Northern Shenandoah Trip Report

Posted by MikeVW on

Every time I'm presented with a hiking challenge, I'm always reminded of Brian's mantra of late: 'It'll be good training for Sweden!' But somewhere around stream crossing number seven on this past weekend's trip, I began to question the merits of that mantra. Of course, I knew the route contained 14 crossings, but 'stream' seems very friendly and inviting, not 12-15 feet wide, ankle deep, and every 100 meters. But despite my grumblings, this trip held some real gems that make it a worthwhile addition to my hiking repertoire.

I met up with Ben on Saturday morning at Vienna metro, and we took the short drive down to the Little Devil's Stairs parking lot, hitting the trail at just about 9:30 AM. There were some flurries in the air, but the weather was agreeable, and we made our way up to the scenic yet strenuous climb through the gorge. As we climbed, we came across a dusting of snow, and with ice hanging from the cliff walls, it was really quite gorgeous (I feel like Evan could have worked this into an appropriate pun). And while we saw a few day hikers setting out behind us, we had most of the park to ourselves this weekend. Once we summited the Stairs, we meandered over to Skyline Drive, and in my only navigational error of the weekend, hiked northbound on the AT for a bit. While this precluded the out and back hike to Overall Run, we did see some incredible icicle formations, and ran into a fellow backpacker out on a weekend getaway.

The next major stretch of the trip was on the Knob Mountain Trail, and with no horses to foul the path, we were able to take in some beautiful ridge views without having to watch our step. We stopped for our only real major break of the day at the summit, and with the lack of foliage, were able to see a nice panorama to the south before we descended into Jeremys Run. The temperature warmed considerably as we dropped down into the valley, and once we reached the bottom, I was able to see the Shenandoah definition of the word stream. While Ben opted to wade across this first obstacle barefoot, I took the approach of tossing my bag across the gap (it made the trip safely), and then taking a leap of faith myself (I didn't quite make it). My feet quickly learned not to expect too many reprieves along this trail of constant criss-crosses between the banks. Walking along the trail in the late afternoon, though, with just a hint of sun behind us, and no sound apart from the water (and no bugs!) made it a very pleasant path to traverse.

We opted to skip the large group campsite to walk a little farther along the trail (we also would have had to cross the stream to get there!), and soon came to a pleasant clearing where we made camp. My newest purchase for this trip was a windshirt, and I was amazed that with only a windshirt and a t-shirt, I was able to hike comfortably in high 20s/low 30s conditions and not have any sweat when I reached camp. We cooked out under the stars to the light of my lantern, but retreated to our tents by 8:30 once the wind picked up (it also tore a rather large limb from a nearby tree that may or may not have landed next to our campsite). And in addition to finally being warm on a winter trip, I successfully hung a bear bag on the first attempt!

On Sunday, we broke camp by 7:30, and were promptly greeted with a stream crossing. While my boots had dried out somewhat from the previous day, it was not easy to repeat the experience. The crossings eventually became so frequent that I opted to bushwhack between two just to save my feet a bit, and was pretty frozen by the end of the trek. Luckily, as we climbed the AT and then began our gradual descent to the car, I was able to dry out and warm up. In fact, we were treated to sun and warmth for a good portion of the Piney Branch Trail, and with just a hint of snow, it made for a very relaxing descent. Until the last stream crossing.

After reaching the car, we headed into Flint Hill for an amazing brunch at the Griffin Tavern (I had an omelette and a beer, Ben, Shepard's Pie), and parted ways upon our return to Vienna. I learned a lot about layering this trip, and a constant state of wet feet in cold weather has given me something else to think about. Ben also gave me some really invaluable hiking tips, so I was glad that he made it out with the group for this trip! Still, I've had a variety of experiences in winter this season, but I'll be glad for the turn to warmer weather. And I'm really hoping it's the sunny days that will be good training for Sweden.

Michael Martin posted on

Nice trip report! Sounds like you guys had a good time, despite all the creek crossings!

(And we'll have wet feet in Sweden, I am certain.)

Mike, are you willing to contribute a few minutes of talking to the gear swap ultra-light skills session? I know you were thinking over a forum post on "Going UL without Robbing a Bank."


A former member posted on

I concur! Great writeup of weekend MikeVW. I would love to do this hike again, say, in summer!! Would be quite refreshing with the stream to play in. I'd be curious what "invaluable tips" I provided,...could prob stand to be reminded of them, hahaha! We all come together with differing techniques, for "hiking our own way". Cool thing about hiking with others, is learning what they do, and trying to implement their techniques with our own style, and philosophy. Im just glad you tollerated my talking, and you offered many good stories, and dialogue along the trip!!