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: 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.

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Corbin Cabin and Nicholson Hollow Loop

On June 11, our second hiking day at Shanandoah National Park, Karen and I decided to hike the Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail to the eponymous relic, now maintained by the PATC, and from there take the Nicholson Hollow Trail back up to Skyline Drive, cross over to the Appalachian Trail, and take that north to return to the parking lot at mile 37.9. The entire trek would take us only 4.2 miles. Trail Head Compared to the Doyle Falls Trail, the Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail is not as well defined. There were patches of grass growing on the narrow trail, which told us immediately that we were not on one of the more popular paths. In fact, we saw no one on our way down to the cabin. The first quarter mile of the trail is enclosed on both sides by white-flowered bushes. Further down, we encountered a black snake on the path. Black Snake Upon crossing Hughes River–which, I should add, is easily done, as there are large stones marking a path across what is really only a ravine–one immediately comes upon the log cabin built by George Corbin in 1909. It was locked up, but some bees appeared to have made a home in the roof. Karen and I had our lunch sitting on the front porch. Hughes RiverCorbin Cabin We had hardly begun our trek again when we spied the John T. Nicholson cabin on the opposite side of Hughes River. In Nicholson Hollow, before we began our ascent, we also caught sight of a large owl flying from one tree to another. Perched again upon a limb, it looked back at us, and then flew further on. Once we began our ascent, our movement frightened off a black bear, which scampered up the hill, away from us. All in all, it proved to be a great hike for spotting wildlife, as well as getting a little exercise. In the Falcon Guide to Hiking Shenandoah, the difficulty level of this hike is rated as moderate to strenuous.

A “Beary” Good Hike: Rose River Loop and Dark Hallow Falls

The Rose River Loop is a wonder to hike, with all the beauty of the Cedar Run hike, but with less of the physical exertion. Tod and I started  from, mile 49.4 on Skyline Drive and took the trail down, about one mile before seeing the stream. We followed the small cascades of water until we came to a large falls. Several young women were hanging over the tree trunks taking pictures. Tod, not much for idleness, said “Let’s get out of here before one of them falls and needs to be rescued!” We left them behind to continue the hike.IMG_2779

The first big falls was one of many spectacular water features. If this had been the good ‘ol film days, my I would need big bucks to process the film. I took a million pictures! How could I not? It was beautiful.

All this time, I had been wondering about bears. Fortunately, I guess, we had not seen any. Then, a hiker stoped as as we approached, warning us that a bear was on the trail ahead. Of course, Tod wanted to move forward. I was more cautious. All of us watched as the bear meandered up the hill.

Not long after, I was engrossed in taking pictures of a waterfall when Tod shouted, “Look over there!” Sure enough, a bear was on the other side of the stream. I took pictures (of course!) and we moved on.IMG_2787

The second part of the hike was pretty much uphill, hugging the water as we ascended up with the river. Eventually, we got to a bridge that led to the turn off for Dark Hallow Falls. Since it was only 1/4 mile up, we decided to go.

Dark Hallow can be approached from above as well, and since it is a short but steep hike, there were a ton of people there. The Falls are stunning, but I wish there were fewer people. On our way down we ran into the women who had been hanging from the tree trunks so, luckily, it appears that they didn’t need any assistance. IMG_2799

Just to add a bit more excitement to the hike, we saw another young bear while walking the fire road back to the car. (Three bears in one hike!) Overall, this 4.5 mile loop was well worth the trip.