Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 1

I am going to be shortening the format on the blog entries for a while as my season is picking up and i won’t have as much time to blog every outing. Plus, for the section hikes I do with Fielden Stream, I’ve been making videos, which capture the experience easily as well if not better than words. So head on over to our youtube channel (under links) to see the latest installments. This hike should be up there by the weekend. I’ve also just spent the last two days out training and meeting with the new seasonal ridgerunner team, so that will be a coming blog entry too.

In short, last weekend we finally finished New Jersey! It was a fantastic section including the famous “Stairway to Heaven” in Vernon, and the Bearfort Ridge along Greenwood Lake as we came to the state line finale. We met some great section and thru hikers, and hiking dogs. We witnessed two marriage proposals (they both said yes!) and were treated to beautiful weather for a change. We wrapped it up with a shuttle ride from our favorite shuttle driver in the area (and former trail builder and maintainer) who as always recommended the best spot in the area for a post-hike meal.

We were so pleasantly surprised by our experience on the New Jersey section, I highly recommend it. Despite all the bears known for the area, we didn’t see one in all of our hikes through the 72 miles of New Jersey over the last few seasons.

The question remaining is where to next? We are thinking of starting Vermont, or trying to get out for a week to do all of Maryland sometime this summer.

I will have my hands full as always with at least 6 more weekends of ridge runner weekends, but we will definitely try and get in one or two sections elsewhere this season, and maybe a third in Pennsylvania with friends. Stay tuned. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 5.2

Miles day 2: 5.4

— Linus

Approaching the stairway to heaven

Approaching the stairway to heaven

Beginning the stairway

Beginning the stairway

Fielden going up the stairway

Fielden going up the stairway

Linus at Pinwheel's Vista

Linus at Pinwheel’s Vista

Linus and Fielden Stream at Pinwheel's Vista

Linus and Fielden Stream at Pinwheel’s Vista

Trail magic box at Wawayanda Mtn summit

Trail magic box at Wawayanda Mtn summit

New footbridge

New footbridge

Tree bench magic

Tree bench magic

Rita the backpacking dog

Rita the backpacking dog

Home for the night

Home for the night

A nice pond

A nice pond

Name that flower

Name that flower

Fielden stream climbing Bearfort Mtn

Fielden stream climbing Bearfort Mtn

Linus at the state line - NJ is done!

Linus at the state line – NJ is done!

 

Advertisements

Great Garlic Mustard Pull at Bull’s Bridge, Appalachian Trail, Connecticut

On Saturday our AMC Connecticut Chapter held one of our big annual volunteer work days, “Give a Day to the Appalachian Trail.”  Like the volunteer round-up, we start with recognitions of any volunteers who were not at that event. We then went through the different work parties going on that day. One was a shelter roof replacement, one was doing waterbar clearing. There was also a boundary maintenance group and a trail relocation/switchback that was being started.  Our overseer of trails did a demo on how to use and carry the large tools required for some of the jobs, as there were a lot of new volunteers this day.

Last but not least of the work party options was the garlic mustard pull down by Bull’s Bridge. This is an invasive that really can take over fast, and alters the soil composition enough that native species can’t grow well.  This is the group I went with as I had pulled something else – in my back –  the previous week, and heavy labor would not have helped it heal. I need to be uninjured as I have lots of ridgerunning to do as the season is upon us.

We’ve been doing this work party for a few years now, so we had far less to pull this time around because we’ve been steadily warding off lots of new growth. You can cook with garlic mustard apparently, but I haven’t tried it.

We split up to cover different sections of the woods, and I went off with my friend Ray from the Bull’s Bridge task force. We spotted a lot of new Columbines and Jack in the Pulpits along the river and the trail. Also on our loop we met a hiker who Ray met at Trail Days in Damascus last year. He had to get off farther north in Virginia last year so he was out again finishing the trail from Bear’s Den hostel in northern Virginia this year and had already made it to Connecticut after 47 days.  We all chatted for a while. What a small world it is on this very long trail!  I see that phenomenon almost every time I’m out…

We also saw our local blue heron “Jim” flying above the river. I see him often down at the campsite at Ten Mile when camping there.

Tomorrow Fielden Stream and I are completing the New Jersey section including an initial steep climb up the “Stairway to Heaven”. After we’re done with this state (#5) we are thinking we will start southern Vermont. Or if we can somehow find a whole week to take off, we might do all 44 miles of Maryland.

But next week I also start my ridgerunner duties in full, and have a multi-day hike and work party to repair a privy with the new ridgerunner team. And the first weekend in June will be my first official solo ridgerunner weekend of the season. I will be doing that at least once a month through October. So we will see how many other weekends Fielden and I can manage. We do have a tentative plan to hike with our friends from Pennsylvania again, in their home state. Though not one of the really rocky bits! Not when I have a choice anyway!

More to come… photos below.

Miles: 1

– Linus

Housatonic rapids below Bull's Bridge

Housatonic rapids below Bull’s Bridge

Jim our local blue heron

Jim our local blue heron

Jack in the pulpit

Jack in the pulpit

Columbine

Columbine

Our hiker kiosk at Bull's Bridge

Our hiker kiosk at Bull’s Bridge

My favorite carvings

My favorite carvings

Housatonic rapids below Bull's Bridge

Housatonic rapids below Bull’s Bridge

Stewart Hollow shelter register replacement, Appalachian Trail, Kent, Connecticut

I painted this blaze!

I painted this blaze!

On Saturday I was back on the trail to swap out the last year’s shelter register at Stewart Hollow Brook shelter. Since I was in the area with my wife for another visit, I was pleased to have her come along with me. This is the first section we ever backpacked together, about 5 years ago, and a very easy pleasant walk along the Housatonic River. We spotted a lot of wildlife, including a bunch of turkey vultures, and one who flew right over our heads. So I got a very good in-air shot of that big bird!

Since we parked at the south gate on river road, it was only a 1.2 mile hike in to the shelter. I posed for a picture in front of a blaze that was one of many I re-painted along this stretch several years ago.

Stewart Hollow Brook

Stewart Hollow Brook

The water sources here are plentiful, with many brooks crossing the trail as they flowed into the Housatonic. Please note that the water in the Housatonic is not fit for drinking, even with a filter. Many years ago it was unfortunately polluted with PCBs from a GE plant upriver in Massachusetts. It is fine to swim in, but get your water from the brooks, a bit upstream from where they meet. And then always filter it, to be safest.

Signing in the new register

Signing in the new register

Even though it was a short walk today, we met several backpackers and day hikers. Because of the easy terrain and scenic beauty, this is a popular one for day hikers of all ages, and well-appreciated by the thru-hikers as this stretch provides a few miles of flat terrain before the climbs begin again. We met some women who were birding, six section-hiker backpackers, and one who looked like a thru-hiker, though we didn’t get a chance to speak with him.

We chatted with 3 of those section hikers as they arrived at the shelter shortly after us.  But first we had to dismantle a large bushcraft shelter someone made in the woods on the side of the trail. While that’s in impressive skill, these are not your woods to do with whatever you desire.

Fielden Stream at the shelter

Fielden Stream at the shelter

This has become an increasing problem lately, especially since many of these folks have actually been cutting young saplings with an axe for their timber. Luckily that was not the case here. I was glad to have Fielden Stream along to help with the task, and get her some volunteer hours.  I also refilled the duff bucket in the privy, and checked the campsite areas. I had to clear some kindling left in one site, but it doesn’t look like they were successful in ever starting a fire. Which is good, because its not allowed here. Please follow the rules so that we can still have the trail through here to enjoy. We have many campgrounds nearby where you can have a campfire.

Turkey Vulture Overhead

Turkey Vulture Overhead

I enjoyed reading last year’s register entries on the trip home and more when I got home, including my own entries from my overnight and drop-in visits to check on the shelter and campsite conditions. It immediately brought me back to those times and gave me some joy. And I got to be the first entry in the new register which I left for the upcoming year’s use.

Tomorrow we have our annual Give-A-Day to the Appalachian Trail volunteer work day, with many different work parties from shelter repairs, boundary maintenance, and trail improvement.  Details can be found here.

Miles: 3

  • Linus

Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 4, Part 2

View of the Pennsylvania Poconos from Culver Ridge

View of the Pennsylvania Poconos from Culver Ridge

Last weekend we finally made it back to the trail in New Jersey to knock out the rest of one of our last two sections in the state. We planned it as a backpacking trip, and did all the prep, including shopping for a few missing items, getting out our tent and anticipating the bad weather, with our new gaiters and my rain kilt added to the supply list.

The plan was an overnight at Gren Anderson shelter, and an evening start. I got out of work early so we could make the trail head by 5:45.

View of Culver Gap from Culver Ridge

View of Culver Gap from Culver Ridge

That part of the plan at least was successful. But when we got in the car and the weather began to destabilize, the new plan was to make the call at the trail head. If it was going to be worse, we stay at a hotel and day hike all 9 miles when the weather cleared in the morning. If we thought it was manageable, we stick to the original plan of the overnight at the shelter. It was only 2.8 miles in, and the initial climb out of Culver Gap wasn’t too bad.

Sunrise Mountain Pavillion

Sunrise Mountain Pavillion

The further south we drove, the worse the weather and the forecast became. Lighting was visible, and tornado watches were added. We made the call to stay in town for the night and hit the trail in the morning. As we drove away from the trail head to the hotel, the heavy weather hit, and we were relieved to not be out in it. While we have had many a very wet weekend, lightning and tornado watches are a different ball game, especially when hiking with metal poles and setting up a tent that has metal poles.

Sunrise Mountain Pavillion

Sunrise Mountain Pavillion

We found a lovely old historic inn in nearby Milford, Pennsylvania. It was built in 1852, and has a fancy restaurant and slightly less fancy French Bistro in the basement. We ate there and enjoyed all the photos of the many very famous people who have stayed there over time, from Diplomats, US Presidents, poets, authors, foreign dignitaries, actors and actresses and more.  We celebrated a belated anniversary dinner in the bistro and enjoyed talking about and trying new wines with the somm. This area used to be the recreation capital of the northeast, hence all the famous visitors. It was a nice quaint little town, matching the ambiance of the old inn.

Culver Lake from Culver Ridge

Culver Lake from Culver Ridge

The bad weather stuck around until almost 11pm, and we were again relieved to have made this choice. We chose to do the hike southbound so we could maximize miles over the time allotted. We stayed very much on schedule, and the almost 9 miles was still quite a workout for us for our first section hike of the season – even with day packs. In the morning we were up and out early, skipping breakfast in favor of an on-time trail start. Just .2 in from the road is Mashipacong shelter.

Culver Fire Tower

Culver Fire Tower

This is probably why there’s no overnight parking allowed here. Too easy to get party groups in. Its a nice shelter with a bear box that the rangers apparently fill with water for hikers. Though I did not check. There was a ‘no fires’ sign in the shelter, and a big fire ring right in front of it. Always…

There was also a painting of the shelter hung in the shelter, done by an artist who has been doing these of New Jersey and Connecticut shelters recently. This one was new, according to my maintainer friend. We signed the register and then carried on along the spine of Kittattiny Mountain. It was a chilly 48 degrees and the winds were strong and shaking the trees above.

Linus on Sunrise Mountain

Linus on Sunrise Mountain

But it was not raining and the views were glorious. We stopped and talked to a maintainer and his friend for a while, and passed a few boy scouts and leaders as well as a few section hikers on our way up to the old CCC pavillion on Sunrise Mountain.

There we encountered several locals who drove up for the view, and took some pictures. This is the second highest point in New Jersey on the trail, and a very popular tourist destination because of the stone pavilion and road to the top.

Linus and Fielden Stream on Culver Ridge

Linus and Fielden Stream on Culver Ridge

People get married here as well. You have long views of the Poconos and Pennsylvania on one side, and New Jersey on the other. We could see all the way to the end of Culver Ridge, where the fire tower is, and where we were headed. After a snack we headed on our way down, passing at least 20 more hikers making their way up.  We were grateful to have the place mostly to ourselves for our break. We encountered a few swampy areas with boardwalks, and some swampy areas that were much larger because of the heavy rain the night before.

Linus at Mashipacong Shelter

Linus at Mashipacong Shelter

This would not have been easy crossing in the previous night’s weather. And all the brooks were high too and took a little extra negotiating to cross. But there wasn’t much challenge in the terrain otherwise, and we soon passed the side trail to our original planned home for the night, Gren Anderson shelter.  As it’s .3 down a side trail or so, we continued on. Turns out we got a great view of it from Sunrise Mountain road on our drive back to our car. Its not far from the road.

We had a small but very gradual climb back up to the Culver ridge, and arrived at the fire tower and radio tower. We had another snack and took some photos of a group of boys and leaders hiking, and they took some of us. From there, the trail followed the southern side of the ridge looking over Culver Lake. There was a lot of new green coming in, and the trail was quite scenic. We reached the crest of the ridge, which had its own lovely views of Culver Gap, and north to the Poconos of Pennsylvania.

Fielden Stream descending Culver Ridge

Fielden Stream descending Culver Ridge

The descent was not steep or long, but it was rocky, and I’m sure we wouldn’t have enjoyed scrambling over those in a heavy downpour. Those are slippery little ankle twisters. We reached the lot at Culver Gap at the same time as our shuttle driver, about 30 minutes early, though I had also given him a heads up from the fire tower that we would be early.

We have already planned our next section overnight to complete New Jersey in 3 weeks, and arranged for him to pick us up, so that’s settled. Hopefully we will get nice (or nicer at least) weather, as some of the best views on the New Jersey part of the trail are on this section.

I did not get to try my rain kilt, so stay tuned for my Highlander moment in the rainy future. I also didn’t use the gaiters as there’s some sort of velcro attachment system you need to put on your shoes and let cure for 24 hours before use. So for the next one…

You can watch the video here.

We’re looking forward to finishing New Jersey, and have loved how beautiful it’s been. It’s certainly changed our ideas of New Jersey. Also I will be out many times this month with our Connecticut AMC chapter doing more trail jobs, and meeting the new seasonal ridge runner staff for some of their training events at the end of the month. Then my weekend ridge runner season kicks off in earnest at the beginning of June.  Fielden Stream and I will still get some sections of trail in, though perhaps less than usual. We will be doing a section of Pennsylvania with our friends from there again this June, and may start either Vermont, or take a 4-5 day trip to do all of Maryland. We will play it by ear as there’s a lot of things going on for us this summer.

Miles: 8.7

  • Linus

Volunteer Roundup and Overnight at Silver Hill (with new gear reviews!)

A quick stop at Kent Falls before the day began

A quick stop at Kent Falls before the day began

Last weekend saw a lot of trail activity for me – which was just what I needed! We kicked off our Connecticut AMC Chapter trail season with our annual volunteer roundup. This consists of a morning meeting where we do recognition/awards over coffee and donuts, and discuss trail issues and any other pressing chapter issues and interchapter issues. Then we break up into several groups and head out on to the trail, doing as much trail work as possible on each section and then reconvene for a brief social in the late afternoon.

This year I achieved my 250 hours of volunteer work award, and my son received his 12 hour award. That felt good, and I am glad to be getting my son out there to help as well.

My 250 hour patch and my son's 12 hour pin

My 250 hour patch and my son’s 12 hour pin

I went out on the section from West Cornwall Road south to Caesar Brook campsite with that section’s maintainer, our overseer of trails, and a new volunteer. We used a hazel hoe to clear water bars and drainage ditches of leaves and duff. We met a few hikers out enjoying the beautiful weather and even gave one a ride into town when we returned to the trail head later.

We also cleared a log jam at Caesar brook that was causing the water level to be too high to cross using the stepping stones. We noticed some animal damage to the chum privy at the campsite as well as a few larger blowdowns we couldn’t clear with saws. All of these get reported so that a sawyer or structure specialist can get out there and remedy those problems. Our trails overseer maintains the next section south to Rt 4 so he continued on to check over his section and we headed back.

Creek on Surdan Mountain

Creek on Surdan Mountain

After some paperwork for the maintenance and a few snacks and refreshments, I carried on with the next stage of my plan which was to head up to the Silver Hill campsite for the night to meet my friend Brian, as well as our trails overseer who by coincidence was also planning to camp up there that beautiful night.

The climb from the road is a short .9 miles but its all uphill, and I loaded up on water at the spring in case the pump was out of service, and some refreshments from the social. So it was a bit tough until I got my flow back. Its also always tougher to hike several hours, then stop and then start again. Especially when switching from a light day pack to a fully loaded backpack! It was fine though and before I knew it I was at the campsite.

Clearing the leaves from the waterbars

Clearing the leaves from the waterbars

Brian was already there, and had been a few hours. I was eager to set up a new piece of gear: the REI Flash Air Hammock. This was my first time with a hammock setup, and I watched a video the night before that had convinced me to buy it in the first place, about how to set it up. So when I found the right trees and spot, I was able to set it up without issue. However, the hammock does have full instructions in the packaging.

We also had a troop of 25 boy scouts and leaders show up at the campsite around dusk, just as we were finishing our dinner. I tried out my new GSI soloist cook set, with good results. I have a decent titanium cook pot but its getting a little beat up, and the larger handle and capacity of the pot in this set means its easier to eat out of and prepare food in, as well as being able to boil enough water for multiple meals when we have friends along.

Old foundation by Caesar Brook

Old foundation by Caesar Brook

It also has a large plastic bowl which fits the same lid as the pot. The pot lid has a strainer for liquids and a pour spout area. It comes with a bag to protect your stove, as well as a carry bag for the pot that can hold water, with a rigid wiry structure that keeps it standing when holding liquids. This could come in handy in many ways. The spork isn’t all that great, but it did the job for eating my peanut butter ramen out of the pot. If I was having a mountain house meal out of the bag, I’d want my longer titanium spork. But all in all it was hardly heavier or bulkier than my existing setup, so I will probably stick with this one unless I have a particular reason to go back to my original pot setup.

Arriving at the campsite

Arriving at the campsite

As the scouts fought the sunset while getting dinner cooked and all their tents setup, we enjoyed a conversation on the wooden deck with the mountain view. We answered any questions they had about their upcoming trail itinerary and then checked in on the privy conditions which we had heard might have included a raccoon stuck in the privy hole! Luckily for the raccoon, he was able to dig himself out. But we may need to check the foundation for damage or instability. The note in the trail register from the initial discovery was quite amusing.

It was now approaching hiker midnight and time to hit the hammock for its inaugural use! The most appealing factors of the hammock were its ease of setup for a newbie, and its compact size and weight.

The REI Flash Air Hammock set up

The REI Flash Air Hammock set up

While not optimal for people over 5’8″, its a great first hammock at 2lbs 14oz and $179! I also knew that if it was not for me, I could return it to REI. I got it for my birthday and was excited to finally be able to try it out. Brian is also a gear geek like me so he watched while I set it up and took note of all its great features, remarking too that they seem to have thought of every detail. I’d say the only one they didn’t do is make the bag for it a tad larger. Squeezing it all back in was tough. But another great thing about the hammock is that every piece of gear is included, so there’s no handicap or learning curve to get all the necessary parts. I toss and turn a lot and am a side sleeper so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.

Peanut Butter ramen in my new GSI Soloist

Peanut Butter ramen in my new GSI Soloist

I know larger and wider hammocks allow you to lie more diagonally and flat, which might be more enjoyable for a sleeper like me. Even though my pad was secured by the pad loops, I still had trouble getting used to being in a confined space like this, and not making it rock heavily while I attempted to get into my sleeping clothes and sleeping bag. When I did finally accomplish this, it took 10 minutes for it to stop rocking me like a baby.

Each time I rolled to one side during the night I was worried I would throw off the balance and roll it over, but I never did. New hammocker fear I guess! I did get a bit used to the balance after a few hours and a few position changes, but I didn’t get used to the feeling my body was being squished from the top and bottom like an accordian.

Moonlight at the campsite

Moonlight at the campsite

This may be a better hammock for a smaller person, but I will give it a few more tries before I make a final decision.  If I decide not to continue using it, I may give it to my son. The bug net design is very nice, but I am not used to having it so near to my face. It is held up and away by a crossbar, but compared to a tent, this was definitely foreign to me. I suppose if I had experience sleeping in a small bivy I’d be more used to it.

Ultimately I did like it but my tent is a pound lighter. It had its benefits over a tent but a tent also has its benefits over a hammock. So the jury’s still out. I didn’t sleep very well however, and Sunday night I slept a solid 12 hours in my bed!  It was nice hearing the owls out at night, it’s one of my favorite sounds. And it was fun listening to some of the scouts’ conversations as my son is the same age and was on a camping trip himself in North Carolina that night with his school. So it made me think of him a lot.

Brian heading up Silver Hill

Brian heading up Silver Hill

In the morning, packing it up was easy, except that part about getting everything to fit back in its bag. We were all rising around 630 am, so I headed to the pavilion building and heated up my water for a nice cup(bowl) of coffee. We answered a few more of the scoutleaders’ questions about their planned mileage and campsite for the day, and when the three of us were packed up we headed out of camp and up and over Silver Hill. It’s not a long climb from the campsite till you reach the ridge, but there’s a fun scramble or two on the way. We took photos at the view on the ridge, and then Brian had to race ahead because he was meeting a group for a day hike of another 11 miles north.

Brian and I on Silver Hill

Brian and I on Silver Hill

On the way down, we brushed in some areas of trail around steep parts where hikers would choose to go instead of the trail, causing erosion. We also cleared any fallen branches and reported a larger blowdown up top for the sawyers to address later.

We took an old portion of the A.T. back to the car, and that was very cool for me to see where it used to go. It however was loaded with ticks. Luckily my pants had been treated with permethrin and I only found one on my pants.

CT Trail Overseer Jim and I

CT Trail Overseer Jim and I

I had a BBQ planned in the afternoon so I headed home from my car once I got dropped back at that trailhead. You would never know from the heavy rain that Saturday morning on the way up, that it would be such a beautiful weekend. The rain didn’t return until I was long gone.

I learned a lot of new trail maintenance skills, and I just bought the same saw that our trail overseer Jim has, the Silky Big Boy 2000! My saw that was given to me by the ridge runner coordinator last year has taken a beating, and I had some dividend money left to spend at REI.

Miles total: 6

  • Linus

 

 

 

 

Case Mountain Family Hike, Manchester, Connecticut

Falls and bridge at the lot

Falls and bridge at the lot

Last weekend we had a happy occasion thankfully, in the form of celebrating my older brother’s 50th birthday. As you may know from reading this blog, we have been doing a bunch of hiking together over the last year. On this day he and his girlfriend, my little brother and his son and partner from Colorado and my uncle from Virginia who were all here for the occasion too came along on the hike. I was elated everyone was in the mood to spend a few hours of this bluebird day to hit the woods, and I didn’t have to do much convincing.

Broccoli tree?

Broccoli tree?

The hike was at Case Mountain Park in Manchester, Connecticut. It has an extensive (10 miles) system of trails up and around the peaks of Case Mountain, Lookout Mountain and Birch Mountain. We managed a loop including the first two, at about 2.3 miles. The blue-blazed Shenipsit trail traverses the park for a few miles, and we connected a bit of that with several other trails including the carraige trail, the pink trail, and the blue/yellow trail.

We only had about an hour and a half so I had picked this route and led the hike. It was a great way to spend time together, and while it was short and not very challenging, it had a very nice view from Lookout Mountain.

Trail break

Trail break

This view makes it a popular hike for locals, and one I’m glad I finally got to do. At around 750ft, these peaks are not very high, but they are high enough over the valley below that you get long views to Hartford and beyond to the west as well as the hanging hills to the south.

Our backpacking season is starting very soon and I’m excited because this weekend is not only our trail work season official kickoff day, but I am joining my friend Brian and a buddy of his for an overnight on the trail afterwards.

View from Lookout Mountain summit

View from Lookout Mountain summit

While I’m only hiking a short ways in to the campsite to meet them because of the trail work day beforehand, I get to try my new hammock for the first time and get a much needed night on the trail with friends. It’s also all uphill to the campsite, of course! And at the trail work party I will be receiving my recognition for 250 hours of volunteer trail service to date, and my son will be receiving his 12-award! We do it because we love it, but of course a little recognition is always nice.

Our route

Our route

With any luck, Fielden Stream and I will be heading out to do another overnight backpacking trip on a section in New Jersey near the end of this month. Our first together for the season. If not for all the occasions lately, we probably would have gotten out already.

Miles: 2.3

Family members: 8

Smiles: countless

  • Linus

Humpback Rocks and Appalachian Trail, Virginia

Humpback rocks from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Humpback rocks from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Last weekend we were in South Carolina suddenly for a funeral of someone near and dear.

That was a particularly hard time for me and my friends, and while seeing them helped in the way of support, there is one other prime way I get my therapy… the woods!

I do a lot of processing and thinking out on the trail, and at the very least, a good hike just clears your head and makes you focus on the challenge and the experience in front of you right at that moment.

This was much needed as well, because distractions from the loss were much welcome. With a 700-mile drive, I was also happy to split it up on the way back and stay in a trail town and get a nice hike in in one of my favorite areas. That would be central Virginia, near Shenandoah.

Humpback rocks from the blue trail

Humpback rocks from the blue trail

Much of the Skyline drive was still closed for post-storm blowdown cleanup, so we aimed just south of the park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway at the trailhead for Humpback rocks. I had researched a few hike options of course and this one looked perfect for time and distance, with a big payoff view.  This of course also means crowds on a weekend. We arrived on a late Saturday afternoon. Late enough to find parking, but not late enough to miss all the crowds.

I was hopeful as we started up from the picnic lot that all these people leaving would mean we would have it mostly to ourselves. Well, that’s not how it turned out. There were large groups of students from nearby James Madison University coming to hike. I am sure this is partly because Skyline was half closed.

Linus atop Humpback rocks

Linus atop Humpback rocks

But I think its great when anyone hikes and loves it as much as I do so I try and grin and bear it with the crowds. I knew it would likely be the case.  Glad to see kids in their 20s take in nature in place of an afternoon kegger!

We took the blue trail from the lot which climbs quickly and somewhat steeply to the ridge line. Rocks were plentiful, as were views of Humpback rocks above. We paused many times to catch our breath and wait for hikers to pass on their way down.

The Blue Ridge Parkway below Humpback rocks

The Blue Ridge Parkway below Humpback rocks

Luckily it was only .8 to the rocks so we preferred to get it over with first and do a gentle longer descent. I explored the rocks as much as I could with the crowd, and got some pictures both from Fielden Stream and a student. The views were glorious and I tried to walk a bit farther out than I was first comfortable with, and this approach seems to be working. I get a little sketched out on some of the bigger straight drop offs, and since there’s a lot of those on the trail, I’ve worked on addressing that by pushing my limits and picking hikes with a lot of that so I can get over it 100%.  A work in progress, but I enjoy them a lot more now.

We talked to a family who had a Beagle (or mix) with them as we have a Beagle, and then there was still another .25 miles to climb to where the Appalachian Trail intersected.  The summit was not much farther but I figure I will hit that when I come through this section anyway.

Linus on Humpback rocks

Linus on Humpback rocks

It was a nice, long, gentle descent of switchbacks down the A.T. on the back of the mountain.  We chatted and even got to hold hands in some wider spots! It was just as we were getting down to the final trail junction that we heard a crashing in the trees down the hill. We started banging our poles together and singing songs out loud and just then I spotted a black animal in the tree branches where we heard the sound. We had continued to move and just slow down and remain alert. It scurried off and so did we. As it’s likely it was a cub, momma was probably not far off.

At the trail junction I found a child’s backpack, forgotten on a rock. It was full of food and a water bottle so I picked it up and packed it out the last half mile up the carriage road to the lot.

Humpback rocks

Humpback rocks

I emptied the food into the bear proof trash container and left the bag at the kiosk, hoping it would be reunited with its owner. I’m not holding my breath though because if it was a tourist they are likely long gone and not going back to see if someone carried it out for them. A student or local, maybe… always in ridge runner mode out there!

We reached the lot within under 2 hours. It’s been a while but not bad at all for our first outing together in months! That’s for 4.2 miles including a big steep uphill and time playing around on the rocks.

View of Shenandoah National Park from Humpback rocks

View of Shenandoah National Park from Humpback rocks

The sun was beginning to set and we enjoyed views of Waynesboro from the Blue Ridge Parkway and then went to our hotel and favorite Chinese place across the street. We passed the Devil’s Backbone Brewery on the way to the hike and really wanted to go there but it was in the opposite direction quite a bit from our hotel. But we were excited to spot it and will definitely go there when we hike this section for real.

 

A great hike, and a night in a trail town, is good medicine indeed.

FIelden Stream

FIelden Stream

Miles: 4.2

Bears: 1 (and probably more we didn’t see)

— Linus