Trip Report: Second Section of Tuscarora Trail: Elizabeth Furnace to Waites Run Road, 1/3-1/5

Posted by Michael Martin on

Thursday night, as I left the Crystal City Sports Bar, where I was hanging out with Shamrock and B~~~, the snow was falling thickly. "Another section of the TT: another storm!" I thought. A text came in that Shuttle had damaged her car up in Lake Placid. Little did I know that this would be one of two DC UL accidents this weekend.

Friday evening, Hua and John met me at the Starbucks in Front Royal, and we were soon driving to Wardensville and Waites Run Road to leave John's Gray Lady and Hua's SUV at the end point (approximately) of the trail. I stopped us when the road started to get icy, figuring that we're backpackers, we can walk down the road aways, right? We piled into my car and drove back to the Signal Knob parking lot, where we had ended the first section. We pulled in at 7:58pm, displaying my usual freakish punctuality. Eeyore, Karan, Mimi, Steve, and Sherpa were waiting for us.

We braced for the cold and were soon backpacking, as the car thermometer read 11* as we started. We walked south on the MT, reminiscing about past Death Marches. About 0.5 mile south, we reached the TT and headed west, climbing for the spine of the mountain. The sky was perfectly clear and we had amazing views of the stars, so much so that it was a distraction for actually walking. We passed the white blazes of the Meneka Peak Trail, then dropped down quickly to the MT again and Little Passage Creek. A left turn took us to the Strasburg Reservoir, our destination for the night. It was about 10:30pm and we had walked 5 miles. We were surprised to see another tent there! But we quickly pitched camp and settled in for a cold night. I slept in my tarp, counting on my very warm sleeping bag to keep me warm, which it did. We think it was in the upper single digits.

The next morning, I awoke us at 6:30am. Hua showed what a master she is of the fiery arts: she had a small fire blazing in seconds! We had a leisurely morning and started walking at 8am, climbing the TT into the sunlight of a bluebird day on Three Top Mountain. The insanely fractured footing of this mountain was muted by the snow, and we made good time. The TT and the MT shared treadway one last time before the TT took the Dolls Ridge Trail down into the valley of the North Fork of the Shenandoah and I-81. We said good-bye to the Massanuttens, and strolled through beautiful snow-covered farmland. The cows watched us with bovine fascination: we were certainly the most interesting thing they had seen that morning.

Past the river, the road walking began. After the trail cut through some forested land between farms, we lost Sherpa, John (who could be named Pathfinder or Navigator), and Mimi, but we relocated them at US-11. After a long lunch, we plunged through a particularly awful and brambly stretch of trail (the worst marked stretch in 60 miles on the TT) before walking over I-81. This barrier crossed, we continued our road walk. A fellow hauling wood to his house expressed amazement (disbelief) that we could be so audacious (stupid) as to go backpacking in this weather. We walked on, eventually coming to the end of the road walk at about 2pm-ish.

After a break, we started the long climb towards the ridges of Great North Mountain. The stretch up to Fetzer Gap and VA-600 was steep, but we were rewarded with great views eastwards. The climb continued. A number of us, myself included, were rather dry at this point. Steve's water bottle had frozen and he was looking rather dehydrated, as he shambled like a zombie. At breaks, we would dry to de-ice his bottle. We started to call him Slushy, and made him drink some water. Tea Mountain actually starts to develop a fairly sharp ridgeline, we discovered as we headed SW towards the WV border. The sun set gloriously, and the wind came up. At last, though, we began the descent to Cedar Creek. Our headlamps came on. In the lead, I was greatly helped by some footprints in the snow. As anticipated, there were campsites in the valley, where the contour lines widened out. We'd walked about 21-22 miles over 10 hours elapsed: a good solid day in the conditions.

Hua soon had a merry fire burning, almost setting a neighboring dead tree on fire. We enjoyed dinner and the campfire. The temps were much warmer, but there was some wind, and I pulled my signature move of going to bed at about 8pm. Other stayed up later. I tried to drink some whisky in my bag, but fell asleep.

Next morning, I was up at 6:30am and walking at 7:30am, with people trailing after me. After a tricky crossing of Cedar Creek (there is a nice campsite here, where there was a tent pitched, perhaps the maker of last night's footprints), we began the sustained climb up to Sluice Mountain and White Rock Cliff. We visited this vista, but the view was limited as the morning's sunlight was yielding to rain. As we went higher, we found ourselves walking through a cloud. So passed Sugar Knob and the intersection with the Mill Mountain Trail.

Happy to get out of the cloud of freezing rain, we descended Pond Run, with the snow becoming slushy and slippery underfoot. Many creek crossings later, including some crossed rather heroically by John, who may be Pathfinder or The Look, now, we reached Waites Run Road. We turned left, leaving the TT behind. Fortunately, the cars were not as far down the road as I had feared. We had probably walked about 11-12 miles to reach them on Sunday.

So total splits were 5-21-12, or something like that. I'll try to firm them up with my GPS data. 38 miles total, ideal for an MO trip.

We headed off to Jalisco's in Front Royal, first revsersing the shuttle. One of our cars may or may not have bumped into the other car in Strasburg. The damage was minor, and fortunately no one was hurt! After a tasty (and large!) lunch, we headed home, and I even got to see the last half of the last NFL game!

This section of the TT was certainly challenging in the conditions. I was getting over the flu (or whatever my bout of sickness that Laura gave me was), and I have to say that I felt my mortality Saturday. 21-22 miles in the snow, with boots on, and gear suitable for single digits was no picnic .... I think I probably should have continued to convalesce this past weekend, but I'm glad we got the trail done.

It's a DC UL rule that one can always decline a trail name. However, John could be called Pathfinder or The Look after this weekend. Steve could be called Zombie or Slushy. And Hua could be called Ramming Speed, Rolling Stop, or Watch Out! ;) Again, you only keep the names if you want them!

Thanks, everyone, for making this great section happen! I couldn't have asked for a better crew to keep me company. Stay tuned for section 3!


Hua Davis posted on

WOW!! A nice writing. Thanks Michael!![:D]

Michael Martin posted on

Thank you! Yes, it is our custom to write little trip reports.

And I like to have the notes to refer back to.


Michael Martin posted on

A few thoughts on gear:

(1) I really like my VBL socks. With temps shading down into single digits, I went to my winter boots, did a liner of synthetic material, the VBL layer, then a layer of SmartWool. My feet were warm the entire time. Of course, I am faster in trail runners, but with temps below the teens and a lot of wintery precip, I think the boots have their merits. YMMV.

(2) Hydro-Flask for the win. I'm adept at keeping my water from freezing, but with temps this low, I just carried the hydro-flask. I didn't have to worry once about water freezing.

Of course, this weekend was tricky in the sense that what was suitable on Friday was overkill on Saturday, but such is the way of things.

MikeVW posted on

Where did you get your VBL socks from/what brand are they? I'll echo the awesomeness of Hydroflask bottles, although for most trips around here, I would probably just bring my 16 oz. bottle for keeping tea (or maybe miso soup...) hot.