Saturday, December 27, 2014

AT Project in VA: Shenandoah NP - Bootens Gap to Skyland Resort

AT Project in Virginia:  Shenandoah Wrap-Up – 10/17/14 – Bootens Gap to Skyland Resort – 13.3 Miles

My goal of hiking all the Appalachian Trail miles in Virginia was within reach when I convinced Jim to help me out for one last weekend in Shenandoah National Park.  Honey, wouldn’t you like to ride your bike in those beautiful mountains again?  It’s the busiest leaf-peeping fall weekend of the year and we have no place to stay, but I’m sure something will work out…

The “something” meant leaving home at 6:00 a.m. on a Friday hoping for an unreserved site in one of the Park campgrounds, otherwise we would have to find a hotel and endure a lengthy drive each morning and evening to Skyline Drive and the trailheads.  At 11:30 a.m., after 5.5 hours of interstate driving, we pulled into the smallest of the Park campgrounds, Lewis Mountain, all sites first-come-first-served, turnover at noon.  We sat and waited for a young couple to pack up and vacate their site.  A pretty good gamble.  Don’t let lack of a reservation make you stay home.

Now hurry, it’s time for hiking and biking!  Jim dropped me off where the AT crosses Skyline Drive at Bootens Gap with a plan to hike northbound to meet at Skyland Resort, where I finished up my recent solo trip from the other direction:  13.3 miles starting at 12:30 p.m.  It was a sunny, breezy day and I charged up Hazeltop Mountain. 

Intersections in Shenandoah are marked by concrete pillars with embossed metal bands that can be hard to read until you get within inches of the writing

Full strength yellow

A single branch of colors

The trails were busy with human and canine activity, which meant no chance of seeing larger wildlife.  For the most part I’ve made my peace with leashed dogs on the trail (and they are allowed in Shenandoah NP, unlike Great Smoky Mountains NP) but I did encounter one clueless group of hikers where their unleashed dog snapped and lunged toward me before they grabbed him by the collar and attached a leash.  The man explained to me that the dog was aggressive because I acted afraid – and did not see the irony that perhaps it was the other way around.  I chided him for not having control of his dog. 

The AT crosses Tanners Ridge Road at this large cemetery

Keeping an eye on the trail markers is essential as the AT approaches the Big Meadows area where many access trails criss-cross going to and from the lodge, the campground, the Wayside store, nearby Lewis Falls.  One woman with two tired-looking teenage girls asked me for directions but I couldn’t help her much because she wasn’t sure where she had started from. 

Viewpoint near Big Meadows Lodge – couldn’t believe I had a moment alone

The AT passed within 30 yards of the northern edge of Big Meadows Campground and I made a mental note for a future visit – a great base camp for section hiking.

About a mile past the campground the AT touches Fishers Gap on Skyline Drive with a large parking area and a maintenance road.  As I mentioned earlier, there were people and cars everywhere and I had a head- scratching moment trying to find where the AT went.  Another hiker pointed out that this car was parked across the trail.

The big attraction:  Franklin Cliffs with multiple wide open view- points.  My guidebook describes the rock as basaltic rock resulting from erosion of ancient lava beds.  Walking along this section reminded me of Tinker Cliffs near McAfee Knob further south on the AT.

View from Franklin Cliffs

As I approached where the AT passes beneath the overlook at Hawksbill Gap I saw an older couple sitting on the ground admiring the view and took the opportunity to ask them to take a photo (here with Pollock Knob in the background).  We struck up a conversation where they asked me many questions about where I was hiking to today and my overall project of hiking the AT miles in Virginia.  Maria and Kris live in Montreal, originally from Poland, and enjoy camping.  I got a chuckle out of a story Kris told about “birds” being interested in their hung-up food bags when I realized that his heavy accent was saying “bears.”  Maria was particularly interested in my solo dayhiking and backpack- ing because Kris is not keen on long miles.  I was very pleased to see that she was not fazed by any of my answers; on the contrary, she seemed very encouraged that age and gender do not matter to enjoy solo hiking.

Maria and Kris

With just a couple of miles to my destination and anticipation of a nice dinner, I picked up the pace, still making sure to enjoy the walk.  Here the AT passed along below Crescent Rock, also eroded remnants of lava beds like Franklin Cliffs.

A poor photo that doesn’t really capture the sun’s rays as it sank behind the mountains

Near Skyland the AT passes the pasture and stables for horses

Jim was waiting for me, beer in hand, in the lounge at Skyland Resort.  He had set up our tent at the campsite and then had a fine afternoon biking on Skyline Drive, although the traffic was a bit heavy for his comfort level.  We enjoyed dinner with a view and went back to camp.  In the two sites next to us were a family with young kids running around and grandparents in a small RV.  We fell asleep to the sound of hide-and-seek and wind blowing through the trees.

“Think of all the beauty that is still left in and around you and be happy.”  ~Anne Frank

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