. We started a five-day trip north into the Shenandoah – a trip best characterized as or by “Oh, Shenandoah!”
“Oh,” the beautiful trails.
Immediately, Wally and I were greeted by gently graded, unusually wide and amazingly pleasant footpaths. This feature would continue for most of our expedition through SNP. Wally probably tired of me saying how much we were spoiled by the excellent trails. The climbs were generally easier than most south of us over the prior 800 miles – rather than lead hikers more directly and vertically up to higher elevations, the trail design routed us on especially gentle switchbacks or similarly gentle grades. We had some rocky paths and a few difficult ascents/descents, but most were modest on beautiful trails.
“Oh,” the beautiful weather.
We had five days of mostly sunshine and pleasant temperatures. While it was warm from time to time when we were in the middle of a long climb, we’d often be greeted by great breezes on the summits and ridge-lines. Nights were cool enough to sleep well in our tents, but evenings were warm enough to cook, eat and socialize outside.
“Oh,” the beautiful views.
The Shenandoah offers many overlooks, both on the Skyline Drive and along the Trail revealing many magnificent views of the mountains and Virginia countryside. That said, not every moment was perfect. We noted during the hike on day three that the trail kept us mostly within hardwood forests without views or points of interest. I was also able to take in and photograph a beautiful sunrise and a couple of sunsets.
“Oh,” the campgrounds and waysides.
In the Shenandoah and the along the AT in the Park, in addition to shelters and backcountry camping, there are commercial campgrounds that offer tenting arrangements for hikers more “luxurious” than typical AT “accommodations.” We stayed at Loft Mountain campground, Big Meadows campground, and Skyland resort. These overnight choices gave us access to camp stores and usually a wayside snack bar or restaurant. Thus, the food choices were more diverse and fun than the more typical oatmeal, peanut butter wrap and dehydrated beef stew – even if it was largely burgers, milkshakes, some beers and wine.
I concluded Week # 12 by getting off the trail – as planned – for some family and business matters. The week of hiking with Wally in “Oh Shenandoah” and the week home with family will be a great diversion that will prevent the Virginia Blues (a sense of boredom or disappointment in the progress of the hike) from showing up and will recharge my emotional batteries such that I should be excited to return to the Trail and put in the final five days to complete the Shenandoah, Virginia and the first half of the thru-hike. I’m looking forward to many new adventures in the unfamiliar mid-Atlantic as I head for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
Last modified: May 23, 2018