The primary goal for this trip (besides getting outside on a really nice March weekend) was to offer a challenging 20 mile day for members looking to become veteran members for the pending Massanutten trip. Given the degree of difficulty that Massanutten presents I felt that a similarly degree of difficulty was warranted, hence "Twenty the hard way".
The first challenge was setting up the shuttle. While the AT crossing at Route 56 and Hog Camp Gap are less than 20 miles apart as the crow flies, it's about an hour drive given the limited roads through the area. To avoid extending the already late night start and get in a few bonus miles, Will, Stuart, and I met at Hog Camp Gap at 10am Friday morning. This left two Foresters to reverse the shuttle, allowing the rest of the group to meet us at Route 56. The road to the gap - Wiggins Spring Rd - was in pretty good condition. The ruts were filled with gravel and it showed signs of being graded recently.
We happened to run into Jimmy and Genevieve introducing their pup Harlan to the wonderful world of hiking. After some hellos we hit the trail with blue skies and temps in the mid 50's (it'd been mid 60's most of the drive). We made good time, stopping a few times for snacks, checking our the condition of the springs, and taking photos at Spy Rock and The Priest. Finally we descended to Route 56 and arrived at the parking lot just as the light grew weak around 6:20. We sat, ate dinner, and waited.
Meanwhile, Karan took charge of the DC area crowd. Things got off to rocky start after we realized I had an errant start time set in Meetup. The change from 7pm to 5/5:30pm departure on Friday knocked Octavia out. My apologies again! Karan made several efforts to compensate but sadly my mistake took our group down to 9 folks total.
Karan, Kylie, Megan, Shane, George, and Sophie all arrived at 9:20pm within a minute of each other despite leaving from separate locations. Nice! Karan led the 2.5 mile climb up to Harpers Creek at a blistering pace. I dogged behind, arriving to find most of the crew already setting up camp.
I promised a 5:30 am wake up call for a 6am departure and collapsed into my hammock. I awoke at 5:35am to Stuart deflating his sleeping pad having missed all three of my alarms. Brilliant! Everyone was already up and moving. At this point I was feeling like I was 0-3 in the organizer responsibility department but fortunately backpacking with DC UL is backpacking with pros!
We hit the trail a bit past 6am and slowly spread out as we each tackled the continuing climb up Three Ridges at our own pace. After a quick regroup and breakfast occurred at the Maupin Field shelter at 9am and we descended down the blue-blazed Mau-Har trail along Campbell Creek. We regrouped at the Tye River around 11:20am where Shane gracefully bowed out. The lengthy descent has worked his knee into a painful state. He elected to camp at one of the many spots along the Tye River and wait for our return Sunday around noon.
With our numbers down to eight we climbed the Priest at our distinctly personal paces. Per usual Karan and Kylie were almost immediately out of sight. I kept eyes on Stuart and Sophie for a short while before I down-shifted to a solid 1st gear approach. I think Karan even had to stop at some point (though I hear Kylie didn't). The 3000 feet of unrelenting "up" goes by slowly, the last third eschewing switch backs for a straight-up approach over a few false summits. Will, Megan, George, and I refilled water at the spring behind the Priest shelter and we headed on toward our next re-group point at Spy Rock. George suggested we not wait too long for him and feel free to head on to camp.
Spy Rock was climbed, photos were taken, and we were pleased that we weren't camping there. At least two other small groups had laid claim to sites and who knows how many others may arrive. We trekked on another 30 minutes to our camp at Porters Gap arriving around 5:30pm. George strolled down the hill a bit later still before dark and before we even got the fire going.
The evening passed pretty quietly. A fire was had. Food was eaten. Some Hua stories were shared. I struggled with the knowledge that Hua had signed up for this very trip and had hoped to get in on the bonus miles Friday. Hua, Karan, John C, and I had I had hiked this exact stretch the summer solstice of 2014 as a thirty mile day - heading all the way to Hog Camp Gap instead of stopping at Porters Gap. The many scenes from that June trip played through my mind as I passed over the same terrain. I made a concerted effort to see the beauty of the trail as Hua always seemed to.
With the pending time change most of us "sprung ahead" an hour and went to bed at the "new" 9pm. I know I slept soundly until 6am. The group was on the trail by 7am - the new sunrise time - and we made excellent time to Hog Camp Gap, arriving around 10:20am or so just before a light rain started and just as Michael and Jen's group descended off Mountain Pleasant. After sharing stories of adventures we parted ways. Our group headed to Devils Backbone where we were seated immediately and enjoyed a solid meal.
Thanks for joining me! I'm so glad Will and Stuart made it out for the Friday miles. It was great to see so many familiar faces. I managed to find myself between groups a lot so I missed some of the usual trail chatter. I know I was feeling those climbs more than I expected to. Congrats to George and Stuart for becoming Veteran Members. (Stuart rocked his first back-to-back 20's.) I'm sure I'll head out that way again when I feel I need a good work out and have forgotten about that top 1/3 of the Priest. After all, the area is REALLY pretty in late Spring...
Nice trip report, Dave. I will share some of that blame for not noticing the trip time until it was too late. I feel bad that Octavia couldn't join because of that.
I couldn't continue on final steep 400 ft. climb to the top of Priest - my legs refused to walk. I had to stop a few times before I eventually made it to the top. Kylie just kept walking - she is crazy!
As you noticed, this trip did bring memories back from the Improbable thirty trip back in '14. I wonder why I felt my ass kicked more on the 20 mile day rather than the 30 mile day back then. I am pretty sure part of the reason was Hua's presence - she did bring a unique positivity and lightness on trips she joined. Makes me miss her presence a lot more.
Kudos to Stuart and George for Veteran Status - well deserved. This is quite a challenging route and everyone did really well. I am glad Joffrey is not in the Mid-Atlantic area : otherwise we would just talk each other into a "Priest Suicides" version (multiple laps up and down Priest)!
Great write up Dave! Surprisingly this was my first time visiting the area. I'm sure I'll be back, once the memory has faded a bit ;)
I had the same thought while climbing The Priest, "I bet Joffrey and Karan would do suicide shuttles up this thing." Not me! I took a break around 2/3 up as well. I can't remember any other climb where I just stopped and sat down like that. I needed a mental regroup.
The absence of Hua's laughter was poignant this weekend. But it was nice to swap Hua War Stories - there are plenty to choose from!
Kudos to everyone this weekend, those trails took some solid work.