Trip Report: Tour de Northern Shenandoah

Posted by Michael Martin on

Sorry I'm a little slow with the trip report, but I've been busy writing trip notes for Corsica ... and, oh yeah, work too!

So, Friday, mid-morning, Jess, Marika, Jasmine, and Charles met me at Vienna to head out and walk a route I had cobbled together in the northern district of Shenandoah NP that would include no fewer than four of the next book's chapters. Four is a good number and a good weekend's work, as I really do need to turn in five more chapters before I board the flight to Bastia.

As we entered the park at Thornton Gap, we drove through low-lying clouds, and it rained on us considerably--that would be the only time this weekend. Undeterred, we got our backcountry permits and headed to Elk Wallow Wayside. A lot of thru-hikers were milling about as we got ready. They were really the only backpackers we'd see on Friday, and of course, they were sticking to the AT, whereas we were not.

The Most Interesting Man in America made his appearance. Most chose to carry day-hiking gear for the first leg, but MIMA and I carried our full gear. First up, we walked north on the AT, and then took Piney Branch and the Pole Bridge trail to arrive at the four-way with Keyser Run and Little Devils Stairs Trails. It was a beautiful day, and the profusion of life on the trail was marvelous. Throughout the trip, we were pausing to scope out the salamanders, snakes, and insects that were seemingly everywhere. Don't forget what Charles referred to as the "Beetle Orgy" or "B-orgy"!

Now the true day-hike for the book began. Down Keyser Run Fire Road, a quick break, then the steep and beautiful climb up Little Devils Stairs. The afternoon sunlight slanted into the dak hollow, and we took our time, stopping for many photos. It felt like we were in the real back country, and we saw no one the entire afternoon. End day hike 1.

We were due to meet GQ, Eeyore, and Michelle at 7pm, but yours truly made a slight error, which resulted in us visiting Little Hogback. The views were lovely, but this is not the most direct way back to Elk Wallow, so we added a few AT SOBO miles (hello bearded thru-hikers), and pulled in at 7:25pm or so. No worries. Everyone geared up, and we were soon starting day hike #2 with the descent into Jeremys Run.

My intention to stop at the first available campsite was greatly aided by Michelle's keen eyes, which spotted a serviceable site after the first crossing. We pulled in at sunset, quickly set up, and had a bite to eat. We were asleep by 10pm, after about 16 miles, for those who started early.

Early to bed, early to rise. But not too early. We were walking at 8am, and splashed through the many crossings of Jeremys Run. Many excellent photo-ops occurred. Eeyore managed to keep his feet dry, while Jess toppled in. We took a break at the waterfall near the intersections with the Neighbor Mountain Trail and Knob Mountain Trail, but were soon off on this significant climb. I stretched my legs a little, and Jimmy came with me. We waited up near the undramatic summit of this long, switch-backed climb.

After I made a quick out-and-back on the Knob Mountain Cut Off Trail to complete day hike #2, we started to make our way towards Overall Run. The Knob Mountain Trail took us to Heiskell Hollow (MIMA played on this name, referring to it as "High School" Hollow--all peer pressure and awkward moments), and descended. By the time we had made our improvised camp at the bottom, we had covered about 16 miles by 3pm (everyone could have easily walked a 20). Yes, we made camp very early, but this enabled us to soak our feet, rescue a few day hikers (no maps and painfully off course), and be regaled by MIMA's stories of "scary bear moments." I think we might have made 9pm ... barely. I remember dozing in my tarp and thinking that the sunset was beautiful.

Up at 6am, trail at 7am. We were deteremined to tackle Overall Run in the morning air, and we did. Beecher Ridge and the Overall Run Connector were beautiful. Sandy footing underneath, mountain laurel blooming, and views westwards as the sun light filtered between the trees. We passed sleeping traditional backpackers, knocked out the climb, and paused at the vista and the waterfall. I completed a few extra out-and-backs to complete the third day-hike route, then we all headed home along the gentle Elk Wallow Trail, the fourth and final day hike for the weekend.

At Elk Wallow, we all enjoyed ice cream, then drove north to Front Royal for Jalisco's, where I made the terrible (and expensive) mistake of betting against Jess in a burrito-eating contest. She shall forever more be known as "Burrito."

Thanks everyone for keeping me company on this trip. We had an excellent group, which made this route seem really very easy, despite the three significant climbs. Overall, our splits were about 16-16-10, for 42 miles according to my GPS, which of course includes my extra out-and-backs. I need to get my pictures and GPS data up for everyone. Tonight, I promise.

Oh, and I think that I, inadvertently, have really stumbled on the definitive north district of the SNP backpacking loop. You'd want to refine it some, cut out some of the stranger aspects of it (no need to visit the wayside three times!), perhaps park at the base of Little Devils Stairs, but this is a backpacking trip that could, say, be included in the 2nd edition of a backpacking book, if one needed another Shenandoah route.

Thanks, again, everyone!