Sitting around just thinking about it, I had realized that I’ve never hiked to Strickler or Duncan Knobs during warm weather. What was it like to be on top of Strickler Knob without freezing to death? I’ve done this hike 5 times now, but it’s always been in cold weather. Why? Haha. Well, to answer this question and the fact that a “LM” trip was needed in the mist of all the “VMO” trips that were planned, I decided to plan a nice warm weekend trip to visit Strickler and Duncan Knobs.
Saturday morning quickly rolled around and the entire crew met at the Vienna Metro. With our car pools situated, we headed off to the trail head thats located just south of Strickler Knob, along Rt. 211 in Luray, VA. Madeleine drove separately as she only planned to do a day hike with us. Two hours later, we arrived, gathered our gear, went over the map, and started our hike along the fire road taking us toward the white blazed Massanutten Connector Trail. I was immediately amazed to see how overgrown the fire road was! The grass was up to our waist and the path through was narrow. This made traveling a little slower and while walking through this, I always thought this in my head: “Hmm, this would be a nice place hang out if I was a deadly snake or a disease carrying tick.” Anyways, hiking on, I was also quickly reminded why I only do this trip when the weather is cooler. It hit all of us pretty hard that the weather was super hot and humid. It was DC humid! Even up here in the Shenandoah Valley. Not even a mile passed and we were all dripping and soaked in sweat. Well, regardless still, I was out on the trail and happy!
Overgrown fire road.
Just under 2 miles later, we arrived where the Connector Trail meets the Massanutten Trail. We took a brief moment to cool down here, but with the promise of a cool water source aproaching, we quickly headed northbound on the orange blazed Massanutten Trail. Once we got to the creek, I reminded everyone that this would be the last water source that we would most likely encounter until Sunday. Dave M. reported to me a month ago that when he and his daughter hiked this trip, the creek located just below camp was dry. It was nice to hang out here for a moment to cool down. At this point the temps were in the 90s.
With our packs heavy with all the water we were carrying, we were ready to continue northbound up towards Strickler Knob. At this point, I noticed one of the hikers were showing symptoms of heat stroke. Luckily, Madeleine was only doing a day hike and when she and I both saw that the symptoms were getting worse, she offered to take the person back to the car to get proper treatment. This quickly reminded me of the dangers that are there when hiking in hot weather. Especially in our ridiculous hot and humid DC climate! We all harp about the dangers of winter backpacking but I think we should also do the same for the summer as well.
After dealing with the situation, I caught up to Will and Joan where the Massanutten intersects with the Scothorn Gap Trail. The rest of the group had continued on. After briefing them of the situation, we started our ascent to meet the rest of the group at Strickler Knob.
Getting close to Strickler!
About half a mile later, we were on top of the ridge and followed the purple blazed spur trail that heads out to the knob itself. At this point, we were starting to hear the thunderstorms that were hitting the region just to the west of us. We took it as warning sign that we would be hit by the forecasted thunderstorms soon. I had hoped to take a long lunch break at the knob but with the impending heavy storms, I just wanted to hike the .7 miles to the knob and back as quickly as I could. All that was on my mind, and maybe the others, was to get to camp before the storm hit. Will and I blazed through the rocky .7 miles, so fast in fact, we passed by the rest of the group without even knowing it. At least I didn’t. I realized this when we got to the Knob, and the only person there was Dan.
Standing on the top of Strickler Knob always offers me new views every time I come here. Usually, I come here to see the beautiful sunsets, but that day offered some pretty neat views of the storms surrounding us. Well, not wasting too much time here, Will and I grabbed some quick shots and headed back down towards the Massanutten Trail. Along our way, we passed the rest of the group who were heading to the knob. Shortly after, we regrouped at the trail junction. At this point, we were all happily surprised that the storm that we had heard before just missed us to the north west. Matter of fact, the weather started to clear and for a moment there were nothing but clear skies. Still, with more on the way (thanks to the weather app on my phone), we quickly hit the trail, still determined to beat the storms to camp.
Will catching some views from Strickler Knob.
Watching a storm passing us to the west.
From the spur trail, the trail slowly descends down onto the east side of the ridge. Just like the fire road that we walked earlier, the trail was very overgrown with high grass, just add thorny bushes.
Whenever I hike this portion of the Massanutten, I don’t know why, but it always makes me think of the people that hike the “Death March” (71 mile loop of the Massanutten Trail in 2.5 days) in the years prior. Amazing and kudos to all of you! Anyways, after two more miles of rocky, thorny, muddy trail, we were at the junction of the blue blazed connector trail that leads up to the saddle of Duncan Knob. At this junction, just to the right (east) is a small flowing creek. During the hotter, drier months, its usually dry or contains stagnant pools of water. To my surprise it was flowing quite well. We all took advantage of this. Also, just across this creek is a small campsite that could fit approximately 4-6 shelters.
After topping off on water, we turned left off of the Massanutten and made the steep, .5 mile climb up to the saddle. By the time I got to the top and to the camp site, I think I sweat about three liters of water away! 700 feet, in half a mile, with temps in the 90s surely whooped me good! I was sure glad to be at camp to cool down and bonus, we beat the storms in! Also, to my surprise, we were all greeted with a campfire all ready to go all that was set up by Dan (who arrived at camp well before us)! What a guy!
While the others were choosing their respective areas to set up camp, I realized I had done something that I’ve never done before: forget tent stakes. What a rookie mistake!!! Luckily, I attended one of our DC UL trips that was conducted last September where we did a “Disaster Scenario” trip. We simulated things that could possibly go wrong on backpacking trips. Guess what mine was?! “You get to camp and realize that you forget your tent stakes! What do you do?!” Well, instead of knife carving five stakes out of sticks, the others graciously offered up their extra stakes! Thanks guys!
With the safety of our shelters all set up, we gathered around the campfire to cook dinner and eat. It was now around 6:30pm and we still didn’t get hit by the storms. After all, the forecast was predicting for the downpours to start at 5pm. Luckily for us, the first wave of storms missed us directly to the east and west of us! This gave us some time to hang around the fire to relax a bit without getting drenched. It was nice! We even had an entire bottle of Merlot to pass around (thanks to Seb)! This was a little short lived as the second wave came at around 8pm. This time, there was no missing us. Ma Nature was telling us to go to bed. Thank god for podcasts!
It was definitely a long night as most of us slept intermittently with the heavy downpours and winds constantly waking us. It was raining so hard that I had dreams that a flash flood would come and wash me away! The morning finally came, and with it brought beautiful clear skies. We broke camp early and by around 7:30, we headed up the spur trail that leads to the top of Duncan Knob. After the fun rock scramble, we climbed on to the knob itself and took the time to take in the views and to get some pictures.
Starting our scramble up these rocks.
Catching our views from the top of Duncan Knob.
Shortly after, we climbed back down to camp and packed up the rest of our gear. We then headed down the blue blazed connector trail on the west side of the ridge for about half mile and turned left (south) down the Scothorn Gap Trail. I find this trail very beautiful as it passes through a dense forrest filled with tall trees. It also offers a sense of peacefulness and serenity as the surrounding trees act as insulation from the sounds coming from the valley below.
After being on this trail for two miles or so, we came back to the intersection of the Massanutten Trail where we were the day before (going left would lead you back up to Strickler Knob). From here on we retraced our steps from the day before and by around noon, we were back to the cars. With food on all our minds, we quickly packed the cars, and headed for Uncle Buck’s in downtown Luray.
Thanks to Will, for helping me lead this one, and to Joan, Phil, Seb, Shayne, Dan, Paula, and Betsy for being such great company. Madeleine, you are a true savior!!
Great trip report! The weekend was superb despite the heat. I was amazed as well by the contrast with the last time I walked here when things were dry and stark.
Great report Jimmy! and glad the disaster training paid off! envious that I couldn't join the trip, but glad that the photo report is out there to virtually join :)