Appalachian Trail Project in VA - 5/25/14 - Morgan Mill Stream to Jim & Molly Denton Shelter – 22 miles
On the trail very early, before 7:00 a.m., 16.2 miles to cover today to Manassas Gap Shelter. Two more ups-and-downs right out of camp, no easing into it, and we reached the southern end of the Roller Coaster. There was still significant elevation coming, but the climbs are more gradual with luxurious flat stretches to lollygag on. We paused at the side trail to Rod Hollow Shelter, where we could have pressed on to last night, and talked to the last people leaving there. Sounded like it was a full house and I’m glad we opted for a quiet campsite beside a babbling creek.
Through a wet boggy area
On the AT through northern Virginia there is some noted feature about every half mile, and if you are the type of hiker that likes to keep track of your progress this is a dream section. If you like solitude and a wilderness ain’t-nobody-ever-been-here-but-me feeling, you will be miserable. I am more of the former, keeping an eye on the clues, but I also appreciate hiking alone in my zone. Cathy and Anonymous stayed ahead of me and out of earshot all day, but I was only a few minutes behind every stop, and I thoroughly enjoyed the pace. Crossing streams and roads and connecting side trails kept me oriented and wildflowers and rock walls kept me entertained.
South of Ashby Gap (crossing US 50/17) the trail wanders into open meadows on a rutted road bed. Ahead of me I could see a trail sign (couldn’t read it yet) and a trail coming in from the left. This is the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail, which leads east to Sky Meadows State Park and gives easy access to the AT. As I approached this intersection I noted other hikers, including three young men accompanied by a large unleashed dog and a couple walking toward them with a dog on-leash. Something told me to slow down…sure enough, the unleashed dog attacked the other, whether in play or in earnest, I don’t know. I heard lots of growling and barking and yelling. The owners sorted the animals out, but I could see the law-abiding (aka leashed) dog owners were not happy with the clueless guys (who subsequently leashed their dog...I mean, why carry the thing and not use it?)
Three-quarters of a mile farther I reached the main side trail to Sky Meadows Visitor Center, where the three of us had planned to meet up. The bench was occupied and there were perhaps a dozen people congregating, but no Cathy and Anon, so I kept walking. Probably they didn’t want to stand around with everyone and were just around the bend. But I kept walking, walking, walking…surely they are still ahead of me. Suddenly Cathy appeared walking toward me, a little bit kerfuffled because Anonymous wasn’t anywhere to be found.
Within a few minutes we heard Anon calling and we were reunited. He had unintentionally turned onto Ambassador Whitehouse Trail, making a mile detour for himself. But he said the view was great!
One more mile and we reached Signal Knob parking area, significant because here marked Cathy’s completion of her 17-mile “missing link”. She’s completed half of the Appalachian Trail! And a trail angel had left a cooler of icy Gatorade.
At 3:30 p.m. we reached our stopping point for the day, Manassas Gap Shelter. Given our early start and with one eye on my watch and one eye on the trail map all day, I suspected that we would arrive very early and have a decision to make. While 16 miles is a respectable distance for a backpacker, stopping at 3:30 p.m. with 5 hours of daylight to kill was not optimal. So far the hiking had been moderate and my feet/legs/back felt pretty good. We decided to push on another 5.5 miles to the next shelter. Knowing that my personal distance record (with just a daypack) was 20 miles in the Great Smoky Mountains, this was a challenge to set a new personal best.
Still, Manassas Gap Shelter was a good enough place to take a break, put down the backpacks, use the privy and sit down for a few minutes. But who is that walking up to the shelter? Some familiar faces! Brandon, from our Glacier NP trip, and his girlfriend Kris, a fellow Berg Wanderer, were visiting family in the area and squeezing in a dayhike on the AT. Five minutes later and we would have missed each other.
Another random stone wall
Throughout the day we encoun- tered northbound thru-hikers with regularity. Near Manassas Gap (VA 55) we met a young man hiking with his favorite female companion, said she does very well when they take good rest breaks (don’t we all?)
Cathy and Anonymous following the white blazes under I-66
The last three miles of the day wound in and out of the woods, through open pastures, over railroad tracks, on footbridges and boardwalks over Goose Creek and up one more big climb (then down, of course, and a little bit more uphill) to Jim & Molly Denton Shelter.
The shelter’s reputation precedes it, boasting a big front deck with Adirondack chairs, a separate covered pavilion with a fire ring, two levels of bunks, and a solar shower. All true. By 6:30 p.m. when we rolled in the shelter was nearly filled, room for Cathy and Anonymous to squeeze in, while I preferred to pitch my tent in a quiet spot. The spring was a bit of a walk up the hill (aren’t I spoiled?) but otherwise it was a welcome respite at the end of my new longest day on the (any) trail.
Supper and a cuppa tea. Ahhhhh.
"Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it was broken." ~Yogi Berra