Shenandoah National Park pt. 1: AT Days 56 & 57
Rockfish Gap to Blackrock Hut, 20.7 Miles
After a great night of sleep in a comfy bed, Legs dropped me back off at Rockfish Gap at 8:00 AM the next morning. I walked back into the woods, filled out my hiker permit for the Shenandoah National Park, and was on my way. 104 miles of the AT runs through this park, and my game plan is to complete this section in 4.5 days.
Flat but rocky trail kicked off the hiking in the park before an easy, gradual climb up Bear Den Mountain. Most of the day was filled with these mellow, gradual inclines and downhills, and I learned first hand why the park is known for its easier “rolling hills”. The whole day was spent in the green tunnel; it wasn’t the most exciting day of hiking but I was enjoying the green forests and the cruisy terrain. The most exciting thing that happened on this day was a massive rattlesnake sighting right off trail 8 miles into my hike.
The AT crosses the Skyline Drive many times throughout the park, and I lost count how many road crossings and parking lots I hiked through today. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and the day hikers and weekend warriors were out in full force.
After many gradual uphills and downhills, the AT crosses the Skyline Drive at Blackrock Gap where the toughest climb of the day led me to Blackrock Shelter, capping off probably the quickest and easiest 20 mile day I’ve had so far. My plan is to camp at shelter areas every night I’m in the park to ensure I properly store my food in the bear boxes provided only at shelters, as bears are very active in this park.
I was on trail by 7 AM and resumed the gradual climb up Blackrock Mountain, which provided the first vista view in the park. A mostly flat 7 miles in the green tunnel followed the summit, leading to a junction for the Loft Mountain Camp Store, 70 yards away. I stopped by to check it out, purchased a soda and a snack and hung out there for a bit before continuing on. Apparently the park has Waysides all along the trail; gas-station-like stores that sell hot food, snacks, soda, beer, and all other kinds of stuff thru-hikers might need. They also have showers at some of them, according to guthooks.
At this point of the day, the heat was starting to become pretty intense, and the difficulty of the trail slightly turned up a notch. Today’s hike was tougher that the previous days hike; with longer, steeper and more frequent inclines. I ascended Weaver Mountain where I broke for lunch 14.5 miles in for the day. It was still early and I only had 7 miles left so taking an hour long lunch siesta felt good. The trail continues to get tougher from here, as a longer and steeper climb up an unnamed hill immediately follows Weaver Mountain.
Several short but steeper bursts of ups and downs followed before beginning the final climb up Hightop Mountain. Between the series of climbs and the hot weather I was beginning to feel quite exhausted, and was feeling relieved when I arrived at Hightop Hut at around 4:00. Even with the hot weather and tougher climbs at the end of the day, I really enjoyed the days hike. Shenandoah National Park has some really pretty forests and I look forward to seeing the rest of the park. Rumor has it the park only gets easier as I continue north.
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