Pics from this trip can be found here. Now, picking up where I left off…
Day One: Simmons Gap to Pinefield Hut. 2.1 mi
Once Loonie arrived at Bear Garden, we grabbed dinner and spent some time catching up on events back home. She had a long drive out to meet me so we hit the sack early. The next morning, we got our stuff together for the Shenandoah AT hike, settled up with our hosts and hit the road for Waynesboro. We were to meet our shuttle driver at 2 PM and with our late start there was no way we would make that so I got our plans changed for a 3:30 pickup. And we just barely made that! Next, the drive to Simmons Gap in the park took FOREVER! Amazingly, our driver had never driven the southern end of Skyline Drive despite the fact that he was from the area. He insisted on stopping at each overlook, like a tourist, and with each stop my patience grew thinner. We didn’t arrive at Simmons Gap until after 5 PM and didn’t hit the trail until 5:30. Crazy. As soon as we shouldered the packs, though, I could feel the stress just melt away. Deep Woods and I had finished our hike around 2 PM the day before. Now, just a bit more than 24 hrs later, I’m back on the trail. Excellent! Loonie and I had just a tad over 2 miles to go before settling in for the night at Pinefield Hut so no worries. Weather was nice…a bit on the warm side but skies were clear so we couldn’t ask for much more. We made fairly quick work of the walk to the hut, pitched the tent, wrapped up the usual camp chores and talked with a couple of other hikers staying at the shelter while we ate dinner.
At some point later that night after falling off to sleep, Loonie woke me after hearing something moving around just outside the tent. It had started on one side and slowly made it’s way around to the other, taking a couple of steps at a time, stopping for a bit and then starting again. This went on for some time. My thoughts went back to earlier in the evening when a section hiker tenting just up hill from us had decided to cook and eat dinner inside the vestibule of his tent. We never saw him head down to the bear box to store his food nor saw him hang anything. Hmmm… Now I could hear him stirring and at one point it sounded as though he was tossing rocks at something in the dark. Things grew quiet. And then the sound of steps resumed. This went on for a bit and then silence again. All of a sudden, we hear a swooshing sound and what sounded like a small animal screeching, as though it was fighting for it’s life. That went on for just a few seconds and then silence once again. Then, a bizarre swooshing sound, nothing like we’ve heard before, started. Loud at first and slowly fading away. The only thing I could figure was a small animal, maybe a raccoon, was attracted to the scent of our fellow hiker’s earlier dinner and possibly a large owl swooped in and took out the raccoon. I found the whole thing fascinating. Loonie, not so much.
Day Two: Loft Mountain Campground. 7.1 mi
After breaking camp, we had breakfast at the shelter and talked with the other hikers for a bit. Larry, volunteer caretaker of the hut, arrived and talked on and on. Great guy, very interesting and his service is much appreciated, but it was hard as heck breaking out of the conversation and resuming our walk. We eventually did hit the trail, passing through some of the damage left in the wake of the wind and ice storms from a few months ago. Hiking on, we got some good views from Ivy Creek Overlook and a couple of spots directly off trail.
Had lunch at Ivy Creek and moved on, spotting our first bear of the trip shortly after resuming our walk. Unfortunately, he or she was too far back in the sticks to get a pic. We would see a total of seven during the entire trip. Moved on, climbing about 700 ft in the final stretch to Loft Mountain Campground. The shoes Loonie usually hike in started coming apart before the trip so she wore a pair that she “thought” would be fine. Now her feet were killing her. The only thing on her mind at that point was getting off of them for the day. I noticed that the closer we got to the campground, the more of a limp she developed. This was not good. We pulled into the campground and dropped our stuff off at the first suitable site we came to. Many were still closed off due to remaining storm damage. I took care of the registration while she nursed her feet. Got a fire going and relaxed a bit before calling it a day.
Day Three: An early exit from the trail. 0 mi
Loonie’s feet were still killing her the next morning and the prospects for continuing on weren’t looking good. I looked over the elevation profile for the planned hike for the day and other than a bit of climbing late in the day, it didn’t look so bad…and it would only be a little over six miles to Blackrock Hut where we would spend the night. Still, considering how bad she was limping the day before, I was having my doubts. Wanting so bad to hike on, Loonie taped up her feet and started making our breakfast of freeze dried scrambled eggs with bacon and ham. Rather than add hot water, stir, let sit and stir again, she prefers to add the hot water, seal up the bag and gently turn the bag over again and again. She says that, once reconstituted, the texture of the eggs is better doing it this way. Ok. Whatever. If that’s the way she likes them then its fine with me. Only, this time in the process of gently turning the bag over again and again, the mixture came spilling out all over the clothes she’s wearing, all over her pack, down inside of her pack…everywhere! Fortunately she didn’t suffer any burns. She changed out of her clothes, we wiped down everything as best we could, and I hauled it all up to a water spigot and gave it all a good soaking. Little good it did. Everything was now infused with the scent of scrambled eggs, bacon and ham. No…wait a minute. Not just infused with the scent of scrambled eggs, bacon and ham. It had a scrambled eggs, bacon and ham slime coating that didn’t want to come off without the aid of some miracle cleaner that we obviously didn’t have on hand. Hmmm…what to do now. I suppose we could hike on and hang her pack and all of her clothes along with the food each night. We would be staying at least two nights at locations with no bear boxes so hanging it all would be a necessary precaution, especially considering we had already seen one bear and there were numerous reports of bears in the area we would be covering.
The question as to whether or not to hike on was pretty much settled on my way back to camp from rinsing Loonie’s gear off. One half of my right shoe’s sole came completely loose. Just like that. Just flapping away as I walked along. What the heck? If we were to attempt to hike on, I would need a sherpa just to carry all of the duct tape required to keep the sole on to get from here to Rockfish Gap. It was a definite trip hazard and that’s assuming that the ENTIRE sole wouldn’t come completely loose. I informed Loonie that going any further was out of the question. It just wasn’t meant to be. I was able to get a call through to arrange for a pickup from the wayside to get us back to our car. We packed up and made the mile long walk down there…my shoe barely holding together and Loonie limping along. What a spectacle! We felt pretty low at this point. While it was getting pretty warm out at this point, the skies were clear and dry and it wasn’t all that warm once you got back under the trees. All we knew was that the weather was nice, we should be hiking and we weren’t. And it sucked.
Once back to our car we began planning our next move. We still had five days to mess around. The lodges and campgrounds in the park were full so we wound up staying three nights at our timeshare a short distance from the park. We spent one afternoon doing the hike to former president Hoover’s retreat Rapidan Camp and another doing a loop hike consisting of Doyles River Trail, Jones Run Trail and the AT. That was cool. Loonie wore her regular running shoes and did fairly well. So much so that we spent our last night of the trip doing an out and back hike to Blackrock Hut on the AT.
That brought our total AT miles for the trip up to a whopping 15.3 miles (Simmons Gap to Blackrock Hut). Hurts that we couldn’t finish the southern end of the park as planned but we made the best of it and had a great time all the same. In fact, while lying in the tent outside Blackrock Hut on the last night, all we could think about is not wanting it to end. We wanted so bad to keep right on going.
I’ll wrap things up with some final thoughts on this Spring’s hikes in the post.
More to come…