AT - VA Rt.7 (Snickers Gap) to I-66 (Linden) - March 4-5, 2006

Otherwise Known as the AT Roller Coaster

Trip theme - "Good Weather Karma Begins Again" or "Where the Heck is Everybody?"

This was a Wilmington Trail Club backpack March 4-5, 2006 doing a 26 mile section of the AT, known as the roller coaster, just north of Shenandoah NP. This backpacking trip was originally scheduled for December 10-11 of 2005. However it had snowed several days before hand and I was concerned about there being snow on an already steep and difficult section of trail. So I elected to cancel it and reschedule for March. This turned out to be a good decision weather wise all the way around. I read in the register at the shelter that the original scheduled weekend had 4-5 inches of snow on all parts of the trail. And the weekend in March we finally went on had darn near perfect weather for that time of year.

I rode down with Paul and Andrew, a father and son duo who are new backpackers to the club. George met us at the Exxon station in Linden. We parked one car where the AT crosses VA Rt.55 and shuttled around to Snickers Gap on VA Rt.7 to start our trip. In my opinion the weather was pretty darn good. It was cold, albeit windy, but it was sunny with no chance whatsoever of any rain. Good winter camping conditions. We loaded up and set off down the trail. It wasn't fifteen minutes when Paul announced he had dropped something along the trail and had to go back to retrieve it. George and I being the considerate backpackers that we are, forged on ahead. The trail early on is very gradually sloped and I commented that it didn't seem like it was nearly as bad as I was lead to believe, but of course things would change. Eventually the trail became what it is named for, a roller coaster. Frankly it wasn't as steep as I feared but it was definitely a whole lot of up and down. The ups were seemingly endless as you'd think you were at the top only for the trail to turn slightly and keep heading up some more. George and I stayed together and so did Paul and Andrew. We met up several times during the day during snack breaks, but mostly kept different paces. Day 1 topped out at 10 miles to the Rod Hollow Shelter. 10 miles typically is a short day for me but the 10 miles today easily felt like 15 or more due to all the hills. As it was winter, we had the shelter all to ourselves but nobody wanted to sleep in the shelter. George and I were tenting it, while Paul was sleeping in a hammock and poor Andrew was sleeping right on the ground (underneath Paul's tarp). I was actually very interested in seeing Paul's sleeping system. He sleeps in a hammock with a down quilt, underneath a tarp and it is all homemade. I'm not a hammock kinda guy but it was a very interesting setup that I had never seen before. George of course built a fire which was nice to help keep warm. The wind had died down after sunset so it wasn't too bad. The sky was exceptionally clear and I'm sure there were outstanding viewing conditions after the 1st quarter moon went down. I stayed mostly warm in the tent as it got down to the mid 20's. I was never completely warm but I wasn't cold either. I think I'm going to invest in a pair of down booties.

Day 2 had us getting up at first light. All of my water was still liquid until I got out of the tent at which point it all promptly froze. We were all sort of on different schedules. George was ready to go and got up and left (conveniently forgetting the fuel canister he was suppose to carry), I did my normal breakfast/coffee routine, and Paul/Andrew wanted to stop along the trail to eat breakfast after warming up. The net result wound up being that we separated early in the morning and never joined up again until the car at the end. We had 16 miles to cover today but the hills aren't as frequent or as steep, although the overall elevation gain/loss is similar to the first day. It turned out to be just a little too cold to stop and wait for any appreciable amount of time. I took regular breaks in between keeping a good pace, but I could never catch George nor did Paul/Andrew ever catch up to me. I saw my first snow on this section of trail and made a point of stepping in it for good measure. The interesting part of this section was Sky Meadows State Park. This is a relatively new state park created from donated land in 1975. The feature is that it is primarily pasture land on top of the ridge where the AT traverses. It made for interesting hiking but the wind was pretty relentless through this section. I was able to get my first drink of water around here as the sun finally melted out the tube in my water bladder. The rest of this section is fairly typical AT without any viewpoints. The issue here was wear and tear on the old body. One of my knees decided to act up, which is strange because I never have knee pain, but this time I did on the final 3-4 mile decent into Linden. I actually had to slow down! Oh the humanity. So I stroll into the parking lot at the end of the trail in a brisk sub 7 hour day only to discover George had been there for an hour. Let's see, he left 20 minutes before me and got there and hour before me, hey he was 40 minutes faster than me. Damn knee. Wait a minute, parking lot? I didn't know there was a parking lot. We had parked a couple of hundred yards further down the road. Oh well. We moved the car to the lot and settled in to wait for Paul and Andrew. I got a nice nap in and 2 hours later they arrived at the end.

For those of you wondering about the difficulty level of this section. We covered 26 miles in two days with a total elevation gain and loss of 6,650 feet. Might as well have climbed Mt. Whitney again. No wonder my knee hurt.......

George, Paul and Andrew at the trailhead on Rt.7 at Snickers Gap George at the only real viewpoint along the trail just south of Snickers Gap
We found a spot mostly out of the wind and with a winter view for lunch on Day 1 Rod Hollow Shelter with our campfire to be in the foreground
Walking along the trail in Sky Meadows State Park. A nice change of pace Andrew, Paul, Mark & George all make it to the end of the roller coaster


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