AT-VA Backpack – Day 1 – 5/3/13 - Spy Rock Road to Maupin Field Shelter – 19 Miles
“Because of the way the shelters are spaced we need to do 19 miles the first day, about 16 miles the second day, but only 5 miles the third day. Sound okay?” Sharon, if you’re going to hike the Virginia section of the AT, better find some like-minded partners. Cathy, a Berg buddy who was also working on this section, presented this ambitious plan for a long weekend.
Note: This is the weekend where Sharon learns that 19 miles with a loaded backpack and not much conditioning hurts. A lot.
But here we go. Cathy and I drove to Waynes- boro, VA on a Thursday evening, excited to see yellow- green trees marching up the mountain- sides. After a chilly, wet, dreary, dragged-out winter, spring is finally here!
We met our shuttle driver bright and early Friday morning at our ending point at Rockfish Gap, the entrance to Shenandoah National Park and beginning of Skyline Drive. The driver was very friendly and talkative but had never been to our dropoff point before, so we all learned it together. From the fish hatchery near Montebello, VA, gravelly Spy Rock Road allows hikers (not cars) access to the AT near Spy Rock. The very steep .75-mile approach trail got my heart seriously pumping and my head seriously thinking about what the heck I had signed up for. At the AT intersection we turned left and climbed a little more to a side trail to Spy Rock. But with such a long day ahead of us, we skipped the view and continued on.
It didn’t take long for Cathy to get ahead of me; she is a much faster hiker than I am and carries less weight with ultralight gear. We are kind of like the tortoise and the hare (guess which one I am) only in this story the hare always finishes first. Cathy was carrying the water filter that we shared so we needed to stay in touch, and she was very patient to wait for my check-in at pre-arranged points.
Our hope for spring was premature. The new leaves we had enthused about on our drive had not yet emerged on top of the ridges and we walked along beneath mostly winter bare branches.
However, many spring flowers were emerging
Purple violet – so common that I often don’t take pictures but that’s really not fair, is it?
Bloodroot getting ready to bloom – the leaves are very distinctive
Also saw toothwort, wild geranium, rue anemone and spiderwort
Make sure the sign doesn't get stolen
Northbounders on the AT enjoy a reasonably gentle ascent of The Priest but then must negotiate a challenging 3,100-foot descent in 4.3 miles. The good news is that trail builders built 37 switchbacks to minimize erosion and help out hikers’ knees.
At the bottom Cathy and I met again at the bridge crossing over the Tye River. While we were having a snack, two very handsome young section hiking hunks stopped to say hello. Sadly, they were southbound and we soon parted ways. We were old enough to be their moms but who cares? What happens on the AT stays on the AT?
Ready for Three Ridges Wilderness? Lots more wildflowers
So 3,100 feet down to the low point of 970 feet elevation at Tye River, then immediately the trail ascends up Three Ridges Mountain, summiting at 3,984 feet, with a slight dip along the way for Harpers Creek and another shelter. This is one tough day. My feet, knees and quads were feeling the strain.
This is the trail? Seriously?
But look at the view
I was drinking lots of water and a little concerned about running out. At my next meet-up with Cathy she gave me the extra water she had been carrying (why doesn’t that woman drink more?) since she could filter more along the way. Then I cut her loose to go on to our ending point for the night. I felt comfortable with the frequency of trail signs and now it was just a matter of one painful footstep after the other.
13.4 miles in, 5.6 miles to go – yeah, still smiling
I hiked through the area called Chimney Rock but barely looked up to notice the rock formations, just kept climbing up and over Three Ridges Mountain. No more photo-taking for today. From there it was a 1,200-foot descent to Maupin Creek Shelter, our overnight stop. I realized I was going slower and slower and it became difficult to judge distance by timing. As I walked through a rare flat area, I became concerned that I had missed the side trail to the shelter. As I contemplated turning back, I walked up one short but steep bump, thinking “this isn’t even big enough to show on the elevation profile but it feels gigantic”, and on the other side I saw the shelter turnoff sign.
I rolled into camp at 7:30 p.m., 10+ hours of hiking, still not too bad for 19 miles and over 5,000 feet elevation gain. Several other section hikers were spread out in the shelter or in tents nearby. One was a young German guy, trail name Waldo, and two were middle-aged women called Cowgirl and Cover Girl.
Maupin Field Shelter does not look inviting to me
Cathy had been there a while, had made herself comfortable in the shelter and treated water for us. I was carrying the back- packing stove and fuel so she was waiting on me to cook supper. As soon as I could, I prepared for the next day, set up my tent, crawled inside so I could collapse and whimper in privacy, and crashed.
Backpacking: An extended form of hiking in which people carry double the amount of gear they need for half the distance they planned to go in twice the time it should take. ~Author Unknown