[b]Trip Report MO: SNP South District Big Run Rocky Top... (39M)
[/b][i]Started as members, ended as veterans.
I should have known when I saw some DCUL legends RSVPing to this trip that I was planning something more difficult than I anticipated! I am so grateful to everyone for showing up with great attitudes and kindness. Each trip you teach me more and continue to push me to go farther, faster, and lighter—thank you!
Friday we met in the parking lot south of Blackrock Gap around 7:30pm and headed north along the AT to Blackrock Hut. While there were plenty of campsites available, they were pretty slopped so we all slept a little crooked. We didn’t have any rain and instead just enjoyed cool breezes, beautiful sunset colors through the trees and good conversation. Kylie and Karan met us at camp just after sunset. The spring there was flowing fine and there were food-hanging towers, which made storing our food easier. By 9:30pm we were headed to sleep to prepare for a long day ahead.
Saturday morning we woke up around 6am and were on the trail by 6:45am. The forecast showed high-90s with lots of humidity and a good chance of thunderstorms. We had a fairly quick pace but definitely took time to enjoy the overlooks and waterfalls near Jones Run/Doyles River trail.
There was talk of milkshakes at the Loft Mountain Wayside, so we made a detour onto the Frazier Discovery Trail around 10:30am to stop at the wayside for an early lunch. Just before getting off of the trail we saw a pair of black bear cubs and a bigger black bear cross the AT ahead of us. We jumped back on the trail around 11:15am and hiked until Ivy Creek Overlook. We rested under some shade by the overlook for a while and then headed up Skyline Drive to the Brown Mountain trailhead near the Brown Mountain Overlook. Brown mountain trail was beautiful but gave us all a challenge with the heat and elevation gain. Luckily, it also brought tons of berries, which brightened spirits!
Along this trail we could see fire damage around the trees.
Around 4pm we heard thunder rolling from the west near Massanutten. Making a left onto Big Run Portal Trail just a bit down, there were campsites on the right near the water. We all squeezed in and set up camp quickly but the storm did not end up passing us. Gen showed us that if we made a right onto Big Run Portal Trail there is a bigger campsite with a little watering hole (I recommend this one next time). We played in the water near camp until it was late enough to eat dinner. Everyone enjoyed there delicious concoctions, desserts, and drinks.
Erik helped me try out the bear-bag hanging skills he taught me last trip; Gen and David O. taught me cool tricks for tying rope and knots; and I successfully hung a bear-bag with their encouragement and support! Most of us turned in around 8:30pm, which was perfect timing because a thunderstorm came through at 9:30pm. It rained off-and-on most of the night but brought with it some relief from the intense heat and humidity. We ended the day with about 19.8 miles.
Sunday, we had an early wake-up call to try to beat some of that afternoon heat. We were on Rocky Top trail and heading south by 6:15am. The first 1.5 miles is about 1,300’ elevation gain and then another 427’ over a mile—it was intense! Luckily, towards the mid-morning the humidity gave way and it was [i]slightly[/i] cooler and [i]a bit [/i]breezier the rest of the day. I could tell by the fact that Karan and James were not taking pictures that we were all focused on getting these miles finished! We made it to Madison Run road where we connected to Furnace Mountain Trail and stopped for water and a break. We followed Furnace to where it meets Trayfoot. (We couldn’t find the lookout tower that was on the Forest Service map.) Here, David O. split from the group to head back to the car. I considered joining him because my legs were already aching and I was not sure if I had another 7 miles in me! I’m grateful that we had such strong hikers on the trip because Karan and team took the lead and kept moving us forward. I loved how Kylie and Karan showed their experience whenever I naively estimated our end time: “I bet we’ll finish these 20 by noon!”. “Eeerrr… more like 2 or 3:30pm…” David was leading the line when he saw a rattlesnake crossing the path. We didn’t lose too much time waiting for the snake to eventually turn away from the trail. We took a short break before connecting to Paine Run, psyching ourselves up for one more climb.
James and I hung in the back, cheering each other on and reminding the other that every step was a step closer to a burger. Just before reaching the parking lot, a black bear crossed the AT again to run down towards Blackrock Springs and gave us the energy to finish the ascent. We ended the day with about 20.1 miles.
Around 4pm, we made it back to our cars, changed, and a few of us headed to my new favorite spot in Culpeper, Grill 309, for delicious food and drinks, before heading back home. At the 13-mile marker on Sunday, I looked up at Gen, soaked in sweat, scared I wasn’t going to make it another 7 miles and said, “I don’t think I’ll do this again! What was I thinking!?” But, I’m actually not that sore today… and now I know that I can do it… sooooo, I look forward to seeing you all out there again soon for another challenge!