I had been wanting to find a time this year to cross paths with AT thru-hikers and deliver a little trail magic. An open weekend in June happened to line up perfectly with thru-hiker season in Shenandoah and it seemed like a good place to set up a shuttle hike.
On my way to Vienna I got word from Marika that she was running late due to a power outage at her building. We determined it would be better to meet her at the end of our shuttle. While Karan and I waited for Joe, we bumped into the packraft crew who tried to convince us to join. Tempting as it was, we resisted. Joe showed up a few minutes later and rolled out of Vienna.
After entering SNP, we stopped at the visitor's center to fill out our permit. The ranger was not too happy to give us permits to stay at one of the huts. "You know what the huts are for, don't you? They're for thru-hikers." I assured him that we'd defer to the thru-hikers. He seemed to be an equal opportunity skeptic and complained about thru-hikers creating nonregulation campsites as he explained all of the SNP camping rules to us. Permit in hand, we drove own Skyline to meet Marika at Skyland. We had been planning to stop at Little Stony Man parking lot 1.5 miles before but the full lot forced us down a little further.
We left Marika's car at Skyland and drove back to Little Hogback parking lot and loaded up our packs with goodies. Between the four of us, we had 24 beers and a whole host of Little Debbie's: oatmeal cream pies, cosmic brownies and nutty bars. We got underway hiking at 11:30. It was hot but not quite as bad as I thought it would be with 90 degree temperatures predicted. The miles passed quickly and I joked with Joe that Karan was going to be left carrying his 12 pack because we'd get to the thru-hikers first. We passed a few hikers with large packs, but Joe and I were not warmed up enough to accost our fellow hikers and offer them beer yet.
A few miles in I thought I smelled grease and minutes later, Joe and I rolled up on Elkwallow Wayside where we planned to stop for lunch. Blackberry milkshakes, grilled cheeses and fries in hand, we waited for Marika and Karan. Clouds rolled in and I thought it might rain but eventually the skies cleared. Before we left the wayside, Marika unloaded much of her goodies on a thankful, hungry looking bunch. Karan told us he had already given away some beer to a few of the hikers we passed. Joe and I resolved to be better about lightening our own packs.
We did much better in the next four mile section. We came across a serial thru-hiker I had met this winter. I didn't recognize him at first but his trail name (Jester) jogged my memory. By the time we crossed Skyline drive again 8 miles in, I was hot and thirsty. Joe and I sat down for a break near a parking lot and confused some thru-hikers looking for the trail. We coaxed one over to us and offered him a beer. He took us up on it and stopped to talk for a bit. While we were there, I man pulled up and offered us cold sodas. A little trail magic for the trail angels! It was just what we had been dreaming of. Karan showed up a little bit later with word about all of the hikers he had gifted beer to. Then we saw Marika, who nearly stepped on a well-hidden rattlesnake. After a minute, Marika regained her calm and we all continued a few more miles to Pass Mountain Hut.
We found enough space to set up our tents and put our remaining beers in the pool under the spring to cool. They were refrigerator temperature within 30-40 mins. The thru-hikers were definitely happy to partake. The four of us even each got a hug from and older, shirtless hiker who could barely believe his luck. During the evening we talked about the trail and told the other hikers about DC UL. Some of the locals were very interested. We all retired around hiker midnight.
In the morning, most of us were moving before the wake up call thanks to the sun. We were on the trail by 7:30am. As we crossed Skyline near Thornton Gap, Joe called out that he saw a bear crossing the road back the other way. Karan and I were seconds too early but we joked that Mairka might get to see it. After Thornton, the trail started climbing, not steeply, but steadily for the next 1.5 miles. With the morning humidity, we were soaked by the time we made it to the top. We had the chance to dry off while hanging out at Mary's Rock. It was certainly a nice place for it. A little while later, Marika showed up. "Did you get my text?" she asked. I hadn't. She went on to recount how at the bottom of the trail she was stopped in her tracks by two bears who didn't particularly care to get out of her way, despite her attempts to scare them off with noise. After a while, they moved on and she was able to pass.
We had a brief gear emergency when the poles I had left to mark the turnoff of Mary's Rock disappeared. Luckily Karan found the culprit- a teenage girl within a group of 20 or so others who did not look very happy to be hiking that muggy morning.
The rest of the morning passed peacefully, easy walking until we climbed up to Little Stony Man and then Stony Man-which we found crowded with young families. Joe, Karan and I hung out there for a while before descending back to the fork to try to intercept Marika. Unluckily for us, Marika had already passed and made her way to the parking lot. Not knowing this, I decided to walk back towards Little Stony Man, while Joe went to the parking lot. When I was almost a mile out, a text finally came through from Marika that she had bypassed Stony Man and made it to the parking lot. I headed back but was intercepted by Karan who said Marika and Joe were driving to meet us at the Little Stony Man parking. We made a stop for another blackberry milkshake on our way out, prompting us all to feel like we had consumed more calories than we burned that weekend.
Altogether, this was an very enjoyable trip. Thanks to Joe, Marika and Karan for coming out.
Nice trip report! Can you get a screen shot of Marika's texts about the bears?
Summed up beautifully Kylie. Thanks again for organizing this trip.
Here you go, Michael!
Ha ... I was hoping for more drama! Marika has been complaining about not seeing bears for some time.