AT - Humpback Rocks to South River Picnic Area (Shenandoah) - October 13-16, 2005

Trip theme - "A little solo time" or "I think I make John sick again"

This was a Wilmington Trail Club backpack October 15-16, 2005 doing a 20 mile section of the AT in Shenandoah NP. I felt the need not only for some additional miles but to spend a few days solo. So I started the trip considerably to the south at Humpback Rocks (out of the park) on the 13th and hiked north for 2 days until I met up with the WTC folks. For me the trip was 54 miles over 4 days, all on the AT.

I wanted to start at I-66 and head northbound, but the mileage was just going to be too short. So I decided to move further south to the first road access point at the Humpback Rocks parking area along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This added an additional 6 miles giving me 14 miles for the day instead of 8. I left the house at 4AM and was on the trail a little after 9AM. What was shaping up to be a fine day in Charlottesville (I heard it rained in DC) turned out to be a cool, damp and windy morning on the ridge. The hike back down to I-66 was uneventful. I was planning to take a break at the I-66 overpass but it was entirely to damp and nippy to stop there so I kept on going. About 2PM I was preparing to go over Bear Den Mountain when all of a sudden the clouds parted like the Red Sea and the sun was beaming down upon me. I wasn't sure what was up ahead so I stopped on a promising rock for a break. And what a rock it was! I sat down in a spot that seemed perfectly formed to my body, lied back out of the wind, and soaked up the sun for a good hour. Ahhhhhh. Of course when I finally got up there was another rock with a view just around the corner followed by a wonderful meadow with more views. But so what, they didn't have anything on that rock. Eventually I found my way to the Calf Mountain Shelter. I started off alone but 4 southbound thru hikers straggled in after awhile. These were the strangest thru hikers I had ever seen: they were light weight but carried luxury items like full length mattresses, a Jet Boil and Jiffy Pop; they insisted on building a fire (for the Jiffy Pop); they insisted on referring to me by my trail name; and they were very animated. Usually I've found that the thru hikers are somewhat quiet and reserved but these four seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. More power to them, even though I doubt they are going to make Springer.

Next morning I am the first to get up and the first to leave the shelter at 8AM. Did I mention these were strange thru hikers? A couple of them weren't even out of their sleeping bags yet when I left. The weather was back to the same as the previous morning which made for very short breaks out of the wind. I came to a number of overlooks but didn't want to stop as the wind made things uncomfortable. My original intention for today was to cover about 16 miles and then camp somewhere around the Dundo group campground, leaving 6 miles in the morning. As the day wore on I was thinking that the hiking was likely to be much better in the late afternoon than very early in the morning. This plan was confirmed when I strolled into the Dundo area around 3PM and they specifically stated that there was no camping in the area. Of course I was there so early I wouldn't have stopped any way. The new plan was to just push on to the Loft Mountain campground and camp there, leaving only 2 miles in the morning. My thinking was because the camp store was there, that there had to be camp sites available along the side of the trail from numerous other people having the same idea. My information said that the camp store was located at the third concrete marker at the south end of the campground. I was hoping that the store would also have a snack bar and I could grab some greasy food. Locating a camp site was relatively easy. I found a good site, about where I thought I would, on the south end of the campground. Locating the bathroom and potable water was also easy. Finding the camp store proved to be challenging. It was not where I thought it should be and after 20 miles I wasn't in the mood to wander all over the place looking for it. I asked a lady if she knew where it was and she indicated it was on the opposite side of the campground. I further asked her if there was a snack bar and she said that there wasn't. Well that put the nail in the camp store coffin. Without a snack bar I quickly lost interest in finding it. I'm a little confused why they located the Loft Mountain campground where they did as it was extraordinarily windy there compared to just about everywhere else I had been on the trail so far. The campsite I had selected was slightly protected from the wind, but nevertheless it was entirely too windy to just sit around outside after I had finished cooking dinner. By 6:30PM I was inside my tent for the night, I even wound up making my Sleepytime tea in the vestibule rather than step out into the wind. There was a bright moon tonight and it played all kinds of interesting shadow tricks on the tent fly throughout the night.

Day 3 and I'm up and out to meet up with the WTC. I was glad to have put the extra miles behind me yesterday. Around 15 minutes after leaving camp I found another concrete marker I wasn't expecting. It said camp store 70 yards up the hill. No kidding? I had to check it out. Seems the lady was right, no snack bar. So I offloaded all my trash into a trash can and left the store. I was supposed to meet up with the WTC at an overlook just past the intersection with the Deadening Nature Trail. I got to the intersection that I thought was right but it had the wrong trail name. The post said that the wayside was down the side trail and indeed there was an overlook just past the intersection so I must be in the right spot. I had told John I would be there at 9AM and I was there at 9:01, not bad. I went out onto the overlook to wait and guess what, it was really cool and windy. I sat out there for about as long as I could before it just got to be too cold for the amount of warm clothes I was packing. About 9:40 I see John coming up the trail and we successfully meet up. The group was much larger than I was expecting, including myself there was 9 people. Certainly a large number for WTC trips lately. The hiking today remained predominately cool and windy again. After a long climb we located a nice rocky overlook in the sun and out of the wind. I think we sat there for a good hour and a half soaking in the scenery and the lack of wind. Not too much else of interest along the trail. We got to the Hightop shelter in the late afternoon and amazingly there was a bunch of boy scouts there. Gee that never happens. The scouts were all camped out so half of us elected to stay in the shelter and the other half camped out away from the scouts. The scouts did however feel the need to monopolize the picnic table and build a fire (whose smoke blew over the picnic table) so that we had to do all our cooking while sitting on the shelter floor. Well at least most of us cooked, as there was yet another failure of an MSR stove. This time it was a Dragonfly as opposed to the usual Whisperlite. It's beyond me why anyone uses these types of stoves. Of course my Pocket Rocket failed last year so who am I to talk. Tonight turned out to be colder than I thought it would be and for some reason my nose was plugged and I didn't sleep well at all. On the up side my new sleep system consisting of silk weight bottoms and tops worked out really well.

Day 4 and I'm the first one up again. What is up with the sleeping in thing? Wasn't 10-12 hours of sleep enough? It's a little cold but once you start moving around it isn't too bad. John is barely moving and says he didn't sleep well. Uh oh, that's usually what he says in the morning the day he gets sick. Surely not again this time. We were taking so long that George and a couple of others couldn't wait any longer and started off down the trail ahead of us. Eventually everyone else was ready to go, at like 9AM, and we set out. The top of Hightop afforded a nice view so I snapped a couple of pictures of various folks. I had no trouble keeping up with John on the hills today which is also another sign of impending doom for him. At the last gap of the day we were just getting ready to leave when it happened, John got sick. Having seen this many times before, I knew he'd be fine and set off to catch George and the others. I was feeling particularly strong on the hill and caught them just about at the top and zoomed right by. I could smell the end of the trail and was ready to be there. Soon enough the side trail to the South River Picnic Area presented itself and I was done. A nice grassy patch and some warm sun out of the wind was there to greet me. The others were along all in good time and John still looked like hell. I'm not exactly sure how, but I seem to be the catalyst that makes him sick on these trips. Is it my sparkling personality? Do I give off some strange pheromone? I don't recall making any other people sick, well at least not physically sick. Maybe I need to keep me and my aura about 20 feet away to give him a buffer zone. It took about an hour and a half to drive back to my car. That's how you know you've walked a long way. So now I've got about a 40 mile section in the middle of Shenandoah to do to close out the park. If I can get the WTC on Saturday hikes to get down to VA-7 then I have a decent shot at having a continuous section of AT completed from the south end of Shenandoah to the Hudson River done in the next year or so.

Mark at the Humpback Rock's trailhead There were these strange little seats on Bear Den Mountain
I love mountain meadows. Even if they are man made. This is near Beagle Gap Calf Mountain Shelter
My campsite just to the south of Loft Mountain campground The cold overlook where I met up with the WTC gang
The WTC group at the Ivy Creek overlook Crystal and Nathaniel have got the nap thing on the warm rock down pat
Tatiana, Crystal and Nathaniel in Hightop Hut Mark at the overlook on Hightop
John at the overlook on Hightop Nathaniel and Glenn at the overlook on Hightop
Everyone relaxes at the South River Picnic Area. Except for John who is preparing to puke Mark back at the slightly more crowded Humpback Rock trailhead


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