Shenandoah AT - South River Picnic Area to Hawksbill Lower - October 2006

Trip theme - "Are they going to show?" or Rain

This was another Wilmington Trail Club trip that I volunteered to lead. There were three of us, Kristen and her friend Bill rounding out the trip. We were originally going to backpack from Panorama (Thornton Gap) to Bearfence Mountain, but we wound up going from the South River Picnic Area to Hawksbill Lower for reasons you will see below. Ultimately the trip was a success but plans had to be flexible.

We were to meet at the Bearfence mountain parking lot at 9AM. I arrived to a cold and misty/rainy morning in Shendandoah a little before 9AM. (9:30) Hmm...... (10:00) Hmm, they're really late...... (10:30) I wonder if they are coming at all. Maybe I should make alternate plans in case they do show up as we might not have enough time now for the original plan...... (11:00) I don't think they're coming. Well I'm still going to backpack so I need to figure out what I'm going to do...... (11:30) Alright they're not coming. I'm going to initiate solo Plan B. Hey here comes a Park Ranger vehicle. I wonder if, hey a young girl gets out of the car and comes towards me. It's Kristen! Come to find out she has locked her keys in her car at the Big Meadows gas station on Skyline drive and the Park Ranger was nice enough to drive her down to find me. Good thing too because I was just about to set off on my own. The afore mentioned Park Ranger had attempting to help her unlock the car to no avail, so we were currently waiting for a locksmith to drive up onto Skyline drive to unlock her car. Meanwhile we drove back to Big Meadows and met up with Bill. Over breakfast I decided that 1) we needed to alter our plans and 2) since we are altering our plans it seems silly to backpack all day in crummy weather. So after looking at the map, and most importantly figuring out what we could do that would still maximize my gain of unhiked sections of AT, we settled on the South River Picnic area to Hawksbill. Meanwhile a very local looking locksmith showed up and quickly unlocked Kristen's car. $80 later we're in the car and making the shuttle.

At least by the time we started, somewhere around 2PM, the nasty weather had mostly passed and we were left with a cold mistiness that was tolerable. Kristen loaded up her rental equipment from EMS and Bill loaded up his rental equipment from the US Army and we set off into the mist. We wound up spending the night at the Bearfence shelter, ironically a short distance from where I was parked earlier in the morning. There were already people at the shelter when we got there and thankfully they had already built a fire. I'm writing this four months later so I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I seem to recall there being an abundance of meat products and sugary campfire snacks to thank our fire builders. I had brought an entire bottle of wine (French Rabbit Cabernet) in its cool new lightweight collapsible bottle. Strangely enough I had a hard time giving it away and drank at least half of the bottle myself. This was the second time I had carried in an extra quantity of alcohol and had to drink most of it myself. I think I'm going to go back to the single shot airplane bottles and save my back. At some point during the night I was awakened by this annoying light shining on my tent fly. Realizing it was the moon I was optimistic for the morning.

The next day dawned clear and warmer. Due to the shortness of the day before, today we would have to cover 13 miles or so to get back to the car. We enjoyed nice trail for the majority of the day. Every now and then we would go through a cloud bank and it would get much colder, only to pop out the other side and be warmed right up again by the sun. The guidebook indicated that there was a rock formation by Big Meadows that would afford us a nice overlook to enjoy lunch. Once we got there it was evident where the random cloud formations were coming from. Unlike most times I have been in Shenandoah where the clouds are high and it is clear below, it had a definite Western feel to it where we were completely above the clouds. The times we were in the clouds were where we had dropped down into them. I'm sure this isn't a Shenandoah first, but it certainly was the first time I had seen it like this. It reminded me of being at a much higher elevation than a few thousand feet. The trail in this section was alive with color, but not regular Fall tree leaf color. It was more a smorgasbord of leaves on trees, leaves on the ground, colored bushes and bunches of berries. I found it all very fascinating and took a bunch of pictures that of course didn't do any of it justice. Hence I didn't bother to post them, but I remember what it looked like when I look at the pictures. 2 miles from the end we had one more big hill to climb (Hawksbill) and Kristen's knee had had enough. There was a short side trail out to Skyline drive to we sent her out that way and Bill and I pressed on. Along the way we ran into a family who was horribly lost. Lost on the AT you say? We'll apparently so. They were trying to get back to the Lower Hawksbill parking lot but were going up towards the top of Hawksbill. I turned them around and told them to follow us down the AT and it would lead back to the Hawksbill parking lot. Lower? I didn't know there were two, I wonder which one we parked in. So we lead the family down to the side trail which deposits us in the Lower Hawksbill parking lot. Hmm, seems we must have parked in the Upper parking lot as my car was definitely not here. As thanks for rescuing the family, they graciously gave us a ride the 1 mile back up the road to where my car was indeed parked. We drove back down the road and picked up Kristen and completed yet another adventure in Shenandoah.


Mark, Kristen and Bill set off into the splendid weather Ah setting up in the rain, great fun!
Stop flashing that thing in my face I'm having fun like a forced march at boot camp
Taking down in sunny skies is much better Hey buddy get off the trail
Having a much nicer time today Nice overlook for lunch
You just don't see clouds below and clear skies above all that often in Shenandoah The "I hate backpacking with Mark" rest stop
Once again not everyone makes it back to the car Hey, look who we found on Skyline drive


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