I woke up and got packed up before trying to hear the leak in my sleeping pad but it was too small, so I’m going to have to wait until I get to town and can dunk it in a bathtub to find the hole. The morning started out a little tougher than expected, with a climb up Priest Mountain that didn’t look tough on FarOut, but I still struggled with. When I got to the Priest Mountain Shelter I headed in, not because I really needed the break but because I had some reading to do. The Priest Shelter log book is unique because it’s where hikers confess their “trail sins”. I sat around for half an hour and giggled while reading some of the funny entries. It seems like I’m in the majority when I have trouble digging catholes that are more than two inches deep. It started to sprinkle a bit on the descent from Priest Mountain but it didn’t bother me too much, and it didn’t seem to bother the tons of day hikers I passed heading up the mountain. Most of them were in cotton, not carrying a pack, and I could smell their shampoo and cologne for feet after they passed, and I would’ve felt a little envious of them except that they were hiking up the steep mountain while I had the easier task of coming down. I was going to stop and have lunch after I reached the parking lot, but when I got to the parking I was called over to two large canopy tents set up. There was a big group of 2020 thru hikers providing amazing trail magic, and they grilled me up a double cheese burger and tons of snacks to go with it. One of the hikers there recognized me, and it took me a second to place his face and remember that he was the owner of the Refuge Hostel, one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at around mile 400 near Roan Mountain, TN. I was surprised he recognized me, considering he must have had over a hundred hikers stay at his place since I was there. I thanked the 2020 hikers a bunch as they pressed me to take snacks for the road, and then I headed across the parking lot and started the three thousand foot climb up Three Ridges Mountain. This climb was pretty steep, long, and had looked intimidating, but because of the power from the hamburger I made my way up without getting too exhausted. After reaching the summit I hiked down to the Maupin Field Shelter, but it and the tent sites around it were already packed with weekend campers, so I kept going. When I crossed a road I found more trail magic in a cooler, and grabbed a couple cookies and a Gatorade to enjoy as I walked. Eventually I came to a nice stealth spot just off trail, and I decided to finish my 22.8 mile day.
My camp site just after sunset
I slept pretty well considering I had to roll off my pad to reinflate it three times during the night, and I was feeling alert and ready to get my day started at 5:30 for some reason. After looking at the weather for the day I decided that an early start wouldn’t be a bad thing, with only 17.8 miles to get to Rockfish Gap and Waynesboro and thunderstorms predicted for the afternoon. The morning started off pretty rocky with a mostly gradual incline up Humpback Mountain. Clouds started quickly moving in, but only led to nice foggy conditions, which I hadn’t experienced in a few weeks, and I enjoyed watching the clouds drift through the trees. At the top of the mountain I got a great view of a fog bank drifting across the hills below me.
The fog drifting over the hills below
The descent from Humpback Mountain was fairly lengthy and despite pushing myself to maintain a good speed, I didn’t avoid the rain that started coming down around noon. I donned my rain gear and decided not to pause in a shelter when I passed one twenty minutes later, and kept pushing to Rockfish Gap. The last few miles felt pretty easy, and once the rain stopped I felt really good and fast. I crested a final hill, looked at my watch, and did some quick calculations to find out I had still only been managing about 2.3 mph on average for the day. Still so slow despite trying to push my speed to get to town! I grabbed a quick hot dog and chili fries from a nearby sketchy state fair type popcorn vendor before heading into Waynesboro for the evening. I hit up my first All You Can Eat buffet of my hike so far, having heard about how much hikers love AYCE restaurants on trail. It was pretty delicious, and I ate two heaping plates of Chinese food. I think I was probably the only one in the restaurant to be excited about the fresh fruit bar and skip the dessert table, but after two months of regularly eating candy and sweets I’m definitely feeling more excited about fruit these days. My full belly and I slowly toddled back to my hotel room for a good night of sleep.
I took a zero in Waynesboro to let my legs and feet relax for a day. I did laundry, found the leak in my air mattress, threw away my trash, rolled up more toilet paper, cut my nails, washed my cook pot, and then set off to buy food for the next few days. There are a lot of small chores that need to be done when in town! I needed some fuel before buying food, so I stopped and got an ice cream sundae on the way, and ended up bumping into Professor, a hiker I’ve been seeing on and off since the Smokies. We chatted as we entered the Walmart to buy our food, but we ended up getting separated in the maze of aisles and haze of food decisions. Do I want to eat instant mashed potatoes two or three times this week? Does a packet of tuna have more calories than a packet of salmon? So many decisions! As usual I got way more food than I needed and ended up eating some of it for dinner. Then I retired to my bed for the rest of the evening, happy to lay around for a while.
I was packed and out of the hotel at a good time and started heading into the Shenandoah. it was very fortunate that the terrain was easier than what I’d been hiking on for the past couple weeks, because my pack was so heavy that I was still struggling up the easy hills. After getting to the top of Calf Mountain I filled up all my bottles at the nearby water source because there was no other source for almost 14 miles, a pretty long water carry for the AT. I continued on enjoying the nice weather, but due to my heavy pack my feet started hurting earlier than usual and I had to push to keep going. I paused to eat my rice dinner while still on the trail, and then kept going another two miles to Blackrock Hut. Even though I was the last one to show up for the night, there was still plenty of room in the shelter, and I even got my favorite spot against one of the walls. I was especially glad to be able to get into the shelter because thunderstorms with hail were predicted for that night and I didn’t want to weather that in my tent. I snuggled down early in my quilt and (nondeflating) sleeping pad happy to have had everything work out for the night.
Overnight the thunderstorms rolled in, and even with earplugs in the thunder was startlingly loud, but I stayed dry in the shelter. Somehow I was the last one in awake at 6:09 am, when did 6 am turn into sleeping in? After packing up I set off into the fog, and spent a few hours enjoying the misty views and quiet forest around me.
I love these misty valley views
After a couple hours I came to the Loft Mountain camp store, which was just opening for the season that morning, and I became customer number five for the year when I stopped in to grab a drink and snack. The fog cleared during the rest of the morning while the temperature increased, leading to a hot and humid early afternoon that had me feeling pretty sweaty and sticky. I paused for lunch at the Pinefield hut before pushing on. After lunch some clouds rolled in and provided some cooling shade, and I passed the 900 mile marker just a couple miles after lunch.
Toot the horns for 900
The rest of the day felt pretty easy, and I finished my 21 mile day at Hightop Hut just a bit after 5 pm, an early finish for me. I hung around the hut and made dinner before getting into my tent early to relax as the evening wore on.
The morning was almost chilly when I set off, but I’m certainly not complaining about cool temperatures as the spring wears on. The trail throughout the day was a bunch of ups and downs, and my feet started feeling sore and tired pretty early on. I stopped for lunch at the Lewis Mountain Campsite, enjoying the picnic tables available, before continuing on. As the day went on the continuous ups and downs started wearing me out physically and mentally, and I was feeling a little grouchy when I rolled into the Big Meadows Wayside to grab a snack. After my snack I kept pushing to get to Rock Spring Hut, finishing my biggest day of 24.1 miles. At the spring near the shelter I caught a little ring neck snake, which was a fun end to the day.
Little snek boi. I think it was close to shedding because it was looking a little raggedy.
Before starting this hike and over the last couple months I’d heard mixed reviews about the Shenandoah, some people like the park and some people really want to get it over with, and I wasn’t sure who to believe. I think I understand both groups now though. The Shenandoah has relatively easier terrain than what preceded it, has some nice overlooks, and has plenty of camp stores and picnic areas with toilets and trash cans that make the life of a hiker a little easier. At the same time, the forest in the park doesn’t look any different than what was before it (unlike the cool spruce fir forests in the Smokies), and the Shenandoah feel like the last major obstacle before the end of Virginia, and I’m definitely ready to be done with Virginia. All in all I’m still enjoying the park, but I’m counting down the days until I’ll be out of here and flying toward Harper’s Ferry.
I woke up in the shelter to a light drizzle outside and donned my rain gear before heading up the trail. After four miles I pulled into the Skyland resort for a nice breakfast and to dry off a bit before continuing on.
One of the rock fields I crossed on this rainy day
After breakfast the rain mostly stopped, and the rest of the day was foggy with some occasional drizzles. The trail was a series of ups and downs that weren’t too hard, but the descent from Mary’s Rock was very rocky (what a surprise) and made my feet very sore. During the last few miles of my day I carefully relocated four little red efts off of the trail, since I would hate for them to get stepped on. Due to more heavy rain predicted overnight I stopped after only 15 miles at the Pass Mountain Hut, and relaxed for the afternoon as the foggy and drizzly weathered continued. As the evening wore on the rain picked back up, and I was very glad to be in a dry shelter for the night.
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