The third section of our Tuscarora Trail section-hike started smoothly enough. JD, John “The Look” Callahan, met Hua and I at the Applebee’s in Winchester, VA, on Friday night and we soon headed off to leave JD’s and John’s vehicles in Gore, VA, just a few miles west. We didn’t see a good spot on 50, but we pulled into Gore and used a good-sized lot in front of a little gas station. From there, we drove south to Waites Run Road, which was much friendlier to us than it had been in January, when it was quite icy. We managed to drive in all the way to the blue blazes. Karan and Eeyore soon pulled up with Hawkeye, C Backwards, and UPS.
Just before 9pm, we were off climbing towards the ridgeline of Great North Mountain, the skies clear and dark and the stars very visible. It was cold, in the teens, and our breath formed great gusts as we switchbacked up the mountain. Up high, it was windier than I would have guessed, and we passed an open area just before reaching the Gerhard Shelter, which the last of us reached just after 11pm. I think my hands were as chilled as they’ve been all winter. The views of the stars were well worth it, though. Snow crunched under foot. I had planned to cowboy camp, but I wanted to keep some of the wind off, so I set up my new monk tarp. Still, it was drafty, and I passed a chilly night. I dozed off around midnight, flask clutched in my hand.
Saturday morning, we slept later than usual, but were off hiking at 7:30am. (Yeah, I know my idea of “late” is strange.) We had planned a big day, about 21 miles, and we could see right away that the weather was going to cooperate, for once. The skies were big and blue, the temps rose all day, and we were treated to quite a few views from Great North Mountain. We descended, reached Hawk Run, engineered a few icy stream crossings. Karan and I drowsed on a bridge on Capon Springs Road.
“Do you think they got lost?” I asked Karan.
“Probably,” I said. “But they’ll figure it out.”
“Perhaps they put The Look in charge?”
Sure enough, the other seven came along, and we performed a classic F-U break to start the Jemima section, a rolling section that passing by the tombstone of a nineteenth-century settler. We sniffed out the trail at a powerline crossing, then walked on the road for a few miles. For a second, we dreamed that a bar was along our path, but it turned out to be a used car dealership. There was some grumbling as my “three tenths of a mile” took a little longer than predicted, but the Lucas Woods Campsite was beautiful and well worth the walking. Hua built a fire so hot it singed C Backwards’ booty! Hawkeye pitched her tent solo and beamed with pride. U-Turn went to bed early, as he is wont to do!
(Universally, the shelters and campsites along this stretch of trail were beautiful and well maintained. Someone is putting a lot of care into them.)
Sunday, up at 5:30am and walking at 6:30am, just as the sky started to lighten. We had plenty of ground to cover, about 12 miles, and we got started with the stiff climb up the Devils Backbone, which rewarded us with fantastic views. Pinnacles was a lovely spot, and the shelter there is another marvel. This would be a great place to come in and camp sometime, on a less strenuous trip.
We had looked, on the map, at the gentle descent from Great North Mountain and into Gore, and figured that we’d have an easy day of it. Naively, I had made some remark about how smoothly the TT sections were going. That was all about to change.
From Laurel Run, the TT traverses along the westward side of the mountain. There was plenty of ice and snow; the path was very rocky; there were a number of boulder fields to cross. Rugged footing for sure. Through one stretch, the TT sidehills up above an ATV road. Plainly, there had been a trail relocation. Hawkeye took a tough tumble here, twisting her ankle badly. Always game, she got back up on her feet, took some vitamin I, and kept walking, albeit at a painful limp. A few minutes later, some guys came by on ATVs, and they agreed to give Hawkeye and The Look a ride back to Gore. JD took a wrong turn where the road veered away from the trail. Wasn’t much we could do about it. The six remaining of us forged onwards, eventually heading into town on the white-blazed Gore Connector. We huddled under the awning of the gas station, eating junk food as the rain—which would eventually become a winter storm—got started.
Eventually, a truck pulled up with Hawkeye, The Look, and JD in the back. The driver had said something about “Hippies taking over these mountains!” John and Stephanie are some of the most clean-cut hippies I’ve ever seen, but it was pretty clear we weren’t from this neck of the woods. We looked like a backpackers’ version of the Colors of Benetton.
We reversed the shuttle. You would have thought we would have had enough bad luck … But that’s when Eeyore’s car started smoking! Radiator drained. I’m thinking some critter had gnawed through the lines. Eeyore summoned a tow truck, and headed back into town. The rest of us went into Winchester where we enjoyed pints and pub grub before out-running the snow storm back into the city (the show must go on, eh?). The Union Jack: two thumbs up.
And so ends section 3. Splits like 4-21-12. About 96 miles hiked from the start of the TT, though we started with Little Devils Stairs, so we’ve done more.
I would like to thank everyone who did this trip for their grace under pressure, and their willingness to adapt to the circumstances. When things went wrong, we all banded together and took care of each other. You couldn’t ask for better backpackers. Special thanks to The Look for looking out for Hawkeye, and for not tickling anyone!
Good trip, everyone!
Wowsers! Sounds like quite the adventure! Hope the ankle heals up Hawkeye! How was the atv ride?
Thanks MM for a detailed backpacking event report, it brought the great memory back vividly[:D]