Day 80: Swift Run Gap, US 33 to Bearfence Overlook (9.7 miles, marker 919.6)
Very mellow start to my day. I’m definitely carrying more food then I need to, but I feel good with my plan. I do have opinions about how to carry as little as possible through Shenandoah and will expand at the end of this post when I’ve completed the park. That said… after sleeping in, breakfast out, my yoga practice, and then lunch out, Dan dropped me off at the trailhead.
The climb wasn’t very steep, and the ten-mile hike seemed to fly by. I did get to see a groundhog and a whitetail deer along my hike.
I stopped by Bearfence Mountain Hut to have dinner and fill up on water before heading up Bearfence Mountain to the overlook. There was one decent site at the top of the overlook with room for about three tents. Navigator and her son Barter Boy already had one site, and a hiker I had yet to meet, Vanilla, occupied the second. I squeezed into the remaining site, hung my bag, and went out to the overlook to enjoy the sunset in all the haze.
Day 81: Bearfence Overlook to Skyland Resort (15.1 miles, marker 934.7)
I woke up to a cold morning today. The wind was blowing constantly across the mountaintop, and I dressed in multiple layers for warmth. I had on my short sleeve shirt, long sleeve sun shirt, fleece for warmth, and rain jacket to cut the wind, as well as my wool leggings to keep my legs warm. I quickly broke camp, stashed the rain jacket, and hiked two miles down, out of the wind, where I paused for some breakfast and took off the fleece and leggings. A little less than four miles later, the hike took me past Big Meadows wayside and visitor center, where I paused for a snack, a fresh cup of coffee, and restrooms with running water. After that, I buzzed all the way to Skyland with a quick pause at Rock Spring Hut for some lunch and a water resupply. At Skyland, I got the room I reserved a couple days ago and took a short nap before heading over to the dining room for a good burger with fries and a salad. I then headed over to the tap room for a bit, where I chatted with some locals until the clog show began. After 40 minutes of clogging, my brain couldn’t take the noise anymore, so I headed back to my room and relaxed for a couple hours before sleeping in a comfortable bed.
Day 82: Skyland Resort to Neighbor Mountain Trailhead (14.3 miles, marker 949)
Today started very slow, and I felt very out of sorts. Breakfast at the lodge was delicious, and I got to chat with one of the Warrior Project hikers for a bit. Then, as I gathered my things, something just felt out of place. It took a while for me to put my finger on it. About 15 years ago, I did a week-long section hike in Shenandoah with Sabrina. We had a wonderful time, finishing our hike at Skyland. Since it was the last night of our trip and there was a room available, we stayed here, ate at the lodge, and even saw clog dancers that evening. What was going on emotionally was that I felt lonely for the first time on this trip. I’ve missed my family before, but I haven’t felt lonely before. This feeling has sat with me most of the day. I don’t feel like it’s something I need to fix—just acknowledging that it’s there. Besides the emotion, the hiking today was relatively easy, and the views were very nice. The views would have been spectacular if not for the haze.
After stopping for dinner at Pass Mountain Hut, I went a few more miles to find a nice campsite. I could have stayed at the hut where there were a few other people, but honestly, I feel like sitting with the emotions that I have right now and not trying to scramble and fix them. I will camp alone tonight and reassess in the morning.
Day 83: Neighbor Mountain Trailhead to Compton Peak (16.7 miles, marker 965.7)
Very nice hike today with my head in a much better place. Got up, broke camp, and walked an easy four miles to the Elkwallow Wayside. I had my usual oatmeal and carnation essentials breakfast and then stopped in and grabbed a sandwich and coffee for second breakfast. The rest of the day was gently graded hikes over Rattlesnake Mountain, Hogback Mountain, and Little Hogback Mountain. Saw a garter snake sunning itself on trail just as I was beginning to climb Rattlesnake Mountain as if saying to me, “Pay attention, snakes be here,” but no rattlers to be seen. I also spent some time considering the source of my loneliness the other day and found that feeling rooted in the very nice memories I had of the place. I was caught in reminiscence instead of presence. Today I felt much better because I spent the day in the present, so I was alone but not lonely. As I wrapped up l my day, I had originally planned on camping at a stealth site just past the last water source in Shenandoah. It was early enough, and I felt good enough that I decided to hike on for something more exciting. Just a half mile later, I came to the Compton Peak trail, which consisted of a 0.2-mile trail in either direction to see the views. I took a chance, turned left, and found a lovely campsite just before coming out to a beautiful viewpoint which would become my spot for dinner, sunset, and breakfast.
Day 83: Compton Peak to Mountain Home B&B and Cabbin, Front Royal, VA (6.7 miles, marker 972.4)
After breaking camp and a leisurely breakfast while sitting on the cliffs of Compton Peak, I headed out about 9:00 am for my short walk into town. As soon as I got back to the AT, I ran into Papa Bear, a hiker I’ve been leapfrogging with for the past couple weeks. He mentioned plans to slackpack twenty miles the next day and invited me to join, which I happily accepted. We hiked a bit together before separating and hiking the rest of the way to town. As soon as I passed the sign letting me know I was leaving Shenandoah National Park, the trail immediately turned rocky and headed down a steep grade, just to remind me I was still in Virginia, and not all trails are as gentle as Shenandoah.
The hostel was super convenient, being just a sheet walk right off the trail. I arrived before my space was ready, but the owners were super accommodating, and I was able to get showered and a ride into town. Once in town, I was a total glutton. I had lunch at the brewery, head over to the outfitters, then Papa Bear showed up and we went back to the brewery where I had a sale and brussel sprouts. Then went for a resupply trip to the supermarket, visited the meadery in town, and then went out for a Thai dinner before returning to the hostel where I was asleep in sorry order.
Notes on Resupply in Shanendoah National Park
I hiked with just the right amount of food this time, however, it was possible to carry much less than I did. The waysides and camp stores are abundant throughout the park and can be used for resupply. If you entered the park after a good breakfast, you could carry one dinner, one breakfast, and two lunches. Arrive at the Loft Mountain Campstore and wayside (28 miles in) for dinner and supplies. The next wayside is Big Meadows, which also has a camp store (34 more miles), so you would need two breakfasts, two lunches and a dinner, have dinner at Big Meadows and resupply again. The hike to Skyland is only 9 miles, but does not have a camp store for resupply. You would need to carry food for the trip to Elkwallow, which is 27 miles after Big Meadows. If you have breakfast at Big Meadows and Lunch at Skyland, you would need two lunches, a breakfast, and a dinner. Then you could have dinner and resupply at Elkwallow for a 19-mile hike out of the park. Of course, you are paying a premium by buying your food in a national park, but you can also carry 2-3 lbs of food through the whole park, which for some people is worth the trade-off. For reference, here are the NOBO mile markers for the points I’ve mentioned.
Rockfish Gap 864.3
Loft Mountain 892.4
Big Meadows 925.9
Front Royal 972.1
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