The weather report stood in stark contrast to the historical average temps for mid-December in Shenandoah - so we left behind our heavy winter gear and set out from Vienna Metro in 3-season conditions. We found Trisha wandering the Park n’ Ride, having missed her connection for the Old Rag trip. She climbed aboard with GQ, Radiance, Keith, Hannah, Rene, Melissa, Emilie, Marika, and myself. We headed west.
After the requisite stop at Sheetz, we picked up a permit at Swift Mountain Gap, then completed the curvy mountain drive up to Loft Mountain Wayside. We were geared up and headed east along the Frazier Discovery Trail in short order. After a short but steep climb, we reached the ridgeline and headed south on the AT. We had a nice view immediately to the west of the Big Run gorge.
The AT was all soft pine needles, and made for fast walking. But we took a few snack breaks and just enjoyed the absurdly nice weather. It must have been above 70 already, and we all had a slight sweat going on. Everyone who wasn’t already in shorts had converted to them by this point, or was wishing they could. Many pant legs were rolled up.
This winter backpacking is just rough.
After crossing Skyline drive a little after noon, we turned off the AT and headed northwest on Rockytop Trail. The trail is aptly named, as we were soon rolling our ankles on rocks hidden under the carpet of leaves. But the rock strewn ridge did have one advantage, an almost constant view to the west of the open valley and the Massanuttens through the leaf-free trees.
We passed the turn for Lewis Peak, and I completely forgot to suggest people make the short out and back jaunt to the top. Sorry guys!
Before long it was time to descend down to Big Run itself, and the very large metal bridge across it. Jimmy already had camp well in hand when the last of us arrived, with shelters scattered about in any available space. The consensus was about 13.5 miles for the day.
We congregated near the bridge at the trail intersection with Brown Mountain Run which had the only open flat space that wasn’t full of mud. Bear lines were hung, though it took me several embarrassing minutes to nail the throw. After Roan Highlands I prefer my food hang well out of bear-arm reach!
Sadly, in Shenandoah fires are verboten, so I produced a tiny LED lantern for some dinner ambiance. The conversation that night was full of hilarious exchanges and the usual swapping of war-stories The stars came out in a crystal clear sky as we discussed the merits of isobutane and alcohol stoves.
With no fire to enjoy, we retired very early - settling in for a solid 10 hours of sleep. So we at least still experienced that part of winter backpacking.
The next morning, we were up and moving just a little before 8am south on Big Run Portal Trail. We had the joy of several stream crossings in 40 degree water. If we weren’t awake before, we certainly were after!
Radiance was the only one brave (or crazy) enough to follow me through the deepest stream crossings! Never follow the tall people!
Eventually we turned away from Big Run and made our climb up and out on Patterson Ridge Trail, another ridgeline walk that in spring would offer no views at all! We were once again warm in no time as we climbed, taking down one false summit after another. Before long the trail deposited us on Skyline Drive within throwing distance of our cars.
Hannah and Rene made an early departure with Melissa in her car, while the rest of us made a beeline for Blue Ridge Cafe and hot juicy burgers. The traditional overeating post-trip was completed with gusto.
Thanks to all for a great outing! I hope to see you all on the trail again soon.
Great stuff Will! Onto the next trip!
Great report, Will, thanks! MM
Sounds like you guys had a ton of fun.. Enjoyed reading the trip report - Thanks Will!