When all was said and done, we had a perfect-sized group for this DC UL classic, and a really great mixture of both new backpackers and old hands. As we assembled in the parking lot at Vienna, I knew we were in for a lot of fun. Doug Wolf, Macgyver, and Tenderfoot (or is it Tree Sap or Tree Humper?) go back years, almost to the founding of the group. Mark and Debbie Tune, good friends from the Capital Hiking Club, are fixtures in the DC hiking community, but were completely new to backpacking. (They’re thinking about striking out on the AT once Mark retires.) Hawk Eye was also new to backpacking, and may be the first DC ULer ever to get a trail name before going on a trip. Misun has just started backpacking with us in recent months. And Jimmy (GQ) and Alison (Covergirl) have come on really strong with the group in the past year. GQ somehow found the strength, with me, to return from the ADKs on Monday night, and be on the trail again Saturday morning. Now, that’s obsession for you.
So, anyway, we head out and drive the blissfully short trip to the trailhead for the Massanutten Connector Trail—so wonderful to have a two-hour drive instead of eight! We saddle up and walk in along the white blazes. Forest road yields to footpath, and soon we come to the intersection with the orange blazes of our old friend the Massanutten Trail! Layers were shed as we began the brutally steep climb up Waterfall Mountain. Jimmy and I agreed that it was steep, even after the ADK last weekend. Mountain bikers were carrying their bikes down it. Misun said that she deserved a badge for climbing that slope.
At the top, we rested for a spell, so that everyone could catch up. As we enjoyed the overlook, Tenderfoot and I named Jimmy “GQ,” a trail name he would later accept. He is rather good-looking, for a Korean pop-star. We strolled along the ridge in the blissfully warm temperatures (even I was warm), enjoyed a snack at Q’s view, then struggled along the flat, but unrelentingly rocky crest of the ridge to Jawbone Gap and the vista there. Macgyver’s dog Sophie exulted in the dirt, and seemed to wallow more vigorously the more we looked at her and laughed! GQ enlightened us with the Jean-Claude van Damme / Enya connection.
We descended to Crisman Hollow Road, tanked up on water (some day hikers were astonished, “You can drink that water?”) and then climbed for Duncan Knob, with the occasional gun shot punctuating our steps. We arrived at Peach Orchard Gap just before sunset, so several of us tossed our packs to the ground, and scrambled to the knob. Misun, Hawkeye, GQ, Covergirl, and I enjoyed a brilliant sunset from the knob. Macgyver arrived a little later, heavily pregnant with Sophie, whom she had tucked into her jacket for the scramble. Sophie snored while we watched the colors modulate across the sky. A glorious pink and blue sunset over Mordor.
Down the scramble and back to camp, shelters were soon pitched and, thanks to Doug, we had a brilliant fire going—one of the best campfires I’ve enjoyed in quite some time. The brown wine flowed and many new DC slogans were tried out (even though it’s too late). “Creepy and fit” was a favorite, but Sharon may have had the line for the trip: “Mommy needs her booze first!” We learned how Macgyver broke her collar bone. We probably stayed up past 9pm, watching the full moon move overhead. There were snow flurries as we retired, but nothing stuck. A nice night with great sleeping weather!
We were up before dawn. Hawkeye went back to the top of Duncan Knob for dawn and got misplaced on the way down (an easy thing to do!). Fortunately, GQ came to the rescue. Anyway, we were off along the trail. Down to Duncan Hollow, back up Middle Mountain (which felt way easier when it was not at the end of a 20-mile day), then we did the out-and-back scramble to Strickler Knob, which was my first time there. An easy, quick descent via the Massanutten and Massnutten Connector Trails followed, and we reached the cars at about noon.
From there, it was time for an awesome lunch at Sonny’s, and the quick drive home. Covergirl, Hawk Eye, and Tenderfoot kept me entertained with planning our first ever $50 Wal-Mart backpacking challenge, which, in their imaginative hands, quickly morphed into a LARPing contest based loosely on the Hunger Games. Stay tuned! The 462-page rulebook will be out soon.
Sum total, I think we backpacked about 19.5 miles, but I’ll get the GPS data and the photos from my camera up shortly.
Thanks, everyone, for such an awesome trip! My abs hurt from all the laughter! We really did have a fun crew for this!
I can't imagine a better gang or set of trails for a beginner UL backpacker. Seriously-- so glad to have met and hiked with all of you!
I currently have 27 browser tabs open at various gear sites. Hah. Look what you guys did.
Haha ... Once the "gear bug" bites you, you're in deep.
Soon your apartment will look like my man cave ... Draped in sleeping bags and pads and tarps and bivy sacks, in various states of drying.
It was a great trip, in spite of a less-than-comfortable night due to what I *thought* was a catastrophic pad failure of my Exped Synmat. Turns out it was user error - it is possible to displace the little flap in the inflation valve that is supposed to prevent air from escaping such that it doesn't work, and I didn't close the valve cover completely, et voila! Thankfully I was carrying a couple of closed-cell foam pads to give structure to my pack, so I didn't wake up a total grouch.
I got pretty good GPS data from this ...
Says we walked about 19 miles, with 4,800 feet of gain.