Trip Report: Tuscarora, Fetzer Gap to AT (9/2-4/17)

Posted by Jen on

I knew parts of the trail could get overgrown, but I never imagined that we’d find ourselves in a cornfield. Up to that point, we’d had smooth sailing, meeting at our appointed carpool and shuttle locations within minutes of each other. We started just after 11 a.m. on Saturday, making our way down from Fetzer Gap to start our longest stretch of road walking for the day.

The PATC guidebook called these roads lovely, and they were certainly were. For the most part, the road walking was easy to follow, as we headed in and out of neighborhoods. (Although, there was one confusing stretch where a blaze indicated a turn to the side of a person’s house. Maybe an old turn?) We headed into a subdivision, hopped over a stile, and headed across the fields and into Shenandoah County Park. When we crossed the bridge over 81, I amused myself by making the trucks honk at us. It was a good day of hiking.

We came to some corn fields just past Shenandoah County Park. No blazes, but a rather obvious path lay ahead of us. The path narrowed and narrowed, until at one point we were going through grass that rivaled Aileen for height. I suggested that perhaps someone a bit taller (sorry, Aileen!) might want to lead. Maps came out and GPS tracks were checked. We were near the trail… or at least heading in the right direction. At the very least, we knew that we were heading to the road, which is where we wanted to go. I poked around in one direction to see if I could find a clearer path, while Max forged ahead to see if he could spot one. Max’s mission was successful, and we popped down a steep embankment and followed an overgrown path along the power line.

Once on the road, we saw blazes again. So we were on the right path… just a very overgrown one. From there, we crossed the bridge over one of the forks of the Shenandoah, pausing for a snack break, and then headed for our climb into Massanutten and up to Three Top Mountain. We spread out as we made the climb and navigated the rocky stretch of trail. I had set a rally point at the second intersection of the Tuscarora and Massanutten. My plan was to camp by Strasburg Reservoir, but I thought there might be a chance, if we got to that point early enough, that we might want to press on for another two miles. By the time we all arrived at the intersection, it was close to 5:30 and a good point for stopping.

We found the campsite and settled in. Max brought a touch of class to the festivities with a charcuterie tray, wine, and wine glasses. Who says we aren’t fancy? It started to rain, but not enough to chase us into our shelters. Plus, there was still salami to be had. We watched what we thought were late hikers run by us. We were cosy in our shelters by 9 p.m., and the rain started in earnest.

Around midnight, I woke up to headlamps bobbing along the trail. A chatty group of late hikers, I thought, and closed my eyes again. They were only the start. Until 5 a.m., groups of what we realized were trail runners rolled past our camp, talking excitedly about aid stations and other items that you chat about while running at 3 a.m. (My guess is that is was this race?)

Sunday had us mostly hiking through the Massanutten area. We rallied again by the road before beginning the next climb up the ridge, and aimed to meet again at Little Crease before grouping together for the road walking portion of the day.

It’s a long climb, but I do think the views from the Massanutten ridge are some of the best. They were treed in for a while, but soon the views opened up. I found Theo enjoying a lunch break at one point, and Paul and Max enjoying the sun at another spot further down the trail. We were soon joined by Aileen and Theo, and lingered for a while before heading down to Little Crease. James, unfortunately, had gotten quite a bit ahead of us and was heading back up the trail to make sure we were okay.

We filled up our water at Little Crease and then did our last climb out of Massanutten and onto the roads. Again, it’s a lovely stretch--especially as you near and then go over the next fork of the Shenandoah River.

From there, we headed towards the park boundary, having another route finding adventure once we turned off 340 and headed through the tunnel. I had hoped we’d find water and a campsite rather quickly, but the first stream we crossed was dry. As we headed along, we could see in the distance a bear crashing his way down a tree and running away. We were definitely doing a bear hang that night.

It was getting close to dark, and I started to get concerned about finding a campsite with water before it got too dark. The park ranger had pointed out spots to camp by water along our route, but much was dried up or overgrown. We arrived at the intersection with the Thompson Hollow Trail. Paul and James waited for Aileen and Max, while Theo and I headed down the trail to take advantage of the waning light and try to find a spot for us to camp. We ran into a woman who was on a scouting mission to see if she could find someone with a lighter--she and her boyfriend had forgotten one, and she was camped a little further down the trail. Most importantly, she said that she was near water so we gathered everyone and headed down the trail. While there was water, her campsite was small. We poked around looking for a flat place to camp, but this area was incredibly overgrown and incredibly rocky. A flat spot up an embankment called to us. We settled for flat, and figured out how to weave ourselves around the rocky ground.

Well, it wasn’t an ideal camping spot, but it worked for what we needed. I got my hammock set up and started to make dinner. I heard a buzzing noise and shrieked as I realized I was being charged by a hornet. It flew off to investigate Paul, and I gathered my items to move away from it. I dug into my Texas State Fair Chili and passed around the whiskey. Paul and Theo worked on the bear bags, with the end result being one of the best bear hangs I’ve seen in awhile.

Monday morning, we rolled out and started up the long, long, long climb along Overall Run. It was another day of good views, and it was impressive to look out and see the ridges and valleys that we crossed. We reached the junction with the AT and headed, downhill all the way, to milkshakes and glory at Elkwallow.

So that ended my Tuscarora section hike which I more or less flip-flopped, starting at Gore when Michael, Karan, and Mimi were working on it, and then wrapping it up by heading south from Gore when I finished it. It’s nice to have it done--and a thank you to all of those who joined me for the southern stretch over the past year or so.

Evan Mc posted on

This is great. I wish we had a split screen dramatic viewing of both your trip and mine when we were lost in a field with plants as tall as us.

Karan posted on

Congrats Jen on Thru-Hiking the TT!