Miles 900-1100: View of Powell Gap Hollow to Tom’s Run
We crossed 900 miles at an overlook in Shenandoah National Park (NP) and stayed within the park for a total of 110 miles (some of which was covered in last post). The trail and Skyline Drive continue to crisscross throughout the park. We traveled through Lewis Mt Campground, Bearfence Mt view, Big Meadows Wayside, and watched the sunset at Franklin Cliffs. The trail leads to Skyland stables where we were able to pet the horses and up to Skyland Restaurant and Resort for a nice meal. Stony Man (side trail, highest point in park) & Little Stony Man (on trail) were memorable views. We loved the hike from Skyland to Pass Mt. Mary’s Rock was fantastic. Elkwallow Wayside was our last stop for blackberry milkshakes.
Sadly, we had to exit the park. Passed through meadows in Sky Meadow State Park. Then, the trail descends 2000 ft to Front Royal. The 27 miles between Manassas Gap and Snicker’s Gap was Colonel John Mosby’s western front during the Civil War. Follow the green tunnel before hitting the infamous “Roller Coaster!” This section is 13.5 miles of tightly packed ascents & descents. We met the creator, Trail Boss, at Blackburn AT Center. Watched a sunset from Buzzard Rocks. The descent into Harper’s Ferry was a cake walk compared to the roller coaster. We quickly passed through WV and into Maryland. The war correspondent’s monument and the original Washington Monument were some of the sites. Pastoral views were admired from Black Rock Cliffs. High Rock is a popular spot for base jumping and was covered head to toe in graffiti. Crossed Mason Dixon Line and entered Pennsylvania at mile 1064. Caledonia State Park is a lovely picnic spot. The official midpoint for 2016 was at 1094.5! Tom’s Run footbridge marks 1100 miles.
Highlights and Surprises
So many wonderful things… we were blessed with some incredible trail magic at Loft Mt Campground in Shenandoah NP by a couple named Mama Bear & T Cubed. Their son hiked a few years ago and for the past 4 years they have been doing an entire weekend of trail magic. They hung fliers and had set times. 10 hours of chili dogs and cold drinks on Saturday, and several hours of made to order breakfast on Sunday morning. We made it for breakfast, which included ham/egg/cheese sandwiches, coffee, donut holes, fruit, salad, hot dogs, etc. She even had snacks and bags for hikers to fill and take along. Amazing! I am continually amazed by the generosity around me. To think that this is how they spent their weekend, their time, their money… incredible.
The Shenandoah NP has been a major highlight for us. It is just beautiful and it’s kind of nice to be intertwined with society for a week or so. We enjoy explaining our journey to day hikers and visitors from around the world. We were even put on the spot by a ranger leading an interpretive walk who wanted to show her group some “real thru-hikers.” Haha. It was nice to have running water, picnic areas, and even restaurants! They call them “waysides” and they are all off of Skyline Drive. The blackberry milkshakes were my favorite! We also had a sit down lunch at the resort with our friend from the Netherlands, Joker.
We had the first of several interesting bear bagging incidents on this stretch. We always hang our food at night, sometimes using an established bear hang or bear pole (in the park) and sometimes hanging our own. With bears so prevalent in the park, this was especially important lately. At Franklin Cliffs, we didn’t hang it until the sun was already down. First, Andrew threw the bag up and it got stuck in some branches. On his second try, the carabiner clipped into a small branch of a neighboring tree about 20 feet from the ground… in order to get it back down we had to pull and stretch the poor little tree down as far as we could to unclip it. (Interestingly, Andrew got his first blister of the trip from this incident. It’s on his hand!) We decided that branch wouldn’t work and found a new tree over the trail with less underbrush surrounding it. This time, the rock we threw became lodged in the “y” of a branch and could not be forced through. It was 30 feet from the ground and we ended up having to cut the cord and leave the carabiner and stuff sack in the tree. Andrew ended up climbing the tree and retrieving it in the morning. The third bear hang of the night was at least moderately successful. It wasn’t as high as the others but we were able to tie the remaining rope to a rock and get it over a branch. Andrew was charged with so much adrenaline that he didn’t even flinch when the swinging rock struck him in the back of the head! (Claudia didn’t know this until several days later!) A few nights later we got into camp just before sunset and thought we’d learned our lesson- hang the bear hang before dark and then hoist the food after dinner. We were proud of this new knowledge. We had our rope strung over a high limb before dinner. When it came time to hang the food, we attached the bags to the carabiner as always. Usually, we stand back and hoist together. The angle, weight, and size of the cord make it challenging at times. This time, Andrew jokingly told me to pull as soon as he clipped the bags in, so I did. Immediately, we heard a loud crack and grabbed onto one another. The entire branch came crashing down from 25 feet above. The tree was alive but the branch was dead. Luckily, we were not injured but we learned another valuable lesson in bear bagging!
Sadly, we’ve been on the trail long enough now to see people dropping out… it’s been happening from day 1 but now we’re seeing it up close. Only a small percentage of people that start the trail actually finish. Some hikers leave due to injuries or finances, others just get tired of walking. There have been days where I’ve felt a little “bluesy.” (Claudia) I wouldn’t call it full blown “Virginia Blues” because it usually goes away after a substantial snack or Advil. Earlier in our trip we had some external trials that we had to work through but this is the first time we’ve had moments of feeling overwhelmed or bored by the hike itself. Hitting milestones helps alleviate some of the bluesy feelings. We not only hit 1000 miles (and then 1100), but we also walked out of Virginia (& WV & MD). I think we’re in good shape and always working towards having a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) in life.
Small goals of meeting friends or family along the way help us to keep on walking. We don’t want to get “summit fever” so we rarely dwell on Maine. Harper’s Ferry is the psychological halfway point and we were fortunate enough to be greeted by a friend’s mother, Lyn, who volunteers at the ATC headquarters! She checked us in, took our photo for the book (#638 & 639 for the year), and found our mail. Lyn took us back to her & Ron’s farm, Federal Hill Farm. Built in the 1850’s, it survived the Civil War and has been in their family for generations. She stocked the fridge and provided us with a thru-hiker feast, showers, and laundry. Nick (her son) and Andrew went to William & Mary together, roomed together, swam together. He was able to join us and his parents for a steak dinner on Sunday night! We had an incredible time at Federal Hill Farm.
Fishing with Reese was a major highlight. He’s a pretty incredible 17 year old that we knew from Little Rock but moved to VA. He met us in Harper’s Ferry with his mom, brother, and friend for some fishing on the Shenandoah River. He surprised us with a picnic, complete with homemade apple pie!
For Claudia’s birthday, we stayed at the “Stouffer Farmette” outside of Chambursburg, PA. It is at the home of Andrew’s college friend’s sister… distant connection and very brave of them to be so generous with us! They left us a guest house and their car to explore the area (they were on vacation). The property was incredible and we enjoyed the R&R at the farm. They have chickens, bees, fruit trees, a garden, and best of all a spring fed trout stream! Thanks so much to Bobby J & Aly for setting this up and to the Stouffer’s for taking a chance!
Civil War Points of Interest
More information to come in a separate, detailed post.
- Waynesboro (prior to Shenandoah NP)- Museum has a pistol reportedly carried by Confederate General Jubal Early.
- Front Royal- one of the site’s of Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign. One of few “urban” battles.
- Harper’s Ferry- John Brown’s Fort and national armory site, visitor center and museum with many artifacts
- Antietam- (30 minute drive from Harper’s Ferry) Bloodiest single day of the war. Driving tour gives you a feel for the size & scope of battle.
Favorite Recipes of 10th & 11th 100 Miles
Sautee prosciutto and set aside. (Trail magic!) 1 cup rice, 3/4 cup quinoa, 3 Tbsp tomato paste, 1 tsp pepper, 2 Tbsp garlic, 1 Tbsp olive oil
2 pkg Italian veg soup from Harmony House, 1 cup rice, 1/2 cup white beans, 2 cups chicken TVP, 2 Tbsp tomato paste, 2 tsp garlic salt, 1 tsp ground red pepper, 1 Tbsp chicken bouillon, 1 tsp fennel. Drizzle olive oil after cooking.
Where We Stayed/Mileage
Day 75, camped at Hightop Hut mile 903.4, Franklin Cliffs (22.2), Pass Mt Hut (17), Compton Gap stealth (21.1), Jim & Molly Denton (17.8), Morgan Mill Stream (21.3), David Lesser Memorial (17.8), Federal Hill Farm (9.5, 0), Crampton Gap (11), Pogo Memorial (15.7), Antietam Shelter (21.9), Stouffer Farmette (11.2, 0), Toms Run (15.8), Day 90 crossed over 1100 miles!
The usual chipmunks, squirrels, toads, deer, etc
2 more black bears in Shenandoah NP! Both encounters were pleasant. The bears were both near large camping areas and appeared to be very comfortable with humans. Ideally, bears should be afraid of humans as they naturally are in the wild. These bears both seemed very neutral about our presence in their woods.
What We’re Reading
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Claudia) and Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara (Andrew)
Trail Beta for Future Hikers
- Take full advantage of the waysides in the Shenandoahs! Don’t rush through the park. BLACKBERRY MILKSHAKES are incredible. I will be back for more.
- Hang your food, each and every night. Bears are not dangerous until they encounter human food. Prevent that from happening by being a responsible camper.
- Skyland to Pass Mountain is our recommendation for a section or day hike within Shenandoah National Park.
- Blackburn Trail Center is a donation based spot about 1/4 mile off the trail (down a steep hill). It is run by the Potomac AT Club. You can camp, shower, get running water, etc. They prepare an even meal and have cold sodas.
- Front Royal is on it’s way to becoming a trail town. They are almost there but not quite. They recently added a shuttle service from the trail head. It’s not in the guidebook yet so we missed it. They pick up at 9:50 and 2:20 daily. The town is very cute with lots of history. There is no outfitter and we had to use an alternative fuel source because they didn’t have what we needed. Stop in at the town’s visitor center. They have hiker goodie bags, a hiker box, and a place to stash your pack for the day.
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