After returning from our long-awaited hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the Shenandoah National Park, I picked up “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson, for another viewpoint on hiking the AT. It was pretty wonderful to come across sections in the book that I too had hiked, and with a viewpoint amazingly similar to Bryson’s. There were times on this hike when I did wonder about the appeal of leaning forward and putting one foot in front of another while staring at the ground to be sure you didn’t trip – for miles. And often sitting down for a break felt incredibly good….until you got back up to start all over again. However, that being said, it was really a kick to know you’d hiked sections of the Trail in Tennessee (Smokies), New Hampshire (all that granite!), and Virginia….around 100 miles total. No big deal, but I like it! (Can I now be called a Section Hiker?)
So onward…up up and away!
Arrived on time @ Dulles A/P in DC, and met those of the group not driving to the Lodge. We piled in the van and drove to Luray to the Lodge, where I reconnected with Cindy and Deb, friends from past AT hikes. We got settled, went out to eat (then back to Lodge, by which time it was around 7PM.) Altogether, there were 14 in the group, including our two guides. We sat outside our rooms in the “back 40” as it got steadily darker and colder while Jan told us all about the hike and what it entailed for two hours. It was pretty icy by the time we finished and were able to go to bed. I was so cold, I wore long johns and hiking socks for pajamas to try to warm up.
Up at 6AM – picked up lunch items from our guides Jan and Kim’s room/packed the luggage and ourselves into the van, after which we drove to Walmart for wine and Gatorade!
Onward to the start of our Appalachian Trail hike, at the South River Falls Picnic area. All told, we hiked for a total of about five hours – all was extremely green, and extremely damp. Houston has nothing on this humidity/mugginess. It makes the foliage go neon bright.
At first, the trees were seen through a gentle white mist, until after noon, when the sun came out, helping dry out the air a bit. Flowers were blooming like crazy – pink and white trilliums, yellow mustard flower, the lovely little wood violets starring the grasses and undergrowth everywhere, pale pink wild azaleas. Logs and boulders scattered everywhere were covered with that particularly appealing velvet-like moss.
We hiked for a couple of hours and then ate our lunch, then another three hours of hiking, and then we piled back into the van and so on to the next Lodge. (About 5.5 miles)
No air conditioning in any of the Lodges, but it was so cold at night, we didn’t need it. Shared my room with a number of flying insects – a few of which I managed to capture and evict, but I finally gave up on the rest. I figured they were there first anyway.
The day and evening were hot hot hot, but after twilight set in – it became really cold again. We ate a pizza supper outside around the fire pit, and I finalized the evening by washing my hair and clambering into bed where I was out like a light.
Up at 6AM – ready to leave at 7. Having eaten breakfast, and made lunch, we began the trek directly from the Lodge, leaving the luggage behind in the vans.
After an hour’s hike, up up and up again, through greenery, flowering trees such as the service berry (what a name – it should be called White Lace, the trees were so beautifully bridally white), flowering apple and what looked like miniature wisteria. Flowers such as jack in the pulpit, wood violets, all color trilliums, phlox, geranium…nature is so bountiful, I’m sometimes overcome by the fact that these woods, these mountains and trails are still here, and relatively undisturbed by civilization.
Then we came to the Bearfence Scramble. This was a real challenge – and oddly enough, my favorite part of the trip. The rocks and boulders led us straight up to the top of the mountain. Boulders were all sizes – many narrowly cut, so it was extremely difficult to determine a foot rest. We couldn’t use the hiking poles, just our hands and knees to pull us straight up (we jammed our poles in our backpacks.) Some boulders were a little slippery… At one point, we were flattened against and clinging to the granite slab as we made our way across and down a narrow ledge – peering straight down into the valley many miles below. One step at a time…
Once we reached the top of the Scramble, the views down into the valley were incredible. Anyone who has seen and loved the movie “Last of the Mohicans” will relate to the awe-inspiring grandeur of these views. The trees were spread across the Blue Ridge Mountains, clouds leaving dark green shadows across the lighter green of the firs lit by the sun…
And by 11AM, the sun was out full force – talk about hot. Sun block’s a necessity (always).
We stayed atop the Scramble for half an hour, then clambered back down to the Appalachian Trail where we were once again able to use our poles. After another’s hour’s hike (up) we stopped for lunch. Through hikers (hiking the entire Trail) and day hikers passed us by, all friendly, all smelly!
After lunch, we hiked to our van; some went another three miles, some decided to quit at this point (me included). Afterwards, we vanned back to our previous Lodge to pick up our luggage, then drove to Big Meadows Lodge, where we had the next night’s lodging. Rooms were very nice, and a lovely veranda too – just about perfect.
Cindy, Deb and I were able to have a really nice little hour’s respite together and a beer before dinner at the Lodge’s restaurant. The views here are glorious, they really are. This was my favorite day. But after dinner, too tired to do anything further, we all walked back to our cabins, where we packed again for leaving early the next day. And so to bed. (Weather was gorgeous all day long – but damp! My god, my hair has NEVER looked so bad. Rode hard and put up wet, is the kindest way to say it….and I have never been so stiff, although that wore off. Managed to get huge blister on big toe, and little toe hurt like the dickens.)
Up at 6 as usual – pick up lunch at 7, breakfast at 8 – off to Visitors’ Center where I bought a sweatshirt, as I stupidly did not pack my down jacket and the nights were really frigid.
This morning was warm but comfy under the canopy of trees; we walked to the trail directly across the road in front of the Lodge. Today, the hike was over 6 miles, up ever up up up – hot by the afternoon, but cooling when we experienced brief drizzles.
We crossed boulders and rocks in huge rocky carpets…just when you thought that stretch was done, lo and behold, just round the bend, another carpet! We made it to the van around 3PM, and waited for the rest of the group who’d gone over the mountain on a different hike. Jolly good for them!
After a good day’s hike, we made it back to Skyland Lodge by 4PM, where Cindy, Deb, Lo and I convened in the bar for drinks and a good talk. I learned here about Blue Moon beer from Cindy – loved that orange under-taste, and the slice of orange that comes with the beer.
Then back to rooms, (which kept getting better and better) and each of which had a gorgeous balcony overlooking the valley below. I cannot go on enough about these spectacular views. Cleaned up and convened at the dining room at 7PM, and waited – waited – waited to be able to get a table, by which time I was practically under it.
A dramatically intense thunderstorm blew through about this time. The restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling picture windows magnified and movie-ized the lightning and rain as it passed over the valley. The crack of the thunder, the orange of the sun breaking through a black cloud, and the lightning storm were definitely like something from movie FX. Glorious to watch, glad you were inside!
Then a cold front blew in – and it was freezing. We waited for the rain to stop, then tracked back to our cabins about half a mile down a very steep tarmacked slope, no lights except tiny key lights to light our way…. Never so glad I had both my sweatshirt on, and was able to get back to my room in one piece!
NOTE: Everyone agreed how great to get away from cell phones, computers et al – but they were either on their cells or trying to get reception everywhere – all the time – breakfast, lunch, dinner, on the trail – just unbelievable, but that’s our world today. (I, however, am a Luddite and I admit it freely!)
The final “hike day” was a long day – getting up around 6AM for breakfast, packing the lunch and luggage, etc. (somehow even though this was the long day, the other days seemed equally long!) We hiked to Stony Man Mountain with beautiful views along the way (surprise!), and then to the Pinnacles Picnic area for lunch. We hiked over 10 miles and it was hard – beautiful, but tough.
Mid-hike, we were informed by a through-hiker that a rattlesnake had been spotted in the grass beside the trail ahead. After determining that it was just off the trail, and we had the werewithal to go up the bank and around the snake, we each tiptoed by in various states of nerves. No-one made a sound, no one took a photograph. The snake made enough noise for a hive of bees…the buzzing of its tail was definitely disconcerting, and angry to boot.
After this short adventure, we had the option of two different hikes, each to end at Mary’s Rock. Four of us as well as Jan, our guide, opted for the more difficult uphill hike, which was shorter by a mile. Everyone else hiked around the mountain which was about three miles in length. I was either so used to the uphill treks by now that it didn’t bother me much, or it wasn’t that difficult. We made it to Mary’s Rock, and waited for the rest of the gang to turn up – which after an hour, seemed to be a long shot. So, picking up Lo on the way, we hiked on back down the trail to the van and waited for the rest of the group to show.
Being on the tired side, Lo and I started complaining about our feet, among other things… So we thought we might develop a website, SmallandPetty.com/and I don’t care…and complain to our hearts’ content!
By this time it was after 7PM, and we were whupped…we had come full circle back to Luray, so a quick stop at the Lodge, and then we went on to dinner, where we all came up with our trail names. Suffice it to say, some were great, mine, not so great. I’ll have to give it another think. It was another night of rain…we were very blessed to have dry days for hiking, with the heavens waiting to open up once we were safely indoors.
On the trail we’d met two great kids, whose trail names were Cisco and Bozie – they were about 19 or 20, young men going to college in Utah…whether it was because they were so young, or because they actually were – they seemed very sweet and innocent, hiking the trail with nothing but a couple of tree branches and holey boots. They had the room next to mine, and came out just as I was walking to the door…both apparently having the time of their lives.
So … dinner, and to bed.
Managed to yank myself out of bed by 6:30 the next morning, ran to pick up some yogurt in Jan’s room, washed hair, and then we all piled in vans and cars and drove to the Luray Caves, a fascinating underground maze of stalagmites and stalagtites, which could almost have been the Dwarves’ Caves in Lord of the Rings. Just an amazing place. No pictures – but here’s a link:
Then Jan drove us to the airport, and I sat and read for four hours waiting for the plane back to Houston. The guy at airport security asked me where I’d been, and for the life of me, I couldn’t think! Brain dead!
Stiff joints, blistered toes, fuzzy hair and all – challenging, intense, dangerous and beautiful…. it was definitely an AT hike to remember!