Monday, December 29, 2014

AT Project in VA: Goodbye to Shenandoah NP

AT Project in Virginia:  Shenandoah Wrap-Up – 10/19/14 – Smith Roach Gap Southbound to Loft Mountain Campground Store – 12.9 Miles

Lordy, a cold start to the morning!  The wind gusted through the night, bringing on the cold front, and I did not envy Jim riding a bike today.  (In truth he had a leisurely breakfast at the Loft Mountain Wayside while waiting for the day to “warm up.”)  We had a long drive home after our adventures today, so we threw the tent and gear in the car early and got going.

Starting at Smith Roach Gap again (this time heading southbound) I donned all my gear, including gloves, hat and rain jacket, hoping I would soon be taking it all off.  And wouldn’t you know it?  Every other hike of my life has started out with an uphill climb to get the blood flowing…but today it was a gentle downhill around Roundtop Mountain.  The sun was shining, leaves were still crunching, and this was my last day in Shenandoah NP.  Exhilerating!

After crossing Skyline Drive at Powell Gap, the AT climbs the shoulder of Flattop Mountain.  Grand view of Roach River Valley.

Today’s miles felt a little bit like the Roller Coaster section of the AT as it crosses into West Virginia, continuous ups and downs.  From the top of the shoulder of Flattop the trail immediately begins its descent down to Simmons Gap.  There the trail crosses Skyline Drive again and I paused as I recognized this as the point where a year ago our car struck a deer. 

My next climb was Weaver Mountain, no-nonsense switchbacks, and I kept a steady pace.  At the tip-top I heard voices and around the bend came four backpackers in shorts and short sleeves.  As I was registering surprise at their lack of clothing on such a chilly morning, I spotted the very big dog with them (surely a cross between a Saint Bernard and a Great Dane).  The group stopped short at the same moment when they saw me, and the woman in front asked if the dog could approach me – a very different scenario from my encounter with the clueless dayhikers two days ago.  I said yes and the dog very gently came up and licked my hand.  They were gone in a flash.

Down again to Pinefield Gap, then up an unnamed peak (what?  why no name? no more roaches?) and down to Ivy Creek Overlook for expansive views.  I don’t carry my big guidebook with me so I wasn’t able to note the name of the pointy peak, but isn’t it spectacular?

Skyline Drive on the right

Down again into the miniature canyon where Ivy Creek flows.  This was the only noteworthy stream I crossed in three days of hiking.  Lovely.

For the next few miles there were numerous rock outcroppings looking both east and west and I checked out most of them.  I was getting more and more excited as I neared the end of my hike.  At one rock point I said hello to two young backpackers.  I recognized the woman from the previous day because she was wearing bright pink tights.  They introduced themselves as Sockless and Blazer.  Today they were completing their through-hike of the entire AT, meeting their moms at Dundo Picnic Area.  Blazer (the woman) was anticipating an emotional finish and Sockless (the man) was teasing her, although I suspected they would both be overwhelmed when they saw their parents and realized their accomplishment.  How exciting to meet them!  I had a pep in my own step as I continued on to my destination.

Photo taken by Sockless

I was totally unprepared for the wide open space as I crossed Patterson Field and the views to the east.  Just awesome.

Looking east

I arrived at the Loft Mountain Campground store to find Jim waiting for me, but alas, the showers were closed for cleaning.  We changed clothes and waved goodbye to Shenandoah National Park.  I hope to return as a helper for section hiker friends and explore some of the peaks and trails that I passed by. 

Only one thing on my mind as we drove the long way home:  only 14 miles to finish the AT in Virginia and the route includes Dragon’s Tooth.  Who’s going with me and when?

I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

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