When all was said and done, we started out with an unusually large group of backpackers from Vienna Saturday morning. There were some old hands there, like me and Heavy D. There were old DC ULers who have recently gotten active with us again, like Tenderfoot and Her Majesty. There were new people who have been doing a lot of trips recently, like Will, Unicorn Dust, Steve, Jasmine, Amber, and Jake. Then, we had a number of brand new people, like Libby, Andrew, and Lindsay.
Tenderfoot showed up without her hiking shoes, and decided she could do the trail in mountain biking shoes--this is becoming her thing. We laughed about what sort of bizarre footwear she could hike in next. We decided that flippers would be a good challenge. ;)
This one promised to live in legend, and it did not disappoint.
After a few emergency bathroom breaks, we and all of our vehicles--it was quite a caravan--reached the northern trailhead on Smokehole Road. We left Short Fuse's car there and rolled south to the high trailhead, gawping at Seneca Rocks as we went by. Soon, we parked, and were walking north, enjoying really quite mild temperatures. Everyone was weighed down with a ton of water on their backs, ranging from 6L-9L, but the conversation was brisk and spirited.
At about mile 4.6, we reached the observation platform and sat down to savor the westward views of Spruce Knob and the Alleghenies. Will discovered a nest of extremely large rattlesnakes that serenaded our snack break. We strolled on and, after one of the few little climbs on the trail, reached High Point (the highest point along the trail). That's at about mile 8.0 and there's a beautiful campsite there, with easy access to stupendous views of Seneca Rocks down below. We would have gladly camped there, but it was too early in the day. Wistfully, we walked on. An easy descent led to some road-walking. A few cars full of locals passed on this road to nowhere, then re-passed us as they turned around. Right where the trail leaves the road to continue north, a couple seemed to be loitering. Where they planning to camp there? There was space, but I didn't want us camped on the road.
We walked on a few hundred yards and camped. Though space was in short supply and we were pitching 11 shelters, we made it work, cramming everyone into the available positions. We enjoyed a convivial campfire, with Short Fuse telling stories of her SOBO AT thru-hike, Amber of her time on the PCT, and Heavy D and I of Sweden. Andrew tried to clarify some of our misconceptions about Australian culture (apparently, Fosters is not Australian for beer). Much to his delight we hung a bear line for the bear that might wander into this crowded campsite (none did). A number us learned the value of Leukotape.
Just as we were prepping for bed, it started raining. Tenderfoot had planned to cowboy camp, so we crammed her under the Trailstar, which slept three quite comfortably despite an entire night of sometimes rather heavy rain. The morning dawned beautiful, however, and we were on the trail at 8am, walking through the rays of sunshine, and enjoying lovely views eastward and rhododendron blooms.
(I woke everyone to "Wakey Wakey, Hands off Snakey!" or "Wakey Wakey, Hands off Pocket Rocket!" depending on your gender. I am trying to be more amusing.)
The day did get hot, however. The blisters told on some folks. And the rolling terrain did cause some fatigue. Amber had a run in with some hornets, resulting in six bites--thank goodness Short Fuse was there to help her. Many of us visited Chimney Top, but a few missed the turn off. As we came down the descent to Short Fuse's car, Will's dog Nalla was in bad shape from the heat. I thought to myself, "OK, finally, my fear is going to come true. I'm going to kill this dog." Again, Short Fuse came to the rescue. When Nalla made it down, her car was air-conditioned down to as cold as it could go. We loaded the dog in front of the blowers, then Short Fuse drove Will and the dog to the river, where she cooled off. We started to reverse the shuttle, about two hours late. Her Majesty led everyone remaining down the mountain, and Tenderfoot gathered them up.
All the cars and drivers returned to the northern trailhead, and we all greeted each other. A case of Yuengling and bottles of Gatorade were inhaled, and everyone seemed very happy to complete this logistically complicated trail on such a hot day, with everyone, including Nalla, essentially unscathed. Some hopped in Short Fuse's car for a direct trip back to DC, everyone else went to Good Times Lounge in Moorefield for All American burgers, cold beer, and colder air-conditioning. Andrew did his American accent impersonation, to our great delight. We got an extra helping of West Virginia local color. And we ate a ton of fried mushrooms, fried pickes, and fried cheese!
And then the drive home. Got there at 8pm myself.
All in all, it was a great trip, with a first-rate crew of skilled backpackers. I especially appreciate everyone's willingness to come to each other's assistance when things like the hornets struck or the dog nearly keeled over. It amazes me, every trip, how a group can come together with real esprit de corps in just a few hours and deal with the adverse things that happen. Being with a group like this one is definitely why organizing our group is such a joy. I hope I see you all on the trail very soon!
(Splits were 12-12, as planned. GPS data and photos up shortly!)
That's something I've been truly amazed by with this group. Everyone pitches in when the crap hits the fan or gear is left behind, even if they were strangers 24 hours ago!
GE says 23.5 miles with almost 4,000 feet of gain and more than 6,000 feet of loss. Little more upping and downing than I realized! ;)