I should admit that I underestimated the toughness of this trip. There is some non-trivial elevation gain to be had. My internal warning light should have gone off when MikeVW said it'd be a great training trip for Massanutten. The elevation profile Jimmy posted is telling.
Jimmy, MikeVW, Karan, Upasana, Darwin and I started out at the McAfee Knob parking lot around 9:45pm and hiked a short mile to the Boy Scout shelter. The target shelter up the trail was already populated and the associated tent sites filled with a flock of Hokies. We all pitched tents and hit the sack knowing we had a bonus mile and a half ahead of us to catch sunrise on the Knob.
Between the bright, full moon and some critter chattering, scratching, and squawking a good part of the warmer-than-expected night, I didn't sleep very well. My weak 5am wake up call was heeded, though I was criticized for my lack of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is still asleep at 5am. We were on the trail at 5:30am and soon past the sleeping Hokies and enjoying a red moon at dawn (sailors be warned?) while we ascended to McAfee's Knob.
We were the first of many to arrive and took copious photos, including the classics. The wind was strong and cold and I nearly lost my hat - the first of three escape attempts it would make this weekend. Watching the colors change in the clear sky was a real treat but we were soon on the trail again just as the Hokies arrived.
We made a brief water stop at the John Campbell shelter and took another break at Tinkers Cliff. I seem to recall my hat made its second escape attempt around here. Soon we were descending the Andy Lane Trail. It shows signs of recent trail work. We tanked up at the creek prior to the cow pasture, talked to the critter skull, and enjoyed crossing the rebuilt bridge over the stream.
The climb up North Mountain was tough. The day had warmed up quite a bit; mid 60's I'd guess with the sun our backs. The creek on that side was running fairly well, and there was even sufficient flow half way up the climb to fill water. Of course we didn't know that ahead of time and were lugging at least 3 liters each.
Running the ridge on North Mountain was its own challenge. The constant rolling up and down sapped any remaining energy we had. This is the second time I've been burned by thinking ridges were flat (it looks like it on the map!). We arrived at the classic DC UL spot just past the intersection of the Grouse Trail at around 4pm for a 20 mile day.
My not-fully-thought-out promise of pie was about to be tested, and it was a solid team effort. Jimmy got the fire going from just twigs (no fire-starter) with a single match provided by Darwin. Upasana ensure maximum coal producing lumber was added. MikeVW provided spare hands while mine were coated with sticky dough, while commenting that promise of pie was the only reason he came on the trip. Once the "dutch oven" was on the coals Karan performed crucially timed expert rotations (the exact nature of which I believe should be kept a secret and only be passed on a need-to-know basis). Twenty minutes later there was hot pie. I couldn't have asked for a better turn out considering I had just constructed the setup the night before and was only remotely confident that it would work. There were no left overs.
MikeVW provided us a rendition of his Eeyore impression after some of his treated water turned brown and cloudy despite starting out with crystal clear un-treated water. The lazy evening watching the moon rise in the east and the sun set in the west around the fire really capped off the day. I'm fairly certain everyone went to bed around 8:30pm with Karan deciding to cowboy camp that night.
My 6am wakeup call of "6am. Time to slay the dragon!" was better received, though MikeVW suggested rousing songs or poetic compositions in the future. We drifted onto the trail by 6:45am and were soon descending North Mountain. Karan rescued my hat from its third and final escape attempt.
We tanked up on water again before ascending the Dragons Tooth Trail. Most folks left their packs at the intersection of the AT and climbed the tooth with light feet. Karan and I made the decision to go full pack. The Tooth was ours alone in the cold, biting wind. Rocks were climbed. Photos were taken. The Tooth was conquered. I know Karan and Upasana scrambled to the tippy top. I'm not sure who else did. Most importantly, nobody fell off. Success!
The remaining miles are a bit of a blur to me: the descent down the AT, crossing the numerous pastures, the last steep ascent up to another non-flat ridge. We made note of the Homeplace down in the valley as we passed it from atop the ridge. An hour or so later we arrived back at the cars and felt the beginnings of rain.
The drive to Homeplace took about 3 minutes and we got seated right away. Soon plates were full of chicken bones, biscuit crumbs, and all the other Homeplace goodness. It was fantastic; the perfect capstone for the trip. We piled back into cars in a light rain which turned to a decent snow a few miles up Interstate 81.
Thanks again to everyone in the group. I couldn't have asked for things to go smoother.
Reading "There were no leftovers.", my brain really wanted it to read "There were no survivors." I think I will have to do this trip again when I can actually see something.
Feel free to take that fry-bake out on the trail with me, Dave, and I'll be happy to show you what I know about baking pies on the trail. I have to say that I've never had such a fast bake time, but I have baked a couple of blueberry pies with berries freshly picked on the trail. :) Not exactly for the UL type excursion, but delicious and worthwhile in the right season.
Ooh, fresh blueberries sounds nice! (and lighter than carrying pre-made pie filling). I'd love to learn that one. I was surprised it only took 20 minutes too, but the apples were starting to bubble and the crust was done. That was our first check point and it looked edible so we ate.
A nod to DC UL training: when I asked if anyone had a big knife to cut the pie I got blank stares. I ended up using the 1" blade on my little Swiss army knife. MikeVW did offer Darwin's saw.