A long time ago, in a Vienna Metro parking lot far, far away...
...Kevin, Cesar, Maile, Misun, and I met up on a mild, sunny Saturday morning-- the height of Fall. Kevin and Maile graciously agreed to drive us, while I nobly volunteered to sit in the passenger seat and be driven. ;-) Soon, we were off to the races.
Ah, Skyline Drive: never less beautiful than the last time you saw it. And the overlooks on our short drive in were grand, indeed. After leaving one car by the [i]de facto[/i] Neighbor Mountain trailhead, we shuttled to the Elkwallow Wayside, where we set out a little after 1:00...
...briefly down the Elkwallow Trail, then south on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and down Jeremy's Run Trail. We crossed north of the Run and headed up the Knob Mountain Connector Trail, then up the Knob Mountain Trail itself. Did I say "up"? Er...let's just say a certain trip leader (I won't name any names here) was off to a bit of a shaky start. First, at one point said leader concluded the group was going the wrong way, having missed a turn-off-- moments before hitting said turn-off. Next, after assuring his charges that there'd be no climbing today, said leader proceeded to guide them well over 1,000 feet up from Jeremy's Run to the Knob Mt. summit (2865 ft.). Everyone learned the true meaning of leadership and credibility, DC-style. ;-)
Miscues aside, all plugged on (and up) in good form. After the short, steep-ish climb up from Jeremy's Run on the Connector Trail, it was two-plus miles of steady rise up Knob Mt. And what should greet us there but...a black bear! Ahead and to our right, some 200 yards. It scampered off. Suddenly we became more attentive as we moved down trail. No shortage of bear scat along the way, we noticed... A loud grouse startled us. Now it felt like the backcountry.
The afternoon was overcast and breezy as we descended Knob Mt. We caught a few views through the trees toward the Page Valley and Massanutten Mountain, and later Neighbor Mountain across the Run. Kevin grabbed a vine to use later as a bear bag line. How Indiana Jones-- or was it Bear Grylls? I apologized to Misun for the noisiness of the leaves crunching underfoot, which made it hard to hear me (usually not a problem for people). Next time, I will rake more thoroughly in advance.
Once we hit Jeremy's Run, it was a brief hike up it till we found a place to camp, just off trail on the north side. (Only one stream crossing!) A bear line was left hanging for us. Just long enough to use-- with a little creative reaching, that is. Alas, no need for Kevin's vine. We'll make sure he's got it for the next time, though. After dinner, we kept conversing till after 9:00-- almost up late by backpacking standards. Some grazing deer joined us. No campfires allowed, so a headlamp stood in. Better than nothing...
We rose the next morning refreshed by a bonus hour of slumber, courtesy of the time change ("fall back"). The night had been milder than expected, too-- it didn't freeze, after all. And, best of all, our food was still there. Scattered sounds of rejoicing could be heard from inside tents.
After backtracking down Jeremy's Run, we were on our way up the Neighbor Mountain Trail. And yes, this was up, too. Switchback after switchback. We looked back down toward Jeremy's Run and over to Knob Mt. Once we turned the corner, increasingly clear and commanding views of the Valley, Massanutten, and the Blue Ridge greeted us. And what a scene it was. The weather was near-perfect: blue skies and sunshine made everything gorgeous. The Fall colors blazed. Photo op. after photo op. It was hard to not to stop and stare.
Onward we climbed, however, past trees charred by a recent fire. We hit the peak (2725 ft.), one of three knobs on the mountain. It was a pleasant ridge walk thereafter, with gentler rise and fall. Lichen-covered boulders and evergreens lined the way. Fewer leaves left here, at exposed heights. The breeze blew here and there. (Insert traumatic flashback to Pennsylvania ridgeline here.)
The junction of the AT, and decision time: do we (a) stop at the near car, ~1/2 mile away, as planned, or (b) continue north to the far car (at Elkwallow), 4.2 miles on? We chose to hike on. It was morning still, the day was heavenly, and we had the miles in us yet.
The trail (AT) dropped down, then rose steadily, more or less, till it gained a ridge. More views off both sides (through the trees), including eastward vistas (of Fork Mt., etc.) for the first time. We moved along at a pretty brisk clip, energized by the near prospect of brunch in town. The woods were lovely all the way back. In case one has forgotten, Shenandoah soon reminds the visitor of its inimitable beauty and magic.
We reached Elkwallow around 12:40. The planned 'horseshoe shuttle' turned out to be unnecessary, then, though we had to complete it nonetheless. Total distance: 17.13 miles. Not quite 13, as promised, but hey, this is DC UL-- we err on the side of more!
So we'd earned our post-hike meal. Brunch at the Thornton River Grille in Sperryville. Beer, burgers, pancakes, and smiles all around. Those folks know how to make pancakes. Misun marveled at my food intake-- "How is it physically possible?" she wondered. I didn't have a real answer, other than to keep chowing. Some Hank Williams playing completed the experience. We left full and happy. Thus ended a satisfying little trip, one made possible by my lively, good-humored companions. A very positive first time leading for DC UL-- so, [i]gracias[/i].
Ah, heavy is the head that wears the crown ...
How *is* it possible that Heavy D can eat what he eats? A number of Swedish villages experienced food shortages after he passed through, this summer.
I was trying to find a picture of Dan eating breakfast on the Kungsleden, but can't seem to find it.
Awesome trip and report Dan! I don't know how you carry enough food to make it through a backpacking trip.
Between Dan and Peter ... :)
They should just go half and half for a Sherpa!
[quote]They should just go half and half for a Sherpa![/quote]
I hear llamas are all the rage now.