Month: May 2019

Shenandoah National Park

Part 1

First of all I’d like to say Waynesboro is a great town. Food, history, and friendly to hikers. Had a great time! Ming’s Chinese Buffet did not disappoint.

Leaving Waynesboro you enter the Shenandoah National Park. We got a late start but only had 7.5 miles to Calf Mountain Shelter. The weather was windy but most of the rain was left back in Waynesboro. Elevations weren’t crazy either but after 2 days in town I felt clumsy. To be honest I was disappointed. The surrounding trees on Calf Mountain were smallish and scrubby looking. I learned later that the acidic soil may contribute to some of the stunted size of the trees. The underlaying rock is rich in quartzite which breaks down over time into highly acidic soil. Which in turn effects what plants and trees can thrive in that location. Azalea, blueberry, mountain laurel can be found here.IMG_0735

When you leave town to get back on the trail and a shuttle drops you off, the transformation back to a hiker is rather quick. You get out, throw the pack on and start walking in a matter of minutes. I have a hard time getting right into the swing of things and this cold and blustery day was no different. I came out of the woods at Beagle Gap and the 25-35 mph winds literally blew me off the trail twice. Temperature was around 45 and I had sent my gloves home figuring all the cold weather was passed. Anyways it wasn’t a bad hike but I struggled worse than I should have. That night the wind continued to blow with severe gusts and temps lowered to 40 degrees. IMG_0742 I awoke to find a bear had tried to access my food canister leaving scratches and a possible bite mark. He also had move the canister about 25 feet. Doc and Solo were there as were 3 other college age thru hikers.

At 8:15 we started north for Black Rock Hut 13 miles away. Today I felt different. This was a turning point in my hike.  My legs felt stronger. I seemed to be in sync with the multitude of rocks in my path. I was able to maintain a smooth stride and adjust to the trail changes with less wasted effort. Finally a little speed! The terrain helped too. There were no 1000 ft. climbs but a 500 ft. down and then 800 ft. up followed by  a series of ups and downs. At the end of the day I was tired but probably my best day hiking. Saw a buck and three does.

The path forward.
We both were surprised!

BlackRock Hut to Pinefield Hut 13.2 miles. Another good start. I’m starting to hike real fast. Arrived at Loft Mountain by 12:00 and resupplied with a couple of meals. Also had a coke, chips, ice cream, candy bar, anything for calories as I’m still losing weight. These  last 2 days weren’t killer climbs but all  have at least one 500 footer. I can climb these quickly now but my sprinting style of hiking up hill is taxing my lungs. I’ve tried to slow it down but for whatever reason it doesn’t work for me. This day would take us past many rocks including Black Rock Mountain. The rock is volcanic thus the black color.

Black Rock overlook


This would also be a hard day on both my feet. I have been hiking with a third person, Steak”N”Shake since the start of the Shenandoah Nat.Park. He is section hiking with the goal of Harpers Ferry this year. Along with Jed Morgensen, and myself (we tend to hike the same number of miles each day) we have become a team of three.

Next day was off to Hightop Hut only 8 miles away. Before we started, Larry in his 70’s from the Potomac AT Trail Maintenance Club stopped by to service the shelter. He filled us with stories about bears, Shenandoah, Trail Maintenance etc. while we packed up. He lives 10 miles away, routinely checking on this shelter. Today I would see my first bear!  There was evidence of bears all along the trail ever since entering the park.  I was coming down into Powell Gap and heard a loud branch crack. I knew it wasn’t a small animal so I scanned the hillside. Nothing.  I took 10 more steps around a bend in the trail and there he was looking straight at me. Probably 30 yards away. At first I just wanted to get my phone out but would have to abandon my trekking poles. I was told to raise them up and make myself look bigger so I thought it best just to observe and see if he was concerned about my being in his playground. He sat up on his hind end and just stared at me. Not seeming aggressive I decided to back up a little and shed my poles, got my phone ready to take a picture but he started to leave just as my two hiking companions arrived. We all tried to get his picture and I finally grabbed one before he disappeared.

The bear that got away!

This would be a harder hike than expected. We started with a 350 ft. up, down 500 than up 700, down 750 and finally up 400 feet, which would have been 900 except the shelter was 400 feet below the top. Despite the low miles it took 5.5 hours to get there.  Along the way I saw Mighty Blue who is an author of two book describing his trail experience and has a well known  podcast about hiking the AT. He is hiking the trail for the second time. I told them of our plans to camp at Lewis Mtn. Campground the next night and they advised calling as soon as we got a cell tower signal. We did and all property in Shenandoah was booked for the weekend. That put a big kink in our plans.

Hightop Mountain

    High Top Hut to Lewis Campground. 11.6 miles It was a very hot day with huge elevation totals. A few more than 500 feet.We went to the camp store and resupplied. I ate all the extra chips and snacks I could find. I had been shedding pounds fast and could not get enough calories. I also took a shower for 2 dollars. There was no camping space available so we had to move on. Just before we left an afternoon shower popped up and we delayed our departure. The rain turned into trail magic! A retired veteran (Jim), and his wife (the Crazy One) had a campsite and made an offer to Steak and Shake letting us pitch our tents at their site. We said yes and spent a pleasant evening talking to them and relaxing. The Crazy One is section hiking parts of the trail and her husband Jim assists if she needs to be picked up etc. Then things got even better. Steak N Shake had a friend with an RV at another campground ahead. We had planned on resupplying there and spending the night. He called Kent and arranged to have him meet us in his RV the next morning.

Jed and Steak N Shake waiting to slackpack

IMG_0962He would take all our heavy gear and allow us to just carry water and snacks the 9.5 miles to Kent’s campsite. It is called slackpacking and I was eager to find out just how fast I could hike. I think I averaged almost 4 mph. I also learned another thing. My left foot pain is caused primarily from the weight of my pack. I had no issues over the rocks except once when I got careless and out of control. Later I found out Steak N Shake had taken a pretty good fall. Bruising his arm and some ribs. He toughed it out and maintained the pace the next few days. IMG_0949


 At Big Meadows there is a lodge with a restaurant overlooking the valley. We ate there and my meal was well over 2500 calories. The dessert was blackberry ice cream with graham cracker crust and a blackberry sauce drizzled over the top. The resupply store was closed for renovation and that along with some other things changed ourIMG_0961 plans for the day tomorrow.

Trail Magic or coincidence?

I need to explain a few things first. I had a lot of wet gear including my sleeping pad and bag from last nights rain. I was anxious to get to the next shelter and hoped the sun would shine to help dry things out. When wet a down bag has no insulation value and is very hard to get dry. The Harpers Creek Shelter was only 7.6 miles away. But it did have a 500 ft. climb, followed by a steep 3000 ft. drop and then another 800 feet up before a mile walk to the shelter. We had just done the first 500 up and halfway down the Priest when two young female hikers approached me headed up the hill. They stopped and talked for a second obviously full of energy. The first one (later I learned her name was Spoons) went by me and engaged Jed while I talked some more with Sunshine. You could just sense they both had been thru hikers and their friendship was equivalent to that of twin sisters. I said stay safe and headed down the hill. At the bottom was a parking lot and Hwy 56. I waited on Jed and watched the skies hoping the sun would come out. When Jed arrived he had a proposal if I was willing. He was inclined to change plans for the day. While talking to the female hikers he realized that he had hiked with Spoons in Maine last years thru hike attempt. She also remembered him so they offered to give us a ride to the Devils Backbone Brewery and Pub about 10 miles away. They had a free campground for thru hikers with hot showers/ bathrooms and a restaurant. On top of that they also had a hiker breakfast for 5 dollars. Sounded good but at first I was inclined to keep pushing on because I needed to dry things. After looking at the guide I realized the diversion wouldn’t delay our scheduled stop in Waynesboro. Besides that I could start drying things out in the parking lot while we waited for their return. The sun came out just enough and that with the wind I did get everything dry.

I knew it would take awhile because that’s a big hill. Eventually they returned and away we went. Many of the same hikers we camped with the night before were also there and Mighty Blue on the Appalachian Trail was as well. He has a podcast that I listened to for several years. Turns out he had interviewed Sunshine and when I learned of that fact I could remember the episode. She had the same spirit on the podcast. A true ray of Sunshine. Thanks to both of them for all they did and the delightful friendship they showed myself and Jed!

The breakfast put us behind but a big day Kay ahead of us. The one negative as a result of our diversion was we had a 500 ft climb right off the bat that we would have done the day before. We started by crossing the Tye River on a suspension bridge and then immediately going up. It would only be 9 miles but considering my legs had been feeling stronger, the veracity of that thought would be tested to the limit. The Three Ridges Mountain is just that, three ridges.On top of that, three quarters of that is rock climbing. 3 places for several hundred yards you just knew an earthquake had taken place. It was tough on the feet, ankles, and knees. I used all kinds of mental techniques to keep pushing upward. There were several views which were convenient rest stops. I’ll let the picture tell the story of the steep nature of the climb. The terrain was another thing all together. Once on top a rocky downhill for 1300 ft. to Maupin Shelter. There wasn’t much daylight left so I immediately began chores and got ready for bed. I slept in the shelter because rain was expected by morning and needed a quick departure because Paul Wolfe Shelter was 16 miles away.

The climbs seemed easier this morning and the rain mostly held off until the last 8 miles. We saw many day hikers who had come out and seemed surprised by the rain. Very few had any protection and little water. It got cold and wet fast. I left my rain jacket on to keep warm even though all my clothes were soaked through from sweat as well as rain. I made the 16 miles sire but healthy. I was wet for the third time in a week and my body was ready for a zero. Waynesboro was 5 miles away. Jed arrived and we took measures to set up as the rain was not going away. Another hiker from Colorado arrived and we all had a good conversation before laying down in the shelter for the night.

It rained heavily all night. Each of us was ready to get to town soon. I made a reservation at the Quality Inn Waynesboro from the shelter. We started a muddy climb up for a good while and then had to avoid the many trees which had been blown down in previous storms. Someone said they counted over 39 on one hillside. We emerged onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and Interstate 64. A free shuttle took us to the hotel. We checked in and immediately went to the laundry mat. Everything I owned had to be washed so I just wore my raincoat and rain pants. It’s tough at times to be a hiker. After lunch there were more chores. However I found time to catch up on this blog. That’s a good thing! Shenandoah here I come. It is the most probable time to cross paths with a bear. Hope I know how to act.

The journey continues….

Better Week,Beautiful Views, and Rain

Part 1

This may have been a turning point or it may be a combination of a better fitting pack, trail legs, and sections of trail which I didn’t have to worry as much about my foot. There still were climbs but they seemed more manageable. In between were sections I just picked up my poles and walked naturally. I seem to have a better pace in those conditions. I left Glasgow and had a comparatively gentle start climbing 2700 ft. Up Bluff Mtn. It was foggy and damp but the rain held off for the most part. Here are some of the views.

Here are a few views along the way to the top of Bluff Mountain.After this I arrived at the top just before the rain started. I came upon a monument that marked where a 4 year old boy had wandered away from school and was found the next spring. The monument marks the exact spot.

So sad, I said a prayer for him before leaving. He remained in my thoughts for several days.

The rain picked up so I put on my rain jacket and headed 700 ft. down to Punchbowl Shelter. The sun came out at 5 or 6. Ate and filtered water before going to bed. Shoes did good but got pretty wet. Also even though the climb was 2700 ft. the trail seemed easier. Stronger legs? I needed that! I did apply a couple of bandages at lunch to my left foot. For whatever reason the next day I experienced no issues.

The next morning we set our sites on Cow Camp Gap Shelter. I was now hiking with Jed Morgansen. That’s his trail name. We got there at 3:00 in the afternoon. After discussing with Jed he suggested going only 2.2 miles further. The trail crosses Hwy. 60 at that point which leads to Buena Vista. I could use a little drying out so I agreed and we split a hotel room. By doing so we put off the next 700 ft. Climb until the morning. It worked out well and unknown to me now, even more so later in the week. The negative is that in town is where you spend money. If your not careful your budget goes south pretty fast. In the morning we headed back to where we left off and off to Hog Camp Gap. Only six miles away but we didn’t start till 10 in the morning. The climb was another surprise. It was difficult but I handled it fairly well. We passed the shelter we intended to stay at and went on to Hog Camp Gap Shelter. This day included the most beautiful view I had seen up to this point. Cole Mountain. Here are some pictures and maybe a video.

I played Wonder by Hillsong United here.

I had made some more pack adjustments and everything seems to be working. Even the shoes😎. However that night I had a big scare. My right side between the shoulder and the neck had become swollen at some point. I woke up in the middle of the night and could not raise my head without severe pain. Even moving my arms caused severe pain. If not for the pain I would have thought I was paralyzed. The only way I could sit up was to turn my head to the left and get my hand under my face lifting my head as I raised up. Once up it seemed ok except when turning my head to the right. I took some ibuprofen and lay back down eventually switching my sleeping bag 180 degrees. This elevated my head some and I was able to sleep. In the morning it was sore but once upright seemed ok. There were many hikers at Hog Camp Gap including Goodun from Germany,Cherry from Denmark, a group of 4 guys from Alabama,

The night was warm and everyone started stirring around at 5:30 making breakfast and packing up. I was on the trail by 7:30the next morning toward The Priest Shelter 14.3 miles away. Starting out on a pretty decent trail which turned ugly real fast. A series of low climbs (290-300 ft.). At the 8 mile mark it started to rain. I hurried to the Seeley-Woolworth Shelter to assess the situation and wait for Jed. I didn’t get too wet. We had a snack and the rain quit. But the trail turned rocky. I wasted time trying to climb Spy Rock on a side trail and never made it to the top. Got back on trail if you can call it that, a series of hard, steep rocky climbs for 4 miles. Then the Priest Mtn. Thankfully the shelter was 200 ft. short of the peak which was 800 feet. Everything on me hurt! Even my knees and achilles. Arrived with barely enough daylight to get set up and eat. I set my tent up 50 yards from the shelter and went to cook at the shelter. In the middle of dinner a rain came on quickly. I was with out my raincoat and in my only set of dry clothes. Eventually I had to run back to the tent to retrieve it. What I found was another issue. I had put my gear in the tent and it pushed the mesh doorway past the awning on the tent. Water had pooled in one corner. I spent some time mopping up the water put on my raincoat. Happy everything was buttoned up I went back to finish dinner and hide my bear canister. The rain turned into a deluge. Eventually the fog was so thick I would have a hard time finding my tent. Especially as the campground was a lake. Every one of the 6 tents had 3 to 5 inches of water under and around it. I had to make a big arc just to get mine. I would say mine had 3 inches of water but none inside. That ZPacks bathtub floor did its job. During the night my sleeping pad slid up against the door and my foot box on the bag was wet. Very wet. Others were worse, all their gear was soaked. Nothing to do but move on and maybe dry things out a little at lunch.

Gains and Pains

The trail has a learning curve that is even steeper than its hills. This was a hard week in many ways. My pack wasn’t wasn’t fitting correctly. Others noticed it and I felt it. I spent another zero in Daleville with No Collar adjusted the whole pack and improved it immensely. The next day I left No Collar behind to rest his injured knee. I’ve known him since my first day on the trail. I hope he heals soon! I mention that because that’s another part of this life. People get hurt and have to stay behind. Up to now he’d been my closest friend and now a week later he is still off the trail. I got a late start but covered the 11.2 miles to Wilson Creek Shelter. It was mostly an uneventful hike which is what I wanted. I was alone but as I’ve learned eventually 7 more arrived. Two of those moved on to a campsite a few miles down the trail. Most people doing 20 plus miles walk all day and even past dark. I get there early but am still limiting my miles according to how my legs feel. At this point I prefer to end my day going downhill. Though that means starting each morning going uphill.

The next morning I met Kip, a man that is hiking with a prosthetic arm. He writes inspiring stories for amputee’s in a magazine called Amplitude. He is my age and has a great story to tell. I also saw a deer stroll into camp while eating breakfast.

This day I had a decision to make. Water was not going to be readily available for quite a few miles. There was a shelter (Bobbletts Gap) 7.7 miles away which had water. The next water would be 12.5 miles away. That meant if I kept going I would have to do a 19 mile day. It was 85 degrees that day! The shelter was .2 miles downhill which meant a steep climb back to the trail. I decided it best to call it a day. I hiked down to the shelter because the 19 miles was just too far at this point with or without water. Another hiker, Reader stopped by for lunch and we had a good conversation. Better Together is behind me and may catch me tomorrow. Other hikers that night were Cayenne, a doctor from Stone Mountain and Griffendore and his wife from Griffin Ga. I would see these hikers for the next few days. Especially Cayenne.

The next day was the hardest hike I have had yet. Or so I thought until the day after. On the first there were 3 climbs of 400, 500, and 1000. It was 80 degrees! And there still was 2.3 miles down to the shelter. There were good moments like meeting back up with Better Together. Having lunch with Hugs and his dog. But that last climb of the day did me in. The shelter itself was special. It held 20 people. We only had six. A really nice shelter but for some reason I didn’t take a picture.

The next day would be worse. It started with a 2000 foot climb. Followed by a rocky up and down and then 1000 ft. climb over rocks that hurt my already injured foot. At the top of Apple Orchard Mtn. a thunderstorm hit and I was exposed, having to hustle across a field while lightning cracked overhead. It was an unusual spot because an FAA tower was atop the ridge. It had kind of a weird spaceship look. The Guillotine, a rock formation was just ahead in the trees so I snapped a quick picture and headed for cover. The Guillotine is two large rocks with a third rock sitting squeezed between the two. I took cover underneath and took my pack off to retrieve my rain coat. In the process I hit my head on a rock and felt for blood. I found it. Needless to say I didn’t take a picture but hurried on to the shelter a mile away. The trail was now just a river almost as high as my shoes. The rain slacked off just as I arrived. Jed Morgansen and Tank we’re headed out. Tank a retired policeman from Louisiana and I had lunch at a small stream earlier that day. I asked Tank to inspect the cut on my head. He said it wasn’t too bad so I ignored it. Found Cayenne taking a nap waiting out the storm. Eventually he would decide to spend the night. Later we were joined by Jumanji and Dory, a couple day hiking for a few days. Enjoyed there company and conversation. As bad as the day had been I felt good having covered 31 miles in 3 days despite having to stop early the first day. I planned to go to the next shelter tomorrow for another 12.5 miles.

That is what I planned. At first the trail was gentle with no big climbs and plenty of flowers. I met 5 ladies from the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Maintenance Club.They pointed out different flowers as we leapfrogged each other for a few miles. Down at the parking lot where their cars were we talked and they gave me an apple. I climbed up another 700 ft. to Highcock Knob. I found Cayenne here eating lunch and after discussing plans I decided to call for a shuttle to Stanimals hostel in Glasgow Va. instead of stopping the night at Matt’s Creek Shelter. The pickup time was 4:00 pm. It was 12:30 when I made the call. That meant covering almost 9 miles in 3 and half hours. It would be the fastest I travelled to this point. Fortunately it was mostly downhill. I told Cayenne goodbye and sprinted down the hill. After maybe 10 minutes I realized there were no white blazes. I checked my phone and verified I was off the trail. In a minute I came to a junction with a sign. Two of the trails went to places I did not want to go. The third directed me back where I came from. I had to go a quarter of a mile uphill and start over. Now I was in a hurry. I almost ran, down the steep rocky slopes, hurting once again my foot. I stopped at the shelter I intended to spend the night and cooled off by pouring cold stream water over my head. Then I began racing again another two miles until I saw the James River. The trail followed beside it for a mile and a half. When I finally reached the bridge it was 3:50. I had gone almost 10 miles in 3 hours. Not the way I want to do it.

I was really needing the new shoes which I had shipped, to Stanimals Hostel in Glasgow Virginia. When the shuttle driver dropped me off I learned my package had not arrived. I called Amazon and found it had been shipped to the wrong place. They couldn’t guarantee I would receive it in an acceptable time. I cancelled the order and arranged to be shuttled to an outfitter in Lexington Va. I ended up getting a regular trail shoe which I had worn in my gear test hikes. Fingers crossed.

I spent most of the day with the shuttle driver who took me to a great breakfast buffet in Buena Vista. Fresh fruit, pan a cakes, eggs, biscuits and gravy. But the best part was they made their own sausage. Best I have ever eaten!

We also went to Walmart. He had to buy some things for the hostel. I sat on a bench by the cashier. Wouldn’t you know it but the gentleman I sat next to had opened the first General store in Monson Maine. He told me many trail stories as all the hikers north used his store for resupply. Amazing how these things keep happening. Glad about my shoes and glad I did the extra miles to get Glasglow (15.8). Scotto’s had great pizza and subs. Had a great time away from the trail. It was a tough week physically and mentally as well. I need to get my trail legs soon!

Sorry for the delay on posting but so many things need to be done when off trail and I’m composing this on my phone. I’m not to good at that and the pictures aren’t placed where I’d like them. Also the descriptions may seem repetitive but that is my day. Keep moving forward as far as I can whether it’s up or down no matter how high or hard you have no choice but get to a place with water and at least some flat ground for a tent. Thanks for following!