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

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.

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!

The Appalachian Trail: Manassas Gap to Chester Gap, Virginia

On March 15, IMG_0484with the advent of spring and despite the previous day of rain, Karen and I decided to venture out onto the Appalachian Trail. It wasn’t as muddy as one might have supposed; it was mucky in patches but never swallow-your-boots muddy. There were also a few patches of ice, vestiges of winter, off to the side of the trail. The weather was accommodating, with a high in the mid-50s and gusty winds. Threatening clouds gathered in the morning, which suggested to us that we might have been more prepared, despite the assurances of meteorologists. Even so, it proved to be a beautiful day for hiking.

We could hear a few birds, but it would appear that most had not yet returned north. For the most part, we heard the crunch of dead leaves beneath our feet and, in a few places, the running of a creek. We crossed that creek twice, and we had to be careful of our footing on the rocks, as it was certainly deep enough to cover our boots and then some. We had brought spare socks just in case.

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Going southward, from about a mile northeast of Linden, our hike began with an ascent of 600 feet. It wasn’t by any means daunting, but was rigorous enough to let us know that we had gotten a bit out of shape during the winter. With the trees still bare, Karen and I could sometimes see valleys and mountains that would otherwise have been hidden. Near the top of this first ascent, we could look back through the trees and see I-66 in the distance.

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Before we reached the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter, we met a northbound thru-hiker who claimed to have begun his journey in January. Given the snow we’ve had this past winter, Karen and I were both a little incredulous, but he assured us that he was quite insane–when it came to hiking, that is. We stopped at the Denton Shelter for lunch, and I have it from a credible source that the privy there is not only remarkably clean but even pretty.