Rain began to fall lightly on the leaves and the sky darkened. It wasn’t wet or cold enough to warrant a shell. I surveyed Big Run Portal from Furnace Mountain alone, because the rest of the group was still making their way up the trail and our rain plan called for skipping the side trail to the summit. Unfortunately, the bit of rain started while I was already at the top of Furnace Mountain. This has always been my most beloved part of Shenandoah National Park. It feels so far from Skyline Drive and its associated highway of hikers. My mind wandered back to years of hiking these same trails. In peak foliage season the rolling ridges appeared in rich copper and bronze tones beneath the cloudy sky. I strode back to the trail and the group, meeting George en route to the summit and he agreed to go his separate way from the group, as his car was nearby and he had hiked an extra morning the day before. I was a bit sad that I didn’t get to chat more about gear and the trail with George (whom I would love to trail designate Radagast for his wise and woodsy persona, as well as his penchant for joining the group part of the time but also being on his own adventure).
When I returned to the main trail, Dave, Kevin, Christy, and Irina were waiting for me, and I could guess what was about to come next. Most of the group seemed happy to bail on the final loop of the hike and take a shorter, alternate route back to our cars. Irina was banged up a bit from the rocky final descent from Austin Mountain the night before. While Irina (aka Storm) had used her powers to prevent the rain from actually coming down hard, as well as giving us a very warm night in the valley, it wasn’t truly sunny either. Right before thinking about ways to cheer up the group and encourage some strength to do our original proposed miles I realized that if we went back now, I could probably catch some of the Patriots-Jets game (and oh boy did I). I smiled and we walked back up and out of the woods through Blackrock summit, which became an impromptu Star Wars party, complete with walking music from the Empire Strikes Back. Looks like we all had December 17 and the new premiere on our minds, even in the middle of the forest. And a lovely lunch waiting for us at the Madison Inn restaurant.
The morning before we assembled with two other DC UL groups and the Capital Hiking Club at the surprisingly crowded Vienna Metro parking lot and headed out for Shenandoah National Park and our rendezvous with George and Dave. With the minor hiccup of Jordan letting us know at 8:19 a.m. that he wouldn’t make it, we were on the trail around 11:30 a.m. and off on our autumn wonderland adventure on gorgeous Brown Mountain. We meandered through our trails and circumnavigated Big Run over scree and ridge. Before crossing Big Run itself, we heard metallic clanging and American Indian-like whooping from our descent. I was tickled pink and hoping for a great Monty Python moment when we got to the bridge over the stream and saw a lone guy sitting at the far end and staring at us. I immediately said, “If you ask us what our favorite color is, I’m going to lose my sh!t.” He didn’t get it and just smiled. The rest of us his group were laughing and playing near the water. We went on and up Rockytop Mountain and along gorgeous Austin Mountain before descending for our campsite. Initially it didn’t look very hospitable in the Madison Run valley and my worst SNP camping fears were about to come true. We regrouped and walked down the fire road a bit. Dave spotted a lovely campsite that worked perfectly for the evening. With the creak next to us, our shelters up, the bear bags hung, the whiskey out, and dinner started, Christy graciously let use her bivy-couch area as our living and dining room for the evening. Several of us (me included) brought entirely too much down and winter stuff on the trip. We had a perfectly warm evening in the valley and then completed our day hiking up Furnace Mountain the following morning. Shorter than planned, the weekend still scratched our itch (and pleased our cameras) as a great October peak foliage getaway! Oh, and the classic hits on the radio made the ride there and back that much better. “Love Train . . .”
In addition to Star Wars let's not forget the DC UL LOTR-costumed hike. I'd be lying if I said I didn't see how close I could get to an Aragorn costume with stuff I have at home.
Also, I'm not sure what is going on in that last photo of Christy, Irinia, and Evan, but I like to think they are arguing about whether Christy is wearing lifts or not.
Ha ha ha!
...special UL hiking stilts, actually....