1-2-3. That was the number of people in each vehicle as they arrived at the McDonalds off the Front Royal exit of 66. It was a bit different of a meeting point as the groups were coming from different locations and were originally having different departure times. The folks that arrived first got to enjoy people watching while dining in the outdoor seating area, including the spotting of a Lamborghini going through the drive-thru.
After grabbing some food, we continued on to the trailhead, arriving shortly after 11pm. The short 1.5 miles along Big Run Trail into the campsite was a bit overgrown and often muddy, and a number of folks were instantly grateful they had selected their more substantial footwear over the options they had been considering in light of the shorter mileage. After reaching the juncture with the North Prong Trail a bit after midnight, we found the campsite and quickly set up our shelters and headed off to bed around 1am, anticipating sleeping in a little later in the morning.
The alarm went off at 7:30 am, and with only 8 miles to our camping spot we took our time breaking camp, hitting the trail around 9. North Prong Trail continued to be muddy and a bit overgrown, with the plants at times crowding over the trail up to head height, making us feel like we were walking through a scene in Jurassic Park. Patches of flowers were interspersed with patches of burn hazel followed by patches of jewel weed. The burn hazel was sometimes high enough that even those wearing long pants weren't completely safe, as at times the leaves would reach up to nip at elbows and forearms. Even so, I found the lush trail to be quite enjoyable.
About 3 miles later we reached the intersection with the Allegheny Trail, where I mistakenly had us turn right instead of the left we were supposed to take. The mistake was quickly identified when we hit the juncture with the trail we would be returning by on Sunday just a few hundred yards later. Turned around and heading the correct direction, we settled into a leisurely pace as we walked along old forest road at the top of a ridge. The temperature continued to stay in the mid- to upper-60*s, and the trail frequently turned into a wide swath of mud. Was this cool weather and wet trail on the top of a ridge really the first weekend of August?
After 3.5 miles of walking the ridge, we turned right onto Norton Trail for our descent into Seneca Creek and our camping spot for the night. We crossed the creek and could see the anticipated crowd of tents (and a surprising number of hammocks) at the sites a little closer to the falls. Lora left her pack at the first suitable spot we came across to reserve that space just in case the spots above the falls that Hollis preferred were already taken. Hiking up past the falls we could see that the large number of tents belonged to what seemed to be a boy scout troop where most of the boys were jumping off the top of the falls into the pool of water below. The site above the falls away from this rambunctious group was looking like a good call, and it turned out that the boy scout group had just moved down from that site earlier in the morning so it was free and clear for us.
Lora and Shuttle went back the 100 yards for Lora's pack while the rest of us started eating lunch and setting up camp. Yes, DC UL pulled into camp around 12:30. After chilling around the campsite for a few hours, George, Twinkle-Toes (with her dog Aris), Shuttle and I geared up to head out on a 6 mile day hike to Lost Meadows, while Hollis and Lora opted to relax around camp and down by the falls. After a bit of misting rain, more muddy trail, and a bit of bushwhacking along an old railroad grade we reached The Lost Meadow. This and the open meadows along the High Meadows Trail we used to return to camp were a treat, and it was neat to find open areas like this outside of Dolly Sods and the Grayson Highlands.
Sunday morning the noise of the falls drowned out my alarm, so the wake up call was a little later at 6:45 rather than the decided upon 6:30. We rolled out of camp at 8, passing a significant number of occupied campsites as we walked upstream along Seneca Creek. In sunny spots the temperature finally climbed above 70 for the first time in the weekend, so when we found a suitable swimming spot, Lora, Shuttle and I all braved the cool waters of Seneca Creek for a quick dip. The boy scout troop came along and passed us while we were taking this break, and with not many miles to do we settled in behind them. At our turn off onto Tom Lick Trail, George continued straight ahead so he could get back to his truck and an early afternoon birthday party, while the rest of us climbed the easy grade back up to the Allegheny Trail at the top of the ridge and hiked back to the cars. In another departure from DC UL tradition, there was no big celebratory lunch after this trip, as Lora and I were getting in a climb at Seneca Rocks on the way back and I was staying at the campground for the coming week.
Although the temps stayed surprising cool for August and kept us from getting in the anticipated amount of swimming, it made for a pleasant and very enjoyable leisurely weekend with a great crew of backpackers. A big welcome to the newest DC UL members George, Hollis, and Lora! Thanks for joining and being a part of such a great weekend!
Thanks for the trip report ... though I heard the "boy scouts coming upon you while swimming" story told in in a slightly more dramatic fashion!
Haha! I wasn't sure if the affected parties wanted to keep it one of those "what happens on the trail stays on the trail" things. [:O] I tend to not have much shame so it didn't seem like too much of a thing to me, but I try to stay sensitive that some others might. [:D]