Appalachian Trail: Jenkins Gap to Elkwallow Picnic Area, Shenandoah NP

With only one day for hiking this weekend, Karen and I opted for our less rocky southward trip, which brought us back to Jenkins Gap in Shenandoah National Park. As we drove in, we could see right away that the autumn colors were going to be amazing.

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We got started on our 11.8 mile hike at 10:00, and—as would prove to be the case—it was a good thing that we didn’t start any later. We were able to get parking at both points of our trip without any trouble, for the traffic was still relatively light. The weather was cloudy and in the low 50s, but the persistent wind must have dropped the temperature by 10 degrees, at least. Karen and I were both wearing only a long-sleeved shirt, and despite the heat we generated, we remained cold.

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But what beautiful scenery! The peak of autumn had, apparently, already passed, but the tree tops were still in different shades, from yellow to red. The trail itself was covered in a thick blanket of freshly fallen leaves, which crunched and shuffled beneath our feet. They didn’t make hiking any easier, and sometimes they covered rocks and the gaps between rocks, thereby demanding that we remain attentive to our steps.

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We saw a number of other hikers, mostly close to lookout points. We also came across a mother black bear and her yearling cubs. The cubs weren’t at all interested in us, but the mother put herself between them and us and wouldn’t take her eyes off of us. I decided not to pause and take a photo, as I didn’t want to cause her any unnecessary stress.

When we were climbing Hogback Mountain, Karen assured me that we had hiked the trail before. I sincerely thought she was delusional, but when we got home, she found her blog of August 10, 2014, and proved that I was forgetful. Good thing we have this record!

We reached our destination at about 3:30, and found that, while we were hiking, the park had become crowded with visitors, so that not only were all the parking places taken, but people were parking on the grass. We joined the long line of cars that were exiting the park and were amazed to see the even longer line of cars still entering. We’ve never seen the park anywhere close to being this busy.

Appalachian Trail: Route 522 (Front Royal) to Jenkins Gap (Shenandoah National Park)

After days of moving north through Pennsylvania, Tod and I decided to hike south, into Shenandoah National Park. We began our hike where we left off, at Route 522. DSCN0116It began as a gentle ascent but soon the trail was a bit steeper and switchbacks appeared. No big deal. It was a cool day and we weren’t carrying a lot of water or gear. (Yay, day hikes!) About 3.6 miles up there was a large boulder formation where we took a break to have lunch — and coffee! Usually we would never stop so long to make a hot beverage but, boy, was it fun. We were actually a bit cold and so we changed into warmer clothes. The view was a bit obscured by trees but it was still nice. What wasn’t so nice was the fact that there were some really ominous storm clouds overhead. I can’t say we were totally prepared.

View from the overlook.

View from the overlook.

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After a long half-hour break we hit the trail again. What a difference from our last hike in Pennsylvania! We encountered smooth trails and only a few rocks. For the most part, the trail was really wide and really flat. A piece of cake! Then the rain came. Fortunately, the leaves and branches served as a nice canopy. We barely got wet. By the time we got to Compton Gap the sun was out.

Compton Gap marked the beginning of one more ascent, up to Compton Peak. We began to see a lot more hikers, all coming down. Perhaps they had just gone up to the peak? We never did see the actual overlook. (I hear that it is beautiful but we didn’t think to stop. It would have taken us off the trail.) The descent was pretty easy. There was a fire in this area in 2011 and the evidence of it still exists. Although there is a lot of new brush, dead trees stand as a reminder of what careless ash disposal can do to a forest.DSCN0127
We arrived at Jenkins Gap (mile 12 on Skyline Drive) less than four hours after we began. It was about 7.7 miles in all, including our long break for lunch. This might be a good hike for folks who are just beginning hiking or getting back into it. There are some steep ascents but most of it is easy. Most importantly, it is so peaceful and quiet. What a nice break from the craziness of city life!

As a footnote, I forgot my trekking poles at Jenkins Gap. I leaned them against the car and completely forgot about them. Within an hour of returning home I was at REI. Can’t live without my poles! The new ones are the same make and brand but they seem lighter. Yay! I wouldn’t recommend my method as a way to get new poles but it is nice to know that equipment is always evolving.DSCN0124

Shenandoah National Park: Doyles River Falls and Jones Run

It has been too long since we’ve hiked the Shenandoah. Tod and I took the opportunity to camp in Big Meadows for a few days and enjoy getting out in the woods. I’m a big fan of water falls, so choosing the Doyles River Falls hike was perfect.

At the trailhead to Doyles River Falls

At the trailhead to Doyles River Falls

What immediately hit me as we descended down the trail was just how beautiful the trails are here in the Shenandoah. After recent hikes  on the AT in Pennsylvania, it was so refreshing to have wide, relatively smooth paths. The trail descends very quickly, from just under 3000 feet to close to 1400 feet in elevation. As we went, the trail soon “hugged” a river. I was so excited to see the first waterfall! I took a picture but the truth is that there were many more spectacular falls to come.

My favorite was one of the first falls (see the photo of Tod). It isn’t as big as some of the others, but the setting is so tranquil! The sound of the rushing water is mesmerizing. I sometimes wonder how folks can some to this park and only go to the overlooks. Boy, are they missing some thing!

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For a while we were lucky to have a very easy go of it. However, it wasn’t long before the trail joined at Jones Run Trail. We crossed Jones Run (a pretty small stream, really) then began a long, steep ascent. This was, by far, the toughest part of the hike. According to our guidebook, we knew we would soon reach Jones Run Falls. This was our motivation.

Jones Run Falls was the perfect end to a mile-long trek up the trail. We were not disappointed! Large, smooth boulders afforded the perfect spot for lunch. This area is pretty secluded. We only saw one other couple there.

From here, we enjoyed a more gentle ascent. The woods were so beautiful! It wasn’t long before we were back up to Skyline Drive and we turned right onto the AT. As is typical of the AT, the trail narrowed. In fact, there was one spot where it was completely blocked by a downed bush and tree. For the most part, the AT follows Skyline Drive. However, it is far enough way from the road to give one the feel of being far removed from traffic.

Hiking can be a perfect way to clear one’s head, forget everyday life, and zone out. Why not just relax?!? This hike was another reminder that attentiveness is always important in

A very BIG rattle snake!

A very BIG rattle snake!

the wild. All of a sudden I came across a very lively rattle snake poised on the trail! I stopped, backed away, and ran right into Tod (who always follows behind me). As you can see by the picture, this guy was strategically located. No way we could stay on the trail! We carefully went up into the thicket far above the snake and bypassed the danger. From here, I was much more vigilant.

There are quite a few options to leave the trail at this point. One can go to Dundo Picnic area or Browns Gap, for example. We continued on and were soon back at the Doyles River Falls trailhead. Another wonderful hike that we can check off our list!