Last year, the spring Massanutten Classic didn't really happen (Andrew and Jeff did it, but it was far from the group activity we'd like), so I was excited to get out and do the classic loop (for the fourth time!) this spring. And I don't believe we'd ever had so many people on the mountain. From the Mega-nutters (tying together the south and north loops for 112 mile) to the Mini-Nutters (hiking north from Edinburgh Gap to Signal Knob), with the Half-Assers in between (Waterfall to Signal Knob), the classic death marchers were going to have a great deal of company.
Thursday night, 3/31, I was a little delayed getting out of town, but with the short drive to the Signal Knob complete, I geared up and started on the roughly 10 miles in to Little Crease. Cover Girl and Prius got there just as I was leaving, and so we hiked up to Shawl Gap in the setting sun. We knew the Whisky Fairy was behind us, but so far as we knew, everyone else was ahead on the trail. I know that not everyone loves night hiking, but I've always enjoyed these miles in the dark--and of course I have them memorized, now. It was 10pm or so before we started dropping into Veach Gap, and about 11pm before we reached Little Crease, where most of our crew was slumbering peacefully.
One of the curiosities for this trip was that I was trying out a new hammock system. I fiddled with the ridgeline as the Whisky Fairy rolled in. I don't believe I got to sleep until midnight. 6:30am came around fast.
Friday morning, we had, as planned, 12 backpackers to do the classic trip. I drank coffee while almost everyone else started, but at last, we were all climbing for the ridgeline and turning right to press southwards towards Kennedy Peak. I chatted with Crusher, Covergirl, and the Whisky Fairy as the rollers came and went on this long ridgeline. And then I arrived at Kennedy Peak in perfect time for lunch. Eeyore, Hang Glider, Gen, and Radiance where there.
From Kennedy Peak, we descended along easy trail to Edith Gap. Then, more descent to Duncan Hollow, where at last we could get some water. We also stopped to soak our feet. Then, we were off for our long dispiriting climb over Middle Mountain, a quick descent to Scothorn Gap (how easy it would have been to camp there), and more descending to the base of Waterfall. There, as we tanked up, the Baconator pulled in, seemingly very content to see other people. We drank a little whisky and steeled ourselves for the last climb of the day. Gen joked on the climb, that a DC UL photographer should be hiking at the top to record our expressions.
But at the top we joined Savage and MacGyver--also Meganutters. Dave Shook was there as well, providing much welcome trail magic. GQ and Blizzard were there, providing a rolling SAG wagon for us all. The Half Assers rolled in, carrying beer, as I fouled up my ridgeline yet again. And all the Death Marchers trickled in. Soon, we had quite a rollicking camp going.
It rained during the night, and I was pleased that my tarp system kept my hammock dry, even with out the full ridgeline. The rain stopped right as we struck. Queen Bee and Ben decided they would skip the next section and hitched a ride with GQ. Soon, we were off, headed northwards along the ridgeline to Jawbone Gap. Chatting with Nick, Matt, and Steve, we descended into the valley to tank up. And then the much dreaded climb up to Short Mountain, which somehow didn't feel as bad as it usually does.
Those miles fell away, and the descent into Edinburgh Gap happened. I caught much of the group there, and drank a beer while sitting on my pad. Thank you, again, GQ and Blizzard. The Whisky Fairy and Eeyore and I climbed Waonaze Peak, and settled into for the long, flat miles into Woodstock. These miles went on longer than I would have liked. We cackled at the pair of panties someone had left hanging on a branch, and re-grouped at the hang glider spot of ill repute. Prius and the Whisky Fairy descended on white blazes to the Little Fort Recreation Area, where the Mininutters, along with everyone else, was camped. It was good to see Shuttle, and we all enjoyed the sausage fest!
Unfortunately, that night it turned rather cold. My tarp again worked without the full ridgeline, in that it kept the snow off my insulation, but I have to say that I was not planning on getting my first winter night in the hammock. During the night, I had to get out to cinch up my UQ. Certainly, I needed something more than my 40* over quilt. Around 5am, I realized that the only way I was going to get warm was by hiking.
I set off at about 6:20am, moseying along the windy ridgeline, where temps were below freezing. It seems like this always happens at this event. A few people passed me, then a group kind of formed up. We dropped down into Mudhole Gap and climbed for Signal Knob. A big group formed there, and I walked off the back, savoring the now rather nice weather. The long descent followed. And then around 12:30pm, the parking lot and then end of my fourth death march, which I had walked almost exactly as I did in 2013.
All the various groups trickled in, an soon we were off to Jalisco, which was unusually challenged to serve us. Somehow, I came home with a powerful case of the flu, but not even that was enough to dampen my enthusiasm at completing this challenging loop.
Congratulations to all those completing the 71-mile classic. One couldn't ask for better company! And thanks to all the leaders who contributed to making this event happen, almost entirely as planned.