LM: Northern Shenandoah - Feb 2016 - (Little Devil Stairs + Overall Run)

Posted by Andrew L. on

B.A., a.k.a. the Backpacking Animal, set-up a LM trip to kick off spring. While we didn't end up getting some of the applicants out of hibernation, we did get going with the swing of spring.

Mel, B.A., Jeff and I met up at Centreville at 8:15. Centreville is close to where Mel lives and as of two days before the trip, it was just three of us. Mel's dog Buddy didn't join us though, as he apparently doesn't like hiking on a leash that much. I can't blame the dog, as I don't like being short roped by rock climbing guides unless it's really dangerous terrain. Hopefully Buddy enjoyed his time playing with the Chihuahua down the street.

Given that Mel doesn't have a trail name yet, I think that this is an appropriate place to lobby for "Buddy's buddy" as her trail name. I'll admit to remember the names of people's dogs better than their owners and Buddy is an easy dog name to remember, as I bet a wag of the tail would sink it in visually. "Hailey's mom" is apparently a good trail name, so it's totally within reason. We're still working on a trail name for Jeff though, as "Gainfully employed English major" isn't that hiking related even if it is unusual.

Backpacking in Shenandoah has some quirks, thus DC UL often shoots for GWNF instead. While most trip leaders are aware of them, I'll briefly go over them so as to remind folks. These quirks are:



[*]mandatory bear hangs

[*]no open fires


First, we had to drive to the entrance station on the North end of Skyline drive to get a permit on the way out there, as there isn't a permit station at the Little Devil Stairs trailhead.


shows your options for where to grab a permit. As is, it probably only added 20 minutes to the drive for us. The total drive from Centreville to the trailhead with the stop was only 1:15, which was vastly better than some of the 3+ hour trips that we have been doing.

Second, bear bagging or bear canistering is mandatory in SNP. Naturally, we ended up hanging our food as even the lightest bear canister is nowhere near as light as cordage and a bag. We found a good tree near the trail to with a reasonable branch to hang it from. While we got both of the bags a good ways up there, I think that I made a mistake in tying off the cordage to the same tree that we hung it from. I hung one of the bags with the intention of pulling it part of the way further out to a second tree. Furthermore, if a bear had climbed the main trunk to get closer to the smell, the bear would likely have cut the cordage, thus defeating the hang. IMHO, the cordage would find the claws to be un-bear-able.

Andrew L. posted on

Third, unless you're at an AT shelter or the campground, you can't have an open fire. Since some previous folks had formed a small fire ring anyways, we had an imaginary campfire Saturday evening. We baked an imaginary pie on our imaginary campfire. Our feet didn't seem to get too warm by the imaginary fire, but we might have needed to try

harder or bother to put on our booties. Around 7:40, we decided that we could do the imagining in our sleeping bags instead and headed off for a full night of sleep.

While not particular to Shenandoah, there seemed to be a lot of dead trees. I guess it's some boring insect or something. Google could probably tell you. On Saturday, I looked at a number of places to camp near our chosen pre-existing campsite, but most had large dead standing trees. So I went for one that had one 8" dead standing tree which I estimated would fall in the other direction. Jeff went for a spot with a 3-4" branch hanging over it that looked dead to me, but it would only have caused injury if it had fallen instead of death. It also could have just been dormant. Mel was about 5 feet from where I was, but I think also out of the likely fall path of the dead tree. After this exercise in frustration, I checked out pretty much every established campsite that we passed for the rest of the trip and every one that I saw had at least one large dead standing tree on one side of the clearing. Maybe the additional difference in SNP is that backpackers can't cut down the standing dead trees for firewood.

As for the hiking, it went pretty much to plan. There was ice covering some of the rocks in the stream on Little Devil Stairs, which made it more challenging than normal. While all of the creeks were running high, it wasn't raining, so nothing was un-crossable. We took a slightly shorter way into camp on the first day, so we reached it at 2:30pm. After setting up camp, we did an out and back on the Tuscarora trail to pass the time. We passed a nice swimming hole or two on Overall Run near where it intersects the Tuscarora. It's fairly close to an accessible trailhead for better or worse.

I find the light on the scenery to be the most interesting close to sunrise and sunset. DC UL is good about about catching many of these on the trail.

Andrew L. posted on

For the hiking coming back to the car, the stream crossings on the Piney Branch trail got trickier as we went lower on the stream. By the second to last crossing, B.A. decided to ford it half of the way though. Mel and Jeff went for a wider ford further down stream which was shallower. I crossed on a log upstream, but the log was obviously rotten, so while it worked, it could have been a much wetter experience than the shallow ford. The last crossing was a half mile or so downstream after a confluence, so we were stuck fording it. As the temperatures were in the upper 50s by then, the ford didn't feel bad.

As for the wildlife that we saw, there seemed to be vulture party on a dead deer near the side of the road on I-66. There were the usual collections of birds and squirls. There was an owl that was hooting early in the morning on Sunday before we got up. We saw three deer near the trail on Sunday, but they scurried off when we got within 60 feet. For SNP, that's still pretty far off. My guess is that a lot of the deer are at lower elevations if the plants start growing earlier in the season down there.

Finally, we saw a skunk on the trail. It was around 10 am when we saw the skunk, which seemed a bit late in the day for a creature that's actively primarily around twilight. We were glad that it was slowly heading off the trail, so we gave it time to move on lest we get sprayed.

We had some winter views during the trip, despite the spring like temperatures. The highlight for me was seeing the ice on the waterfall at the top of Overall run.

Overall, it was a relaxing eventing. "Only" doing 26 miles left a lot of time to enjoy the views. Thanks to B.A. for leading the trip and driving.

-Andrew (Camel)

Karan posted on

Thanks for the trip report, Camel. I like Buddy's Buddy, by the way.

I think you captured everything well from the trip. I always enjoy climbing up Little Devil's Stairs - it gives you a good mixture of rock scramble, climbing up a stream and a fairly steep climb - so a good, fun challenge. I also enjoyed hiking down Piney Branch Trail - the gradual downhill grade together with the sound of streams gushing on our right made it very pleasant. It was nice to have an all-sunny weather this weekend.