Back to Massanutten - South Loop, 38 Miles

Posted by Will on

Like many great trips, this one started off in the pouring rain. Heavy D, Covergirl, Hau, Kevin, GQ, Iru, BA and I left Vienna Metro Friday evening and slogged our way through the heavier than usual I-66 traffic. After the requisite stop at Sheetz, we made our way towards the familiar Massanuttens. Along the way, the rain paused and gave us a spectacular view of the cloudy skies over the George Washington National Forest. Hau snapped some photos as we cruised south on I-81.

Parking at the abandoned looking Massanutten Visitor Center, we quickly shouldered our packs and started up the unmarked path on the south side of the picnic area. We climbed south until we arrived at the intersection with the orange blazed Massanutten South Trail. Hanging a right, we continued ascending as the sky darkened and fog rolled in.

About a mile in, we reached the ridgeline and the campsite we had hoped for just as we ran out of daylight. Naturally, this was the moment the skies opened up once again. Everyone hastily pitched their shelters as the rain came down. Lots of ingenuity was needed as the rocky ground made stable stake placement tricky. Getting eight shelters up was a bit of a tight fit (though in the morning light we found other spots lost to us in the fog). Alison pitched on a slight incline, while Kevin made do with a wide section of the trail.

The rain didn’t stop Hau from getting a fire going, but after a few minutes of enjoying it we all retreated from the rain and turned in. We didn’t sleep for long though, as around midnight the rain let up, replaced by gusting wind that shook our shelters. Everyone save for maybe Dan and Iru (who by forethought or luck were on the lee side of the ridge) got up to make adjustments. Jimmy spent a sleepless night hoping his sole stake held on.

We all managed not to get blown off the ridge, and woke at 6am to clear skies and perfect weather. After a few photo ops of the sunrise we continued our counter-clockwise loop south along the ridgeline. We cruised along on the gentle path until we hit a wide clearing with a stagnant pond. After a few minutes of shedding layers, we pulled a u-turn and continued along the slowly descending fireroad.

There was no lack of mud and water on the trail! Everyone ended up with wet feet, though some not by choice. We took a quick break for lunch where I discovered I had forgotten to pack my Ramen. Rookie mistake. Community food sharing was plentiful with a sampling of cheese straws and sausage from Heavy D, dried plantains from BA, and Covergirl’s secret stash of venison summer sausage.

Continuing on, the trail eventually turned back to single track, and we started a steep climb. GQ, Karan, and Hau led the charge. We all reached the top covered in sweat, but quickly cooled in the breeze as we took in the views from a rocky lookout. This was one of the few stretches that didn’t closely follow a stream, but water really never was very far away at any point. It was a real pleasure never carrying more than a liter and a half of water.

We descended again as Hau serenaded us, then paused to refill from another stream crossing at the bottom of the draw before we started climbing again. When we reached the intersection with the Fridley Gap Trail, we had a brief discussion on whether to shorten up the loop while a day hiker napped nearby in the grass. We really wanted to camp north of Catherine Furnace and away from the road. After deciding we were all-in, we continued south on the orange blazed path. We blew by Boone Run Shelter, then paused for a break at a serene stream crossing. After cooling our heels a while, we pressed on, reaching Cub Run Road a few minutes later and turning back north.

Ahh, Cub Run, the road that seemingly wouldn’t end. My seat-of-the-pants-guestimation of 5 miles to Catherine Furnace proved heartbreakingly short. 8 miles later, with feet and legs aching from pounding the gravel surface, we stopped our 28 mile day just shy of the landmark and made camp. Iru and Kevin threatened (jokingly? :) ) never to go on a hike with me again! We had certainly far exceed the advertised 20 mile day. Despite that, there was no complaining or quitting.

The site was pleasantly situated along the stream and we had the luxury of two fire rings to choose from. We had plenty of daylight left to set up shelters, gather wood, and tend to blisters. We enjoyed a roaring bonfire with dinner (again thanks to Hua whose legendary fire-making mastery precedes her). It wasn’t quite Gear-Swap-Hot but it was close! Cookies and s'mores made their way around. Conversation was lively and entertaining as always. The breadth of knowledge and experience among DCUL’ers never fails to impress.

We stayed up late for backpackers, some of us till 10pm! Unheard of! Hau kept the fire going for another hour, lighting up the night. The few clouds and sprinkles vanished leaving a clear sky. Around 3am, some local ne'er do wells cruising Cub Run blew by screaming, mostly something to the effect of a drunkenly obnoxious “wake up campers”. Those of us who were awoken shoved aside murderous thoughts and went back to sleep eventually. The night was very mild, even warm. I awoke before 6 sweating under my 40 degree quilt.

We had a leisurely breakfast after re-stoking the fire, then got on the move to knock out the last quarter mile chunk of Cub Run. We stopped for a photo op at Catherine Furnace, then turned left and followed the purple blazes of Roaring Run Trail up. After about 5 miles of climbing with some more wet and muddy crossings, we hung a right onto the pink blazed Browns Hollow Trail. We made short work of the remainder of the loop, returning to the orange blazes of the Massanutten South Trail (I passed by the Massanutten North connector trail without spotting it, it’s not well marked) and then hanging a left onto the Wildflower trail by the picnic pavilion where Alison, Dan and I spent the night during our aborted Sufferfest.

We finished up our 9 mile day after knocking out the quarter mile Wildflower Trail. We happily found Jimmy’s Xterra and my Forester unscathed by the local hoodlums. Heavy D and Covergirl opted for breaking off left to continue on the orange blazed Massanutten South Trail, getting in one last climb, and rejoined everyone a few minutes later in the parking lot. We saddled up, hungry for lunch at Uncle Buck’s. We turned East onto 211, but just half a mile short of our destination we found the road closed. A bike race was on! It would take more than that to stop us though. We pulled a u-turn looping around to the north, then bypassed a barrier and found ourselves inside the race course. 50 feet from a county cop, I squeezed through another barrier (thanks Karan for unsnagging the sign from my mirror) while GQ took it off road - hopping a couple of curbs. It is known widely throughout these parts that “Uncle Buck’s meat is hard to beat” so we had our eye on the prize. And we were really hungry.

It was all worth it as we finally reached Uncle Buck’s, where the hostess promptly stashed us in the way back room away from the good-smelling patrons. We refueled with a mix of breakfast, lunch and milkshakes. A great ending to an awesome weekend.

Thanks to everyone for joining Heavy D, Covergirl and I in exploring the South Massanutten! What a great trail, with even better company!

Michael Martin posted on

I'm sorry if I led you guys astray with Friday night's campsite!!!

Will posted on

It really wasn't bad, there were other sites we just didn't see (it was super foggy!) and another fire ring that was well blocked from the wind. I certainly could have taken more time and picked a better spot, but rain makes for hasty setup!

I really didn't see any other worthy campsites until 3.5 miles in at the big clearing - but that seemed like a big slope and boggy too.

Joffrey Peters posted on

That spot seems like it might be ideal for a person or two on a calm, clear night to just cowboy camp on the rocks. I thought, like Michael, that you could probably find an okay spot or three in among the bushes, but we didn't really look too hard on our way through on the Sufferfest.

Maybe you should have taken your hang gliders up there...

Michael Martin posted on

Yes, well ... Twice now, we have had tough Friday nights starting that loop from that position. Two years ago, we gave up and pitched on the trail ... Next time, it might be worth starting at a different point.

Will posted on

I like the challenge of a difficult pitch sometimes! Just have to channel your inner MacGyver. Though when it's raining it can be annoying. Dan and Iru had great spots, and I think there were at least a couple more over by the second fire ring. Great spot for cowboy camping for sure. Also would be a non-issue if we were sharing shelters vs. 8 solo setups.

Will posted on

Alas, I forgot my hang glider. Certainly plenty of wind for it!