Trip Report: VMO Massanutten Madness

Posted by Joffrey Peters on

Well... that hurt.

Many people lost the orange blazes, Michael just barely missed some original ULers loop record, Matt bailed, and I lost my soul. We had two full days and one evening of pain and suffering. But other than that, it was lovely.

Fortunately, Shuttleís LM group and Dave Shook took pity on us and in a grand showing of trail magic brought us cold beer, some tasty food, and built us a lovely fire. 9 started, 8 finished, with Matt bailing in good form to Shuttleís car.

EZBake, Blue Blazes, Pringle, Turbo, Sophie, Steve, and U-Turn left early to beat traffic and get an early start on Friday eveningís miles. Matt and I left Takoma Park at 16:45 so that we could enjoy all of the Friday rush hour(s) traffic. We hit the trail at 19:25, and my GPS started its questionable tracking. At about 6 miles, just before the reservoir, we saw headlights - a conga line of middle-schoolers yelling and carrying large packs. Fortunately, Michael saw our headlamps from their nearby camp and called out to us. We bushwhacked over, and I had a slice of the tasty apple pie EZBake brought in to celebrate Blue Blazesí birthday.

We woke at 06:00 to my trail rendition of Good Morniní from Singiní in the Rain. After eating the last slice of the apple pie, I was ready to hit the trail, and once everyone was packed up, we marched right through the boy scoutsí camp to the trail. After passing a creek and a spring on the way to Mudhole Gap, U-Turn declared ďI have supreme confidence that we will find a better source.Ē When the trail turned uphill, he promptly lived up to his trail name. Matt, U-Turn and I got a bonus mile to fill up on water for the 20+ mile dry stretch from there to the base of Waterfall.

The morning miles flew by, and I strove to reel in the lost mile and the front group. I caught them just before the descent to Edinburgh Gap. At the gap, we enjoyed a nice, long rest, and I made sure to wait to see that everyone made it that far and was feeling good. With a little under half of the dayís miles behind us, there wasnít any more time to dawdle and I took off, again to try to overtake the front group to make sure nobody got lost.

Short Mountain is a bitch. There, I said it. I may be flippant and nonchalant about rocky trails. Iím confident in my footwork, but my feet were worked by the loose rocks hidden under a thick leaf carpet. Every step rolled and the miles were interminable; EZBake reportedly tried his hand as a poet.

After overtaking Steve and Sophie, we had a break, and then I took off, worried that Blue Blazes and EZBake might have missed a non-obvious turn off a forest road. After a quick climb up Kern Mountain I overtook them. They had indeed missed the turn, but quickly righted their mistake. I paused to wait for Steve and Sophie. 15 minutes of waiting made me cold, and I stood up to leave. There was rustling in the leaves on the hill below me. Cautiously and quietly, I stepped rock to rock to peer over the ledge to see a black bear below. We stared at one another for a minute. It ran a few paces across the hill, then turned to stare at me for another minute. We continued this game for a few minutes, then it suddenly turned and sprinted downhill. Neat.

Joffrey Peters posted on

I pushed on, reaching Waterfall with just enough light to run down. I filled water in Big Run below, then quickly overtook Blue Blazes and EZBake, giving instructions to the Scothorn Gap campsite. I was greeted by a warm fire, warm food, and cold beer courtesy of Shuttle and Dave Shookís trail magic. They all hauled in beer, and Dave even hauled in ice to cool the beer, as well as more of the butternut squash concoction he had brought us on the Death March in March. Everything was delicious - the food, the beer, the fire, the company. My GPS told me Iíd walked something over 36 miles that day.

Eventually, the others came in, with Michael leading in most of the others to the fire and festivities. All were exhausted. Matt divulged his camel-like efficiency, earning the trail name Prius. Around 22:30, after most had gone to bed, Pringle and Turbo rolled in. After chatting with them, I made it into my sleeping bag just before midnight, only to be kept up by unease at the violent swaying of trees in the wind. Itís wondrous that more falling branches donít kill sleeping backpackersÖ

A chant to the tune of Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl (M-A-D-N-E-S-S) started the camp moving at 06:00. Prius decided his knee hurt too badly to continue, and he bailed, agreeing to meet Jenís crew for extraction. Turbo and Pringle rose eary and were on the trail as I gave the wakeup call at 06:00. Others began between 06:20 and 06:40, and I eventually walked off at 06:45. Before too long, I caught Sophie and Steve. Some confusion followed in Camp Roosevelt where there is a misleading orange blaze on a trail fork leading in the wrong direction (and the other blazes CCW are poor). Blue Blazes wandered up and down the road for a while searching for orange blazes, while apparently both EZBake and Steve passed right on through. When Sophie and I arrived, I noticed the misleading blaze down a left fork and led us in what was clearly the wrong direction for a while. Meanwhile, Hua found the trail without us seeing her. Sophieís eagle eyes got us back on track, but when I overtook Hua a short while later, she hadnít seen Steve, who I thought had been directly in front of usÖ strange. When at Edith Gap Sophie hadnít seen him behind, I believed he must have gotten turned around at that intersection himself, and then waited behind for Sophie. I ran back down to the camp, shouting but finding no one, then ran back up the hill, surely confusing a pair of snail-like day hikers as I passed them so fast. I tried to move fast to catch back up with everyone ahead, still thinking Steve was likely behind me and would spend some time walking in the dark later. I went up Kennedy Peak to try to get phone reception, but alas, all I got was a great view in the beautiful weather.

I hurried on, and after a mile or so, came across a little mandarin orange in the trail, which I knew Steve had left to let me know he was ahead! Swell! I steamed on, now knowing the whole train of hikers was ahead of me.

Joffrey Peters posted on

After catching Steve, Sophie, and Hua up, I had a noon break, enjoying a beer (thanks again LM folks!) and watching a lonely whisp of a cloud float past the golden leaves above, then stumbled on, tipsy from the alcohol which hit me especially hard as I was now dehydrated with low blood sugar. Nevermind, with 20 miles to go, I pushed on and overtook Turbo and Pringle, who thought EZBake must be behind themÖ but they had gotten off trail on a switchback heading up Kennedy Peak, letting EZBake sneak past without knowing it. It turns out that Steve had the same issue (indeed, I nearly took a step off there myself).

I essentially ran the 5 miles to Little Crease, arriving just as EZBake was about to leave. He hadnít seen Michael all day, and thought Turbo and Pringle must also be ahead of him. I let him know the order of people as I understood it, and he forged on. I had been out of water and dehydrated for miles, so I filled up, and stretched out to read a book while letting the bleach work on the water. In spite of my breaks, detours and extra mileage, I had netted 3.5 mph to this point, 25 miles into my day.

50 minutes later, Hua arrived, and quickly took off again, determined to finish before dark. 10 minutes or so later, Steve and Sophie arrived, and shortly after Pringle and Turbo arrived. After sitting around for over an hour, starting back up was tough, but 15 minutes of walking got me moving again. Steve and I took off to chase Hua, but soon bonked, and stopped for the magical Snickers + Vitamin I combination. The descent into Shawl Gap after a long day with lots of running did my knees no favors, but I found that moving faster felt better, so I took off.

The trail makers that designed the stretch of the MT from Shawl Gap to Elizabeth Furnace must have been tremendously drunk when they designed the trail. It seems to endlessly switch back and forth, even in gentle terrain, dropping very little elevation but gaining plenty of mileage. I had to finally stop and futz with my headlamp at Elizabeth Furnace. There I encountered Hua wandering around with her headlamp - she hadnít been able to spot the blaze to cross Fort Valley road, and was left wandering around for half an hour before I showed up. We got her set on the right trail, and I took off to the parking lot, where U-Turn graciously sat waiting for us, honking his car horn. My GPS gave me over 34 miles on the day thanks to my detours.

Hua was on my heels, and the others came in within a half hour. We were tired. We were hungry. Letting U-Turn to finally leave, we went to Jalisco in Front Royal to stuff our faces and get some much needed beer (and coffee).

Congratulations to all who finished. Many of you had never walked the loop, much less in this mad fashion. A 2.5 day loop was a bit gruesome, and I canít say that I recommend anyone try such a compressed schedule again.

This account is from my perspective - I would love to hear your thoughts on this madness also!

Joffrey Peters posted on

This trip was a little different from most that DCUL has done, and some lessons were learned. Here are a few of my observations:


[*]I didnít expect almost anyone to sign up for this trip. Itís madness. When the trip filled up and had folks on the waitlist. I was shockedÖ yíall are nuts.

[*]This is a lot of walking. To do it in good style (walking very little before dawn or after dark), one must essentially be able to walk 3 mph all day. That is very fast.

[*]EZBake cached water at Edinburgh Gap, and most made use of it. By downing about 1.5 liters of coffee/water the first morning before tanking up at Mudhole Gap with 3 liters, I was able to make it with about half a liter left to Big Run. If it were hotter than about 60 F, I doubt that would have been realistically possible.

[*]Short Mountain is awful. Prepare for it to take extra time. Donít do it in the dark. In fact, if you can avoid it, donít do it at all.

[*]Lighter is better. I donít think I could have done this trip (especially not with my extra out-and-backs and running to check in with people) if I didnít have a very light pack.

[*]Maps and route finding are necessary backpacking and outdoors skills. Iím happy that the level of endurance on the trip was so high, but itís much better for everyone if you donít get lost. If you donít see blazes every few hundred yards, or if you feel that somethingís amiss, stop and consider. Look backward, sometimes blazes are not on both sides of trees/rocks. Itís better to walk back to your last known blaze and see what happens from there than to forge ahead in the wrong direction. Pay attention. Really. Donít forget your maps. Look at the map before the trip. Look at the map during the trip. Look at it in camp, at intersections, with a fox, in a box. You get the picture; this is important.

[*]Snickers + Ibuprofen is a winning combination. Beerís pretty good too.

[*]Humans are amazing creatures. Tremendous perseverance, pain tolerance, and surprisingly good humor were demonstrated on this trip. There were really almost no complaints, when hobbled, Prius bailed in good form, and everyone else pushed through to the end. Somehow, some of us even managed to get some enjoyment out of this torture. Go figureÖ


So many thanks to Dave and Jen for bringing us unecessary, but totally welcome supplies, company, and cheer. It certainly brightened the trip, which otherwise might have given in to my dour continence and doom-filled speculations.

Dave MacLuskie posted on

An Ode to Short Mountain

by Dave MacLuskie

Your broken ridge line is covered

with the fossilized remains of crushed souls

I stagger across the remnants

as the happiness rips from my body

and falls away to age and harden

befouling the terrain for those who follow

I descend a broken and empty shell

staggering without hope

I'm left with the memory of what I was

when I had intact shoes, unbruised feet,

and joy

Maybe I will return one day

and look for the battered chunks of my soul

before they are lost and buried

beneath the rubble of those who follow

Michael Martin posted on

As a former teacher of composition, I, along with others in that trade, would refer to this poem as a "bleeder."

Somehow, it does capture the tone of the place.

Will posted on

Well done you beasts! Nice write up Joffrey, and great poem Dave. I can visualize all the suffering easily!

Matt Scharf posted on

Congratulations to Joffrey, Hua, Sophie, Michael, Steve, Dave, Trevor, and Mimi for finishing! You are champions of the highest order! I would add that Oreos and Vitamin I are also a powerful cure-all. When my knee really went berzerk on top of Kerns Mountain I thought it'd take me something like 4-8 hours to make it the final 4ish miles into Scothorn Gap; but 6 Oreos and 2 ibuprofen (ok, and probably a lot of adrenaline, cortisol, and endorphin) got me back up to more or less normal pace rather quickly.

Joffrey Peters posted on

Matt! if your knee hurts that badly, take the full dose of Vit. I... don't pansy around with two. Jeez.

And thanks for the poem, Dave, it made my morning.

/Beast Mode

Michael Martin posted on

The Massanutten Trail is special to DC UL. Years ago, when I had just joined the group, and Evan was transcending to the sphere of ultra-lightness, I remember seeing the announcement for the very first 71-miler and thinking, "Whaaaaat?" Completing the MT has always stood for us as a test of UL backpacking meddle. Since Evan's day, I've done the trip myself three times in various permutations, and I think it's true, to give EZBake's lyrics a more postive spin, that we've left chunks of our soul on various stretches.

But I hadn't done it in 2+ days, a feat that Evan, Max, and Mark accomplished in 2012. I remember that weekend well. I was not ready to attempt such a thing, and I was relieved to be signed up for the GW Parkway Classic so I had a good excuse (I did set a PR). I day-hiked the Saturday before and, from the Shenandoah, watched the weather roll in on them. Saturday was hypothermia weather ... in Alexandria! They got hammered in the mountains, but finished in 48h. Very high style indeed.

So, it was with thoughts of challenging this lofty bar that I left my car at 5:15pm, at the Signal Knob parking lot, and headed CCW on the MT to meet everyone else at the Strasburg Reservoir. It was a beautiful night; I enjoyed the last rays of light from Signal Knob with a beer in hand; then reached the others about 7:30pm. We celebrated Blue Blaze's birthday; some very small boys with very large packs wandered by; and I rescued Beast Mode and Prius from wandering past the reservoir.

After cowboy-camping that night, I set off with others set off down the trail at dawn. There was a little snafu about the water. Beastmode wanted to drink from a muddy puddle, but I wouldn't let him. I did make a slight ... misjudgment about a nice piped spring, however, which cost Beast, moi, and Prius about 20 minutes. But it did get us an extra mile!

Past Mudhole Gap, I soldiered on. My mood was grey. I was irritated about the water situation. My feet already hurt (I should toss out some of these old shoes I have). I started to wonder why I was doing this. Post-HAPE, I haven't felt myself, always. I've felt less hungry. I used to know that when the situation got really miserable that was when something came out in me that likes being there, that wouldn't want to be anywhere else. That edge has seemed missing. I've put on a few pounds, gotten divorced (again), finished a few books ... in short, I've fucking aged. I actually comtemplated just turning around and going back to my car. I passed the long stretch between Woodstock and Edinburgh Gaps. Two years ago, here, Shamrock and I urged each other on, headed north, at mad speed, to catch the rest of the group as the light dwindled. Talk about chunks of soul. My spirit buoyed as I reached Edinburgh Gap, just 10 minutes behind.

I didn't kill myself on Short Mountain. Its soul-sapping character is well-known to me, so I just tried to weather it. When I came out on the other side, Prius and I took another break. I took a caffeine pill with my vitamin I. Boy, I was ready for some hikin' now! We climbed Jawbone Gap, discussing Himalayan disasters. On the next ridge we came upon Steve and Sophie. Prius vanished just as the light beamed down from the heavens. Was he "Taken"? I waited for him at Crisman Hollow Road. We discussed his knee. He pressed on in the sunset, dropping down Waterfall--no joke on a bum knee.

The four of us climbed slowly to Scothorn Gap. This little climb is no fun at all after 30+ miles, in the dark. But I felt in my element again, my HAPE demons exo(e)rcised. (Those motherfuckers are doing jumping jacks!) Sophie uttered one of the better lines of the trip as I kept urging her to walk a little farther: "May God help me!" We happened upon Blue Blazes in the intersection. We strolled into camp together, where Beastmode and EZBake were waiting.

Camp. Beer. Hot food. Fire. Shuttle. Trailstar. Eight hours of sleep. It's all a blur, really, but this campsite is bringing tears of joy to my eye, even now.

Sunday morning, Beast was doing some sort of Gregorian chant. I sprung up and didn't feel too bad. I resolved to attack. If I'm going to be out, I needed to go for the record, and Beast Mode was the leader anyway. Shuttle was nice enough to make me a cup of coffee. I left camp at 6:20am, only Pringle and Turbo ahead of me.

Blue Blazes caught me in Duncan Hollow in the chilly dawn and we traded leads, chatting. She stopped to get water and I pressed on. Somehow, I made my saving throw versus the spell of [i]mass confusion [/i]that an evil sorcerer had placed on Edith Gap. I saw Pringle and Turbo there, and showed them the way. They fell off on the climb up Kennedy: I understand there was a problem with a switchback. On top of Kennedy, I took one of my two 10-minute breaks for the day. I ate a caffeine pill ...

... And was transformed into a snarling bolt of pitiless forward motion charging north along that ridgeline ...

The caffeine pill wore off somewhere between Milford Gap and where the Tuscarora Trail comes in. I staggered into Little Crease, badly needing a break and water, as well as the application of certain healing balms. It was around 2:15pm. I was a little worried about the others. I'm fast, but I'm not that fast--I would've thought someone would have reeled me in. I feared that there was a legitimate injury on the trail behind me, but calculated that I would be most useful once I reached my car. Onward.

2:25pm. 8 miles to go. Pain manageable. I managed to climb aggressively out of Veach Gap, and I think I reached Shawl Gap at about 4:17pm. 2 miles to go to Elizabeth Furnace, but then there is a little more. That stretch does take longer than you'd think. There is a shortcut that goes straight down the mountain (these things tempt me), but I wasn't going to Rosie Ruiz it. I think my clock ticked over as I got to Elizabeth Furnace.

Not discontent, however, I reached my car at 5:35pm. I had run my race, left it on the trail, and knew it was a good time. What bliss to remove my shoes and drink a beer. EzBake pulled in maybe 30 minutes later and gave me news of the others. He headed home. I waited. Beast Mode pulled in about 7:30pm, all the others by 8pm. I congratulated them all, but skipped Jalisco's. Shuttle was bringing me dinner and more ibuprofen, and I wanted to get home.

Chapeau to all those who have finished this monster! It is a chapter in our ongoing saga of misjudgement. Special thanks to Dave Shook and Shuttle and her crew, who really made Saturday evening a campsite to remember.