Trip Report: Tour de Northern Shenandoah, 12/4/-12/6/15

Posted by Michael Martin on

All right, so I'm a little behind with trip reports. Sorry, busy week. Let me scribble this out, as I do find that I refer to these things from time to time, and it ticks me off when they're not there.

So, Friday, 12/4, mid-morning, Shuttle, Blizzard, Blue Blazes, Mark, and the Baconator gather at Vienna. We head out to Shenandoah, figuring that we can avoid hunting season by heading to the park, and I'm eager to reprise the northern Shenandoah loop that I did in May of 2014, when I was working on the second book.

We drive to the north gate to pick up a backcountry pass, then leave the park again to drive to the parking lot for Little Devils Stairs. Queen Bee is waiting for us there, so we saddle up, and begin the climb up. The weather is warm--all the way to the 50s. There's much more water flowing in the creeks than there would normally be this time of year. That would be a theme for this trip, as it turned out. We encounter a couple headed down. They've come from Skyline Drive and seem weirded out by the rocks. The man is astonished that we're spending the night out.

We gather at four corners. Shuttle saw a man napping in the woods and thought he might be dead, but he rolled over and scratched his belly. So, not dead yet. From four corners, we proceed straight and eventually join up with the AT right by Skyline Drive. We descend on the Tuscarora Trail to Overall Run. The falls are roaring and the sun is setting--we enjoy an excellent photographic moment. Blue Blazes takes some good photos of me. The light of day vanishes as we reach the valley's floor, and the temperature quickly dips. I was correct that there were a few campsites beyond where the TT peels right, on the Beecher Ridge Connector Trail, but they weren't exactly where I thought. We nevertheless find a fairly good site, after about 10 miles of backpacking. We make dinner, and set up a trail blaze to let the Whisky Fairy know where we are. We settle in for a long night--with no fire, it's a somber camp. Oh well, at least we have mulled wine. Shuttle and I cowboy camp, Friday night and Saturday night, as there is little chance of precipitation.

The Whisky Fairy comes in from Thompson Hollow and finds our camp easily enough. He quizzes Mark, who informs him that I am sleeping "at his toes." Awkward. I pass a very fitful night as my back is bothering me--it seems that my inflatable pillow is on its last days.

We're up at 7am and moving 8am. Queen Bee leaves us at Beecher Ridge, as she has a party to attend. We regroup in Heiskell Hollow, then begin the long climb to Mathews Arms, chatting about sequels, Rocky, Star Wars, Star Trek. The Whisky Fairy wows us with his latest break up story, which is a doosy. We head south on the Knob Mountain Trail. Mark decides that he should take the cut off for a shorter day, and we consult on the evening's campsite. The rest of us climb to the sumit of Knob Mountain and break for lunch at its summit. The weather is in no way, shape, or form, cold.

A long descent takes us to Jeremys Run, where a more formidable crossing than normal awaits us. We are glad that my route does not take us up the run. Instead, we climb Neighbor Mountain, which is new to me, or at least I cannot recollect climbing it. The Whisky Fairy takes off. Blue Blazes and I trot along behind, enjoying the views westward and basking in the afternoon sunlight, which feels rich and luxorious. A dog tries to eat us at the top, but we escape, and regroup at the AT in the twilight.

The six of us continue to Byrds Nest, hike the forest road down to Skyline Drive, then descend in the dark along Old Hull School Trail. The Baconator and I discuss all the things that can go wrong while leading hikes. We have lots of good stories.

At last, at 6:30pm, we reach the near side of Thornton River, where Blue Blazes was perfectly correct--there is a great site. But Mark has approached from the other side and is pitched over there. So, one more crossing--the toughest yet and in the dark. Shuttle's head lamp is all but gone. There is some grumbling, but we get 'er done. If we didn't do it at night, we'd have to do it in the morning. I think Blizzard was especially wrathful about that last crossing.

That was about a 17.5 mile day.

Another cold camp follows. We laugh about, how, if we had started a fire, the Big Cheese would jump from the bushes, shouting " Touche, mon ami!" Once again, my back hurts in the wee hours. Once again, we have a weird temperature night where the water condenses early in the night, and then it turns to ice. Lots of ice atop the sleeping bags.

But dawn comes and we are soon knocking out the final miles along the Old Hull School trail. There is some rolling terrain, a few crossings, but we reach the Keyser Run Fire Road and the cemetary in short order, and then the cars. Only 3-4 miles remaining. About 31 miles for the trip, quite a lot of gain, I reckon.

We fire up the engines, pick up the Whisky Fairy's car in Thompson Hollow and celebrate at Jalisco's.

A great weekend, and a nice peaceful tour of the North District! In particular, I'm glad we added Neighbor Mountain to our repertoire! Thanks, everyone, for coming along.


Hua Davis posted on

Can we do this hike once a month [:D]

Karan posted on

Nice trip report! Whisky Fairy - That's an awesome trail name. Can we modify it to Whisky Trail Fairy so in short it becomes WTF? (Which could also mean Where's the firewater?) :P