Shenandoah National Park pt. 2: AT Days 58-60
Hightop Hut to Rock Spring Hut, 24.1 miles
The days hike began with finishing the ascent up Hightop Mountain, before descending down to Swift Run Gap, a very busy road crossing. From there the AT ascends back up into the woods and gradually inclines in typical Shenandoah fashion, before gradually descending down to another road crossing. The trail repeats this process for the first 11 miles until reaching the junction for the Lewis Mountain Campground store. I took the brief side trail and treated myself to a beer with the bag of chips I purchased.
Leaving the store, a rocky, switchback-filled ascent leads to bear-fence overlook, but unfortunately there was no view as the fog had begun to roll in. The dense fog increased by the minute, and I couldn’t see very far in front of me. By the time I began the ascent up Hazeltop Mountain, a light drizzle had begun and the fog was very thick. Just past the summit, the trail remains very flat for the next several miles, making for quick and easy hiking. I was enjoying the green tunnel scenery, but for some reason the miles seemed to be going by slowly, and I found myself getting slightly bored in the monotony of the terrain for the first time.
With three miles left in my day, the rain really started to come down, so I quickened my pace, ready to get to camp for the night. The final mile to finish off the day had to be earned as the trail began to gradually climb and large rocks appeared out of no where. I rolled into the shelter just after 4:00, perfect timing just as the rain soon turned into a brief downpour. For my third time on trail I opted to sleep in the shelter, as I was in no mood to pitch my tent in the rain. I was happy to have my own personal platform, and sleep came easily that night.
There was a dense layer of fog lingering outside the shelter when I first woke up at 5 AM, but was delighted to see that it wasn’t raining. I wanted an early start to my big day ahead and was on trail ready to crush some miles by 6 AM. Betty Crocker, a section hiker trekking all of Virginia I met a while back, was up for the big challenge as well and departed down trail with me. We hiked the first few rocky miles together in the fog, chatting part of the time but mostly focused on not slipping on the slick, rocky trail.
4 miles in we arrived at the Skyline Resort restaurant; Betty Crocker wanted to stop there for breakfast number two but I was determined to hike on and make more miles. I filled up my water inside and pushed on; at this time the fog dispersed, the rocks began to dissipate, the sun was out and the birds were chirping away.
It was now a picture perfect day in Shenandoah, and I was feeling on cloud nine during the cruisy, scenic miles that followed. A mentally draining rocky and tedious 2 mile descent off Pinnacle Mountain brought me back to reality, and I stopped to break at Thornton Gap. It was around 11:00 and I was already 14 miles in for the day, feeling strong.
The rest of the day wasn’t as exciting as the first half of the day, but I was still enjoying the easier terrain and the sound of birds chirping away. 23 miles in I was still feeling good, but stopped at the Elkwallow Wayside for a soda and snack break before pushing on, ascending an unnamed hill before descending down to the Gravel Spring Hut, arriving just after 5:15. I was relieved to find a great flat site for my tent and spent the rest of the evening hanging with the other hikers at the shelter before passing out right around hiker midnight (9 PM).
I slept fantastic the night before, happy to have a night back in my tent. I broke down camp in lighting speed and was on trail again by 6 AM, determined to knock off these last 13 miles before heading into town for some highly anticipated town food and a shower.
The town food is calling, and I must go. -John Muir
I was moving quick but was still thoroughly enjoying the scenery around me and soaking in the final miles of Shenandoah NP. The AT ascends Mount Marshall before a rocky but easy descent all the way down to the park’s northern boundary. The last few miles were very flat with wide open trail, and the wildflowers were out in full force.
I arrived at US 522 at 10:45 where a shuttle driver from the Stumble Inn picked me up and took me back to their hostel in the town of Front Royal. This hostel is hands-down the nicest hostel I’ve stayed at, and the owners were super friendly so I was happy to contribute to their new business.
Texas shuttled me and three other hikers to town where we enjoyed lunch and drinks at the Front Royal Brewing Company, swapping stories and reflections of our time spent in Shenandoah. Although I traversed the park rather fast, I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in the scenic park and was stoked to have completed my biggest 4.5 day push yet on trail. I hope to make a return to the rolling hills of Shenandoah somewhere in the near future.
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