Appalachian Trail: Jarmans Gap to Rockfish Gap

The terrain on this part of the A.T. is surprisingly varied and somewhat more difficult than what Maple and I have experienced on the A.T. elsewhere in Shenandoah N.P. We generally cover two to two-and-a-half miles per hour, but this eight mile stretch took us a full five hours to complete.

Our trek began by ascending Calf Mountain, and, no doubt, this is where we were slowed down. As we came to the top of the mountain, we saw a bear foraging near the trail. I said, “There’s a bear,” Maple screamed, and the poor bear went running off as fast as its legs could carry him.


The trail took us through patches of wildflowers on Little Calf Mountain. There we saw deer and rabbits.

DSCN0584After having part of our lunch at Beagle Gap, we crossed Skyline Drive and ascended Bear Den Mountain, on which are several power stations. Shortly after passing these, we ran into two other section hikers that we recognized as having met in Pennsylvania. These were O.G. (Old Guy) Bob and O.G. Rick (a.k.a. Grey Cloud).

After crossing the road again at McCormick Gap, we ascended Scott Mountain, and then continued on a ridge parallel to Skyline Drive. On the map, this looks like a smooth three miles, but the terrain is actually quite rocky.

Overall, this was a great hike, one that is probably overlooked by all but a few visitors to Shenandoah N.P.

Appalachian Trail: Brown Gap to Riprap Trail Parking Area

Since Maple and I had hiked the short distance from the Loft Mountain Campground Store to Brown Gap during our last camping trip, we resumed our hike at Brown Gap.

DSCN0567This 6.7 mile trek reminded me of “The Roller Coaster” north of Shenandoah N.P. When we were not going up, we were going down. But the only peak that had a name was Blackrock Summit.

I was very impressed with the work that had recently been done to the trail on Blackrock Summit. Although the trail goes across rocks, the path had been made smooth by the laying down of great quantities of gravel, which ultimately made the path smooth. Question: Why isn’t this done on the A.T. across Pennsylvania?


Someone or some persons had recently placed a wind-chime on a tree limb overhanging the trail on Blackrock Summit. It was placed in memory of Nate Fletcher.

Maple and I saw several NB thru-hikers, even though they are rapidly going out of season in Shenandoah.

All-in-all, it was a very pleasant, if not particularly distinguished, hike. Although the temperature was in the mid-80s, the humidity left Maple and I quite drenched in our own sweat.

Appalachian Trail: Rip Rap Trail Parking Area to Jarmans Gap

It is day three of hiking, and Birch and I have hit our stride. This hike was very easy and – to be perfectly honest – a bit boring. The trail is lined with mountain laurel, rhododendrons, and ferns. The train itself is wonderfully smooth. After a short ascent we were fortunate to have a 3-mile descent. That was very unusual and very much appreciated. The only challenge was that, being the first on the trail, I was ensnared in quite a few spider webs.

Along the way we came across another area where a fire had occurred, long ago. It is so neat to see how resilient a forest can be. While there were not many tall trees, there was plenty of new growth.

My favorite part of the trail was at mile seven, when we came across a section of the trail blanketed in wild flowers. The butterflies were numerous and too busy tapping the flowers to worry about a couple of hikers.DSCN0576

Appalachian Trail: Simmons Gap to Loft Mountain Camp Store

Birch and I have not been on the AT in a while so I was excited to be going on an 8 mile hike, and even more excited about the prospect of hiking four days in a row. Loft Mountain Campground is a perfect place to hang out for the week while we indulge in some time on the AT.DSCN0543

The hike from Simmons Gap begins with a 500 ft./ 1 mile ascent. About 15 minutes into the hike, Birch shouted, “Bear, left!” Where? I didn’t see it. “No, the trail bears left,” he said with a grin. Yeah, very funny. Unfortunately, his sense of humor was in fine form the entire hike.

The trail goes up, down, up, then down. We stopped at an overlook to have a snack and met a father/son duo hiking from Georgia to Harper’s Ferry. I think it is so cool to see families doing the trail together.

I was fascinated when we went through a section of the trail that had experienced a major forest fire this past spring. The area is really bouncing back. The birds seemed to be very happy here. DSCN0550

After hiking a while once more, we were startled by a commotion in a tree about 10 yards ahead of us. A bear half leaped, half stumbled out of the tree! I’m very glad he saw us before we saw him because “Bear, left” was much better than having the bear land on top of us.

We ate lunch at a viewpoint and were ready to be done. The heat was getting to us! How awesome was it to end the hike at the camp store, where Gatorade and a cool shower awaited!?!.

Appalachian Trail: Loft Mountain Campground to Browns Gap

After enjoying a relaxing Sunday in camp with perfect weather, Maple and I decided to hike the short distance of 4.3 miles from the camp store at Loft Mountain Campground south to Browns Gap. Oddly, there is no signpost for the AT at the camp store, but the AT is accessible by going down a short distance on a connecting trail that runs behind the adjoining restrooms into the forest. The AT southbound, then, makes about three quarters of a loop around the campground.campstore

The trail to Brown Gap is well marked and easy to follow, but the directional posts that the NPS has placed along the way wherever trails merge appear to provide distances that are incongruent with each other, and at least one post suggested that the distance between our two points was a full mile shorter than that which is indicated on the PATC map. I pointed this out to a northbound thru-hiker, and he pointed out to me that it made no practical difference.

Anyway, Shenandoah was absolutely gorgeous in green on this windy day in June.


Lewis Mountain Campground to Swift Run Gap

A beautiful day and an eight mile hike is a great combination for a June day. We began our hike at Lewis Mountain Campground. There is limited parking by the camp store but there is plenty of parking near the  picnic area. The AT is a gentle, downhill trail for about a mile before leveling off. The easy trail is a nice break before the gentle slope UP that brought us to the top of Bald Face Mountain. There really aren’t any switchbacks (it isn’t steep enough for that) but there were several spots where they had these really cool set of stairs. (It feels a bit magical to ascend up stone steps in the middle of a forest!) I was hoping that there would be a great view but no such luck.  There is a nice slab of rock and boulders at lewis mountainthe peak. It is a perfect place to stop for lunch but the foliage prevents one from seeing the countryside.

Birch and I pressed on until we reached the bottom of the mountain near the South River Falls Trail. We knew there was a picnic area about a mile away but we decided to have lunch here.  I’m glad we did. This spot has a number of nice boulders for sitting. The picnic area turned out to be about 1/10 of a mile off the trail. Along the way, there is a variety of vegetation. My favorite is always the mountain laurel. However, there were giant (I mean GIANT!) ferns that I liked as well.mountainlaurel

The last part of the hike was about 1 1/2 miles up (perhaps 500 ft change in elevation) and 1 1/2 miles down. Along the way we met a really nice family from New Zealand, taking a 5 month vacation on the trail. Their son was probably 5 or 6 years old. He was having a great time. After all, he had just seen a snake! I’m always amazed at how the AT brings so many people from different walks of life together.

We reached our other car, parked at Swift Run Gap, in no time. Afterwards, we visited the Loft Mountain visiting area for some blackberry ice cream. Hiking + ice cream! Perfect!

Shenandoah is known for Blackberries. Blackberry ice cream? Yum!

Shenandoah is known for Blackberries. Blackberry ice cream? Yum!

Appalachian Trail: Fishers Gap to Lewis Mountain

Hello Shenandoah!

Now that it is early May, the foliage in Shenandoah National Park is finally starting to awaken. Birch and I were excited to get back on the trail. It has been ages since we’ve hiked in green foliage.5-7_1

The weather in the area has been wet and cold. When we arrived at Fishers Gap it was foggy and raining. Not exactly the type of weather one would choose for a 10 mile hike. Still, we donned our rain gear and started off. The birds sang to their heart’s content, clearly unfazed by a little dampness. This, and the stunning green all around me, lifted my spirits so that I hardly noticed the weather.

The first part of the hike is a pretty gentle uphill climb. We had fun meandering around Big Meadows Campground and even got to see our tent. (We often stay there while hiking in the park.) By the time we reached Milam Gap, the rain had stopped. We cross the road continued up to Hazeltop, which is at about 3,800 feet. Despite being at a high 5-7_9spot in the park, I can’t say that this is a hike with a lot of views. There are very few vistas. Instead, the real value is of this hike is taking in the beauty of the forest.

Wildflowers everywhere!

Wildflowers everywhere!

The trail in this section of the AT is remarkably smooth. It wasn’t until we got to Bearfence Mountain that things got rocky. We skipped the option of doing the rock scramble here (we’ve done that before!) and stuck to the AT. There are a series of switchbacks that takes one down the mountain before ascending once again to Lewis Mountain Campground.

Despite the weather, we completed this section feeling great. I’m so glad we didn’t let a few raindrops deter us!



Appalachian Trail: Mile 38 (on Skyline Drive) to Fishers Gap

Springtime! As the weather warms up, so does our desire to hit the trail. Birch and I decided to continue our southward journey on the Appalachian Trail. We dropped off our car at Fishers Gap and then waited expectantly at the side of Skyline Drive, hoping for a ride to mile 38. The first car stopped!

The first few miles of the trail wind upwards. It is a relatively long but gradual ascent that offers several good views. This area, Stony Man Mountain, is the highest elevation for the AT in Shenandoah National Park (3837 ft.) We passed a boy scout group learning to climb and volunteers doing trail maintenance (thank you!). Otherwise, it wasn’t busy.  IMG_0383

Shenandoah is still in early Spring. There are sprigs of green grass here and there but the trees are still bare, unlike the elevations below. This means that views can be had in many places along the trail. Still, I was a little surprised that there seems to be little progress towards tree cover here.

As we passed Skyland North Entrance, it seemed that things leveled out considerably. Eventually we passed the South Entrance and saw the horse stable. (I had no idea that it was there.) The AT south of the horse trail is not well marked with blazes, but it is a well defined trail. A mother bear and her cubs crossed the trail just ahead of us. Finally, a bear!IMG_0384

It wasn’t long before we reached Fishers Gap. This area was full of tourists all taking advantage of the free park entrance offered in celebration of the national parks. At the time, a wild fire had already started further south in the park. We were clueless. Let’s hope the fire is contained soon. This is a beautiful park, and it would be a shame for fire to mar it.



A Change in Plans, and a Short Hike in Shenandoah NP

Although a little anxious about the weather this weekend, since a chance of rain and/or snow along with high winds was predicted, Karen and I decided it was time for us to get back onto the Appalachian Trail and complete our trek through Pennsylvania. We were to begin at Wind Gap, PA, and finish across the Delaware Water Gap, in NJ. Since it now takes us over four hours to arrive at our commencement point and we wanted to get on the trail early in the morning, we spent the night in a motel.

As always, we brought two cars, one to be waiting for us at our hiking destination, and one to drop us off at our beginning point. Well, we were within 100 feet of the AT parking lot in NJ, where we were to drop off our first vehicle, when our two cars were involved in a collision. Both required to be towed away from the scene. Our backpacking plans were shot. Ultimately we got a rental car and made our way back home, but we were both in the dumps.

Our spirits needed reviving, so on Sunday we drove out (in our rental) to Shenandoah National Park. Because Karen’s wrist was swollen and sore, disabling her from putting much pressure on one of her trekking poles, we decided upon a comparatively gentle hike, the Rose River Loop, a four-and-a-half-mile walk. We’d hiked it before (and blogged about it in August 2014).

TH-4-3-16Unfortunately, winter’s peculiar beauty, particularly when all is wrapped in snow, is past and spring is yet struggling to manifest itself on the heights of Shenandoah. There were few leaves on the trees, and all was brown and grey, with little touches of green here and there. But we were able to get good views of the river through the branches, and a few birds had already returned.

For the most part, it was just good to be outdoors. We needed to get some cool air into our lungs and work up a little sweat in a climb, but mostly we just needed to be surrounded by nature. At one point, where the trail starts to ascend, we sat ourselves down on the dirt, took out our little stove, and made ourselves some coffee. What could be better than to break from a hike, kick back with a mug of steaming coffee, and take in the scenes and sounds of nature all around? It was a restorative experience.



Appalachian Trail: Elkwallow Picnic Area to Thornton Gap

Four weeks ago, Shenandoah National Park was jam packed. Cars were parked on the side of the road, and overlooks were crammed with folks trying to get that perfect selfie with bright tree colors in the background. Tod and I arrived to Shenandoah on November 15 to a vastly different park. The leaves on the trees were long gone, and so were the people.

One of the best kept secrets to hiking is that late Fall hikes offer both solitude and beauty. Tod and I took off from Elkwallow Picnic Area (approximately mile 24 on Skyline Drive) and hiked south on the Appalachian Trail. The woods looked completely different than the last time we were here. The lack of leaves afforded us the opportunity to see through the trees to the mountains in the distance. The sound of leaves rustling under our feet gave us confidence that even if a bear was still around, she could hear us from miles away.DSCN0193

The hike took us up a hill and then leveled off for a couple of miles. We saw signs for Byrds Nest 4 and thought that it might be a nice place for lunch. Unfortunately, it is .6 miles off the trail. With a perfectly good log nearby, we enjoyed a good meal (including a tangerine) while sitting next to the trail.

From here, the trail makes a slight decline and winds around, never quite in a straight path. This is tricky! The leaves at some point were a foot thick and it wasn’t always easy to know whether we were on the trail. (Hint: Please add a few more white blazes in this area for those of us here in the Fall!)

Eventually, we crossed the road and climbed Pass Mountain. We found a perfect spot for breaking out the camp stove and Tod made us some delicious coffee. (We were careful to choose place with rock and few leaves so that we wouldn’t set the mountain on fire!) It was near here that we ran into two different families hiking with babies. The littlest was 3 months old, making him the youngest hiker I’ve encountered on the trail.

DSCN0199As we were finishing our hike and the sun was low in the sky, Tod noticed an amazing thing. The leaves on the ground seemed to shine a bright red. The ground twinkled with color! It was another great reminder for us about why we love hiking. Being in the woods is truly an special experience.

We crossed the road a couple of times before getting to Thornton Gap (near US- 211) where there is a restroom and plenty of parking. In all, we did close to 8 miles. Lots of fun on a Fall afternoon!