After much shuffling about of RSVPís - 11 backpackers left Vienna metro (amazingly right at 8am!) and headed southwest for the Laurel Fork trailhead where we would meet the 12th, Tom. We had quite the mix the old hands and applicants - Upasana, Hollis, Jasmine, Stephanie, Alison, Katie, and myself were joined by new members Tim, Liza & Tom. And we finally got Joan and Glen out on the trail!
After the requisite stop at the Sheetz in Harrisonburg for food and fuel, we started our way up the curvy mountain roads. After passing The-Slowest-Driver-In-The-Known-Universe, we finished our 4 hour road trip and were ready to start hiking just after 12. We got in a quick group shot and then were off. I was happy to see the trail blazes were much improved - though this didnít stop me from missing several, including the turn for the spur trail to start our counter-clockwise loop. Whoops! Well, I can count on one hand how many hikes Iíve put together that went according to plan. Why change now?
By the time I was positive I had missed it, and hating to turn around - I made the executive decision to hike the loop clockwise instead. So we charged on, quickly descending down to the Laurel Fork Creek. We had a mix of fresh blazes and old, and many downed trees to circumvent. But the trail was fantastic walking all in all - springy pine and leaves with few rocks to contend with. The weather was perfect. The canopy overhead created an almost false twilight of shade, keeping us cool.
Following the creek south, we enjoyed many splendid water views and lush greenery - spoiled only when we stopped long enough for the flies to find us. As is the norm for us gear-heads, various packs and equipment were compared along the way. There were several water crossings, two of which required feet getting wet. We didnít see any other hikers, though we did pass a couple of campsites where people were already napping away the midday hours.
Unfortunately, roughly 6.5 miles in, some of those campers were at our intended campsite! While we could have made room next door - the flies were annoying, and it was just barely after 3. Far too early to quit walking. So we took a short break, had a snack, filtered some water then moved on. For the record, it wasnít my idea this time!
This just goes to show that you just canít slow down a DCUL march. Even Joan - on her first day of backpacking ever - was itching for more. After passing a couple of unworthy sites, the group consensus was to press on and complete (or nearly complete) the loop. After all, it was only another 7 miles to the trailhead! Right?
8 miles later and with twilight fading, it seemed the 13 mile Hiking Upward trip description was a bit short. But luckily the trail dumped us into a great campsite with water, and this time everyone was happy to stop and make camp. I estimated it was about 1.5 miles more to the THÖ.or 5. Definitely less than 10.
9 shelters were quickly erected. Liza slung her hammock sans tarp to enjoy the clear night. I rigged up a triple hang under my tarp for Joan, Stephanie and myself - since the tarp I had brought for Stephanie to try for her new hammock was still safely tucked away in the Forester (Luckily there was still no threat of rain!). Alison and Glen tested the 2 person rating of her Stratospire, while everyone else scattered around the roomy site.
A cheery fire was going in no time at all. Hawkeye enjoyed her two day old pizza while everyone else rehydrated various meals. Tom produced a Mountain House Raspberry dessert, and símores made their way around. Some stayed up late, but most turned in early to get some solid sleep.
Sometime in the wee hours, we heard a small animal scamper by under our hammocks. A rabbit maybe? Who knows! Glen had spotted a mouse earlier. But our food stashes survived the night unscathed.
Up at 7, we were on the trail again at 8:03. No ritual hazing this time! We knocked out the last 1.5 miles (I got one right for a change) in short order and were back at the cars. Tom rolled out for home, and Tim took Hollis, Liza, and Jasmine directly back to D.C. The rest of us stopped at the Fireside Cafe on 33 were we quickly stuffed ourselves with a Southern-sized breakfast.
Kudos to everyone for being on point following the trail, and thanks for such an enjoyable and laid back weekend!