Being Cold in the Shenandoahs (5/3, 5/4, 5/5)
Day 67, 5/3: Paul Wolfe shelter -> camping past Turk Mountain (17.8 miles)
I didn’t sleep great in my hammock because it wasn’t hung far enough apart, so I was a little squished. I still slept better than on the floor, though. Rash hung his hammock outside and said he slept great. Calves and JD left early to get into Waynesboro. The 3 of us decided to treat ourselves with sleeping in this morning since we had such a long day yesterday. It was chilly when we woke up so I put on my puffy for the first time in a while. I also wrapped myself in my sleeping bag while I made breakfast at the picnic table.
We modified our itinerary for the next few days since we covered more ground yesterday than we expected. We made reservations at a resort in a few days and I can hardly wait. We finally got on the trail around 10. I hiked the few miles to the beginning of the Shenandoah National Park and crossed I-64, a highway I take all the time back home. I filled out the park permit and started the hike, hopeful to see a bear.
The park terrain wasn’t different from the regular AT. I hiked alone for the morning, keeping an eye out for bears (I didn’t see any). The weather was sunny and slightly warm with the occasional chilly wind. I stopped on a big rock in the sun to wait for Rash and Piñata and eat lunch. The day was dragging on and we were not motivated to hike.
We crossed several big towers with satellite dishes on them. Near them, we came to 4 tractor seats bolted to the ground meant to be used as chairs. They were comfortable, and the 3 of us sat in them for a while even though we just had a break.
We moved on and stopped at the last stream before we planned on camping. We ate lunch near the stream so we could refill on water before moving onto the camping site. Piñata and Rash packed out ~3 L, and I packed out 2 L. The next water source after our campsite is not for 7 miles.
I hiked ahead and around each bend I was on bear lookout duty. I heard some crashing which put me on alert, but it turned out to be deer. I rounded another bend and saw a doe right beside the trail. She didn’t move and I inched forward, getting as close as 5 feet from her before she moved away.
Rash and Piñata found a good campsite with evenly spaced trees for the night so we set up camp, hung/tied our food bags, and called it a night. Piñata set up her tarp to keep the wind out, even though it was perfectly calm when we went to bed, so Rash and I poked fun at her.
Day 68, 5/4: camping past Turk Mountain -> Pinefield hut (21.1 miles)
I woke up sometime during the night with rhythmic crunching of leaves close to our hammocks. The kind of sound that is only made by something big walking around. The only big thing in the park are deer, bears, and people, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t a hiker. Rash and Piñata starting stirring too, so I figured if we were going to get mauled and eaten by a bear, at least we’d experience it together. The crunching noise circled our hammocks and then stopped over by where Rash and Piñata hung their food bags. Rash unzipped his hammock and turned on his headlamp where the noise was, and it lit up the surprised face of a deer. We were all relieved and went back to sleep.
I woke up again sometime during the night because the temperature had dropped and the wind was whipping angrily against my hammock. Piñata had the right idea setting up her tarp last night! It was bitterly cold and it reminded me of trying to get warm in the Smokies. We got up at 6:30 because we were so cold, and packed up as fast as possible without eating breakfast. We decided to hike down the trail and find a place that was out of the wind for breakfast. I think I set a personal record with how quickly I packed up. I hiked out with my shelter pants, my capris over them, my long sleeved shirt, my fleece, my puffy, my hat, and my gloves. I would have worn my rain jacket under my puffy if I had the nerve to take my puffy off, which I didn’t. It was unfathomable that it was this cold in May, but without the wind it was probably only in the 40s. The wind made the temperature unbearable.
I started sweating under my puffy on the first climb, so I switched it out for my rain jacket and instantly started freezing until I kept moving. That brought back terrible memories of how awful my early hiking experience was. Not too long down the trail, I found a large log with absolutely no wind and stopped to cook breakfast. I was feeling sick trying to hike on an empty stomach, and I couldn’t go on without eating something. Rash and Piñata joined me. I made my last 2 oatmeal packets and fried a batch of pancakes. That left me with just one packet of pancake mix, 1/2 a bag of trail mix, and snacks and bread for lunch today in my food bag. We are resupplying food today and I don’t think my food bag has ever been this empty. I usually have an extra meal built in for emergencies, so I hoped resupplying goes smoothly today because I didn’t have a contingency.
After breakfast I hiked on, but I was moving slowly. Hiking in the cold feels like my legs are moving through molasses, which again brought back terrible memories of the Smokies. After I thought I’d been hiking for at least 1.5 maybe 2 hours, I looked at my watch and it had been 36 minutes.
There were a lot of small ups and downs to cover and it was exhausting. I finally made it to the shelter for lunch, which was 0.2 miles down a steep blue blaze full of rocks. Piñata and Rash were having lunch and I joined them. Soon after I arrived, 2 rangers showed up and asked to see our permits. Luckily we had everything in order. They were very friendly, picking up trash, making conversation, and told us if there was anything that needed attention in the park to write it in the shelter book because they read them.
The afternoon hike went better because it started warming up as the sun came out. There were some pretty views with dark ominous rain clouds on the horizon. The rain was supposed to hold out until 5-6pm, which is when we were hoping to get to the shelter.
We got to the camp store to resupply and as usual, everything was incredibly overpriced. Anything purchased in a park has a hefty price tag. The oatmeal variety packs I usually get at Walmart for $2-3 was $6.95 at the store. We didn’t have any other options, though, so we got what we needed. We went outside to put it in our food bags and the temperature felt 10 degrees cooler. We were all shivering packing our food. I was hurrying, really wanting to beat the rain.
The rest of the 6 miles were uneventful, and I even saw the sun again temporarily. The shelter was down a hill with a stream at the bottom. At the shelter I found a flip flopper named Swamp, a previous thru hiker in 2011, and a sectioner that grew up near me in Virginia Beach and used to volunteer at the rescue squad. After Rash and Piñata arrived, some other familiar faces showed up: Oz, The Machine, and Lumberjill! We all had fun cooking dinner and trying the previous thru hiker’s stir fried chicken of the woods (a mushroom).
Not too long after everyone arrived, it started lightly raining, then downpouring. I love being in shelters during rain and listening to it beat down on the roof. We have another 20 miles tomorrow and then the next day is town (hotel) day!
Day 69, 5/5: Pinefield hut -> Bearfence Mountain hut (20.6 miles)
The rain poured all night long. In the past when we’ve heard rain, it would pitter patter softly all night. Last night was a torrential downpour for hours. When I woke up, I was excited that it wasn’t as cold as when we woke up yesterday morning. I got up to use the privy and walked by what was the small stream yesterday. Overnight, the babbling brook grew into a horrible, rolling monster. The rocks we used to cross yesterday were completely covered by a half foot of angry, muddy water. I figured we’d deal with that later and continued to the privy.
We ate breakfast and packed up everything but didn’t put our shoes on. We used our camp shoes to cross, and miraculously no one slipped or got swept away. The water was up to our shins and trying its best to push us downstream. We dried our feet and put our shoes on. At the top of the hill where the trail started, we saw that the trail was a complete swamp field. We hopped on rocks, avoiding the water. We didn’t know that it wouldn’t matter soon, because the whole trail was a stream.
The day was miserable. It was cold, raining, and we were drenched. The Machine and Oz were in front and they were planning on hitching into town for resupply food. Lumberjill, Rash, Piñata, and I were hiking together and hit 900 miles! Someone arranged sticks in a 9-0-0 on the trail.
When we got to the shelter for lunch and stopped moving, we were all freezing. During our break we listened to 2 section hikers talked. The man was telling the woman how he cured his wife’s cancer with herbal remedies and they also both did heroin. It was an interesting conversation to listen to while eating. We were so cold that we only stayed 15 minutes and hiked on to get warm.
The sun actually came out in the afternoon and the weather warmed up. It was a sight for sore eyes after the misery of this morning. We came across 2 hikers taking a break, Wick and Haiku with their dog Baby Bear. Not seeing dogs everyday is something I miss most about home. I pet Baby Bear for a while then headed the remaining 4-5 miles to the shelter.
The layout for Bearfence hut is ridiculous. You pass the shelter on the trail and can see it through the woods, but there’s no path. Up the trail you get to a path that backtracks 0.3 miles! An extra 0.6 miles round trip is a lot when we’re already hiking 20 miles a day. I was first at the shelter with a section hiker, Ziplock. He decided to tent and I put my wet clothes out on the fire pit to dry. The others arrived and Rash and I took our soaking wet shoes and washed them in the stream to get the dirt and gravel out. Last time we crossed a stream the coarse dirt rubbed his heels raw.
We ate dinner while the rest of the crew came in. Since it’s Cinco de Mayo, The Machine and Oz packed out Lime-A-Ritas from town. We drew moustaches on our fingers and took a picture in celebration.
We turned in early because tomorrow is town (hotel) day! We also plan to stop at the wayside (places in the Shenandoahs slightly off trail where you can buy food) before the resort.
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