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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He 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.
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 our plans for the day tomorrow.