Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Excitement on the Northernmost Part of the Shenandoah AT

Friday August 28, 2015                                                              Previous Post:
Lewis Mountain Campground                                                      Good News/Bad News and the Refrigerator AGAIN
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia





While the refrigerator saga continues (see previous post above),  I drive up to the north end of the park to hike the northern most piece of the AT through Shenandoah.  This hike will take me out of the park as I intend to walk to the Tom Floyd Wayside which is likely the last or first camping stop for thru hikers in Shenandoah.   It’s not actually in the park, but just outside of it and maintained by the PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trial Club).  On the map, I’m hiking from South to North beginning at the blue arrow near the bottom of the map and continuing to the Blue Arrow at the top.  The dark green is the park boundary.  The light green around the AT leading north is a corridor for the AT graciously given by private land owners.  You can see that the Skyline Drive, in red, goes off in another direction from the AT (in yellow).

My hike today starts at the Compton Gap parking area.  This is the same place we ended up on AT section that took us by the fabulous columnar rocks.  That post is here.




Today I’m heading up the fire road to where the spur trail goes off to the Fort Windham Rocks.  These rocks and all the Greenstone in the area are part of the Catoctin Formation,  a series of lava flows in Virginia, Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania.  This formation includes the Pedlar granodiorites, the oldest rocks in Shenandoah National Park.  These rocks are being broken apart little by little by the power of ice and frost.   

I follow the AT north to its intersection with the Dickey Ridge Trail and take a left onto that trail.    I find a curious white tail deer looking back down the trail at me.






In about 300 yards I find the trail leading to the right.  It’s a rocky one.







The big rocks are great.  It’s very easy to walk all around near them without climbing all over.



So old, so cool looking.





Of course I take way too many pictures but I love the jagged edges, the lines, the colors.





I walk around  behind the two with the path between them in the earlier picture. I find what may be a great old chestnut log.  And then I hear someone coming.  He’s hustling up and when I say Good Morning, he says “Which one do you think is the tallest”.  I have no idea.  He says “I think it’s the one you are standing behind”.  And he proceeds to scamper up to the top like a mountain goat.  I’m too close to get his picture. 

When he comes down, he asks me if I saw the bear.  A bear, really?  Yup he says it was up in a tree near the trail just where I had been about 10 minutes before he came up.  Says it sat up there and looked around.  He wished he’d had a camera.  I’m really bummed about either walking right by a bear above me  or having been so slightly too early on the trail.  BUT that means I might see him at some other point.

The young man, whose name I don’t get,  tells me he has just moved to Charlottesville from Colorado for a new job and hopes this will be his last move.  I’d say he’s 27 or so.  He says he’s a “peak bagger” and in Colorado he climbed to the top of every named peak in his county and wants to do that here in Albemarle County. Well these are hardly “peaks” since the tallest spot in the park is 4050 feet and that’s the tallest thing for miles around.  The next problem is that he isn’t in Albemarle County in this section of the park.   He says he knows, but so many of the named mountains are on private property with gates he can’t even get in to ask permission to climb.  He’s headed off to the peak near the columnar rocks so I tell him not to miss them and he heads on his way.

I get my picture with the log and the rocks.




And then a picture in front of the one he scrambled up before heading back to the AT.






Not too much further along the way the fire road veers to the left and the AT to the right.  I see some folks up ahead on the AT.  They are having a snack and we strike up a conversation.  I have met Rose Butler who has come to Virginia from New Brunswick with her daughter to visit one of her daughter’s close friends.  Rose and the friend’s husband have come out for some hiking leaving the two women with the two children they tell me. 

It seems Rose once lived in North Carolina where she joined a women’s outdoor group and when she moved back to New Brunswick, she started one there and is soon to step down as its leader.   She clearly has the bug.




When they finish their snacks, we walk further on along the trail while Rose tells me about the hiking groups and about the difference between St. John and St. Johns.  She says people are always mixing them up.  St. John not Johns is the largest city in New Brunswick and is called the Fundy city due to its location on the Bay of Fundy.  St. John’s is actually in Newfoundland.  Rose lives near the former and tells me if I’m ever up there I must get in touch and go hiking.  Now wouldn’t that be fine to have a local hiker as your guide.

We come to the point where the AT turns left to go out of the park and the two must turn back to make an appointment they have with the rest of their group for the afternoon.   I have them pose for a picture before I bid them good bye and give them the blog address.  I hope they will see this post and drop me a comment to let me know.  It was great meeting them.  You do meet such nice people on the trail and though the thru hikers are usually in a bit of a hurry, many day hikers, like me, are not.




I turn left and arrive at what are really the entrance signs for back country hiking in the Shenandoah





The park boundary must be coming up soon but I haven’t reached it when I see some fungal destruction ahead.








It appears that some lovely shelf mushrooms have been shredded.  I hope it was a wild creature not of the human type.  I didn’t think anything ate these mushrooms so it worries me a little that some stupid person may have thought it was cute or fun to tear them up this way.  If so, very sophomoric.    It appears only the ones on the top and front of the log were destroyed.  There are still some on the back of the log.











I do come to the boundary sign which is no longer firmly planted in the ground but leaning up against a tree.  Not a very auspicious welcome for South Bound thru hikers.

The sign tells me I am entering private property and asks me to please help keep the access route open by respecting the rights of the landowners.  Stay on the trail.






But it appears I’m still not quite out of the park as I walk up to this opening and find that there are red lines painted on the rock.  I later discover these are also park boundary lines. 






Here is the red line.  I guess one part of the rock is in the park and one outside it. I’m headed down those rocks into the pine trees.


It’s a rough rocky path that would be very slippery when wet.   It goes down and down.



The fall leaves are on the rocky trail making it difficult to see exactly where to put your feet.  I proceed with caution.







There are several sections of this narrow rocky leaf strewn trail and when I get to what appears to be the last one, I look back up at where I have been, the trail and the rock ledge far above.  Pretty sure it will be easier coming back up.  This is an in and out hike for me.






Although the trail continues to go down, it becomes less rocky and much softer.  I’m amazed at the size of the trees here on this private land.   They are really beautiful.




I come to the fork in the road, AT to the right, wayside to the left.




Like other waysides, this one has a shelter, a fire pit, a picnic table, designated campsites, a privy and a log book.




The shelter is built and maintained by the PATC.  I’m sorry to see they have to remind in large letters not to cut trees and to stay off the roof.  Stay off the roof, really?  But then I’m sure lots of day hikers, including me, and kids up to no good come here as well as the thru hikers for which it was built and is maintained.




I find a nice wooden box on the wall inside the shelter, take out the log book and sit down to have my lunch.  The log books are always fun to read.










Heading back up into the park I pass the marker for the next over night points for hikers.  Gravel Springs Hut 9 miles to the right and Mosby Camp 7 miles to the left.  The first is in the park, the second is on the route to Harper’s Ferry which is the half way point for thru hikers.





Climbing back up does prove to be easier than climbing down.  It’s still a bit tricky.





From this direction I see more red markers that indicate the absolute park boundary line and of course the long section of leaf covered rocks.





I reenter the park and stop to take a closer look at what the backcountry campers are told.  You may have to click on the sign to read it.   Looks like it could use some maintenance along with the park boundary sign.




I check out the form and then open the box where they are located for filling out.



Only there aren’t any there.   There are a couple of brochures but no forms.  Hmmm wonder what the hikers do now?




I climb up to the more level path leading back to my car and there is where the day’s real adventure begins.



I have been looking all day for bears after being told about the one less than 300 yards from where I parked.  I’m being quiet and looking all around and up in the trees.  I’ve just about given up when I hear something just off the trail.  I freeze. 

At this exact spot I see a deer bounding through the woods, bushes, leaves to my right.  He is really moving up the right side of the trail and runs right past me at a faster clip than I’ve seen deer move thus far. 

Then I hear something else.  I turn back and see a big black bear sliding down a tree.  He takes off in the same direction also running.  I have  my camera but he’s moving too fast I can’t get him.  He’s actually bounding up off his feet.

I see that he appears to be going to cross the trail ahead of me just beyond the logs in the picture below.  I zoom in a bit and focus on that spot.  As he gets to the edge I click once, twice and am sure I must have gotten him.   He and the deer have run across the trail and gone to the left.



I stay still and wait.  Maybe he’ll come back.  I hear something again.  It’s the deer circling to my left and now behind me.  He crosses behind me, runs up my right side where he had been originally and out of sight.  I wait.  

Shortly, he comes back again running in the opposite direction.  He seems pretty spooked but I never see the bear again.  DARN!  

And as you can see from these two pictures.  Somehow that bear managed to run and jump right across the trail without showing up in my photographs.   Boy that was certainly exciting though.  The deer at least was running circles around me.  But I only saw the bear run up, across the trail and into the woods on the other side.

I can’t figure out if or why the bear was actually chasing the deer or if the deer was just terrified by something else when he ran by.  The bear was in the tree when the deer ran by.  Bear don’t eat deer as far as I know.  They are pretty much vegetarians.  I’ll try asking at the visitor center to see if they have any idea what could have been going on.





After all that excitement, I keep listening and looking all the way back to the car but nothing else happens. 

I’ve hiked over 15 thousand steps and 6 miles today.  I’ve met several interesting people and missed bears twice.  It’s been another great day on the Appalachian Trail.





On the way back to the campsite I pass the Elkwallow Wayside.  Ruby decides to go right in so who am I to argue.






The girl at the counter has a blackberry milkshake so I treat myself to that and sit outside at the picnic table sipping and reading a few pages of the 2014 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction which thus far does not hold a candle to the 2015 winner which I’ve recently finished.






Perfect way to end the day and when I arrive back at the campsite David is smiling and the refrigerator is working again! 


  1. What a wonderful day and the fridge is working. Can't get any better.

  2. What fun that must have been to see the wild ones playing around you in the woods. Too bad your camera was too slow to catch the bear!

  3. What neat bear/deer activity to witness! What an exciting hike!

  4. Yeah, I can see Davids big wide smile from here! Good Job David.
    I guess the Bear and Deer were just playing around knowing you are there to get entertained. At least you got one shot of the Bear at the end of the trail.

  5. I'm wondering where you got the notion that bears are not meat eaters? I hope you are not under the impression that bears don't eat people too? Bears are like us and eat everything, sometimes people too.
    Nice adventure.

    1. I got that idea from all the reading on black bears that I have done. Only 61 people across North America have been killed by black bears since 1900 and most of those were the result of some foolishness by humans. If bears perceive you as a threat, they may well attack. While they are omnivores, I don't believe they prey on humans. I've read that black bears are very opportunistic eaters. Most of their diet consists of grasses, roots, berries, and insects. They will also eat fish and small mammals—including carrion if hungry enough—and easily develop a taste for human foods and garbage. If you put leave food out and then try to change your mind, you may be in trouble. I have never felt in danger in any of my bear sightings but I don't move from the time I see them until they wander away. I still want to ask the ranger whether the bear might have been chasing the deer or if it was just circumstantial. Clearly from my watching, the bear went one way and the deer, terrified, kept going around and around.

  6. Sherry,
    You are brave to go hiking by yourself!

    Sometimes the most interesting part of hiking a trail is finding out who the people are hiking it with you. I imagine the AT has a fair share of people from all over the world.

    Too bad you didn't capture that bear in the photo. I do see the deer off to the left in the first of the two photos in which you tried to capture the running bear.

    Congratulations to David on getting that fridge working again!

  7. We've also had a couple of bear encounters while traveling and visiting friends in BC! Scary.....

  8. Another bear - cool! And, so much other beauty. I'm glad the fridge is fixed!!

  9. Quite a day! I think a bear would be likely to scavenge a dead deer, but chasing them, on the other hand, would just expend more energy than a bear would deem worthwhile. He ran for some other reason.

  10. It's been so long since I've backpacked in that area, but "Tom Floyd Wayside" sounds so familiar to me. It looks sort of like the one I'm remembering. Thru hikers have to hike about 2300 miles from Georgia to Maine with seasonal limitations, so they can't stop long to chat with everyone they meet. I met a lot of hikers out for section or weekend hikes, and had nice conversations at or near the shelters in the late afternoon when I stopped for the day. I don't think you would really enjoy a thru hike, so I hope you just continue to hike at your own pace. As thru hikers are fond of saying, "HYOH, or hike your own hike". Finally, I think black bears would eat humans if they get hungry enough. I hear we taste like chicken!

  11. Exciting hike- sorry you missed the bear with your camera! I would've liked to see him/her. Pretty deer. You did a lot of walking- glad the refrigerator is working!

  12. You're inspiring, Sherry! Great job hiking. SO glad that the refrigerator is working.

  13. WOO HOO... Great Hike, Exciting Nature Sighting, Interesting People and a Working Refrigerator!!!

  14. Very fun to read post. Animal sighting seldom gets pic, as you are enjoying it and then it is over. Hope the fridge behaves now as I know Dave will.

  15. Went to see "A Walk in the Woods" today and it reminded me of you. You asked about my favorite movie. It's "Forrest Gump." That lighthouse is where he turned around on his run across the country.

  16. Wow, cool about the bear! Glad the fridge is doing better :)

  17. Please be careful as you are trying to be careful. Scaring a bear can mean a sure attack. We just spent quite a bit of time talking with a wildlife biologist the other day. He said black bears are very dangerous. You can play dead with a grizzly bear and they will usually go away but black bear don't. You need to fight back. He said no one should ever go our in bear territory without at least two canisters of bear spray. I sure hope you are carrying bear spray especially since you aren't making noise to make the bear aware of your arrival. I sure hope you don't startle one some time. You are getting awfully close. Take care:)

  18. Love all the beautiful colors in those big rocks. Your encounter with the "peak bagger" cracked me up - he was very hyper and talkative wasn't he?! Rose seemed to be the opposite, very calm and comfortable. Your photos and words always have me right there with you :-) Interested to see if the ranger has a "take" on the activity of your other trail mates. Wonder if either of them even knew you were there....

  19. Wonder if the spazing deer scared the bear out of the tree...neat hike with a great end, especially the blackberry milkshake (they really are so good!) Neat to see the jagged rocks. And I always love reading cabin log books :)

  20. A very worthy day, good hike and fixed fridge. Very cool to see the wildlife, photo or no.


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