Tuesday October 6, 2015 Previous Post:
Appalachian Trail Afternoon at the Faire
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Today is the day to finish the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Park. The rains have let up for two days so I’ve waited one dry out day. This will be a longer hike and has some steep up sections, so David is not coming with me.
I leave off from Sawmill Run Overlook with a picture of the ridges to the west. I cross the drive and head into the woods.
At exactly this spot, I round a slight bend and coming toward me on the trail is a gorgeous black bear. His midnight black coat is shining and his chocolate brown muzzle looks like velvet.
But he gets one look at me and takes a very fast left hand turn while I am still just admiring how magnificent he is. So I take a picture of the spot where I was lucky enough to be sharing the trail with him. But he’s gone.
Because of all the rain these past few days the mushrooms and fungi are out in force. I find them just amazingly beautiful and artistic and all so unique. Do you have a favorite among this group?
Because of all the rains lately, streams that would normally be dry in the fall are singing beautifully as I cross over them.
The trail is covered with hickory nuts. Possibly what my vanishing bear was doing when I happened upon him.
As I walk along listening to the singing stream which you can barely see now down to my right, I have to watch carefully for the rocky trail underneath all the leaves.
I pass by a spring with the familiar warning band. Can’t imagine it would be flowing like this during other Octobers.
I’m pretty surprised when I walk out of the woods into a bushogged area and find that this southern most section of the AT has large scenic electric towers. When I walk under them they are buzzing loudly. I wonder why they can’t string these things along the two major roads which are no more 7 or so miles further south.
It sure disrupts the beauty and serenity of the hike as well as the views..
I hope I’m finished with the crackling noise when I walk back into the woods but soon I can hear even louder buzzing and bigger towers.
Finally I’m away from the sounds of civilization and back in the quiet woods on my rocky leaf strewn path. I see a trail to the right. The sign says Calf Mountain Shelter. This is the first shelter in the park for those coming from Springer in the south and the last for those hiking from the North like me. I’ve visited all the shelters in the park so I set off to finish the set. In places, the trail is actually sometimes hard to see in with all the leaves. If it weren’t for the white blazes I’d be having a bit of a problem.
Turn right here for Calf Mountain Shelter
The trail to the shelter is even more rocky if that’s possible.
Taking the detour by the shelter will add almost another mile to my hike but this is my lunch spot today.
Someone has not put the log book back in its spot and has left several chapters torn out of a the book Foxfire II.
I sit down at the table, pull out the log book and begin to read the last couple of week’s entries as I eat my lunch. You probably can too if you click on the pages. Read the entries that is, not eat my lunch of course.
This 9/25 entry is pretty hard to believe, 26 miles in 6 hours? I do the math. That’s 5.2 miles an hour. Really?? Makes my 1-1.5 mph pace seem like a turtle. Ok by me.
Back on the trail, as I near Little Calf Mountain I pass the largest stone cairn I’ve seen. Doesn’t look big enough to have been rocks cleared years ago from a farmer’s field, given the rocks around here, but these are pretty big rocks on the bottom for hikers to have stacked.
Soon I’m out of the woods and climbing up a mountain top field. Not sure how they keep Little Calf Mountain Clear, it doesn’t show signs of recent mowing, or why but the views in 3 directions are lovely. If the park has done this, it’s very interesting which views they go to the trouble to clear and which ones they do not.
Back down the other side and into the rocky woods once more.
l see something move on the trail ahead, can you see it?
He’s a harmless black racer about 6 feet long. He slides across the trail, through the leaves and up a tree as I watch.
I’ve hiked this section of the trail in previous years coming from the South which is the closest entrance to the farm so I know that there is only a relatively short piece of woods between Little Calf Mountain and Beagle Gap where the AT crosses the Skyline Drive Again
It’s very clear that someone mows this Beagle Gap section and the section on the other knoll across the drive. I’m headed back up into those woods to cross the next mountain.
The trail up out of Beagle Gap is deceptively steep. But it looks like there is a view. And then I remember, I’ve been here before. There are radio towers at the top. Disappointing. No view for the effort.
At one time there were 6 tractor seats. So there must have been a non tower view when they were put in here. Can’t imagine anyone wanting to picnic under the towers. But who knows, the woods have sure grown up if there was ever a view in the direction the seats are facing. In the first picture below, you can see one seat and two legs where the seats are gone. Only two complete seats are left out of the 6. I snag a spot on the one near the table below.
Well the non view is disappointing but the fall foliage at my feet and around me in the woods is beautiful.
Up and over and down into McCormick Gap where I again cross the Drive for the 3rd time on this hike. Here I encounter the only obstacle I have found on the AT through Shenandoah. It’s there by the gate across the road.
I zoom in, I can’t figure out why they didn’t do the same turnstile thing they usually do rather than ask people with packs, many much bigger than mine, to climb over.
Well here we go. I guess if you have a bigger pack than mine you just throw it over the gate and then climb over.
On the other side is one of the steepest parts of the trail today.
It also has some of the largest and most interesting out croppings of rock. They are right on the edge of the trail. If you step a foot off to the other side, you are sliding down the mountain.
Things flatten out but the trail continues to wind through and around the large rocks.
The trail itself continues to require close attention to footing as it too is totally rocky.
I take the trail between these two rocks and turn back to spend some time marveling over the way they are layered. Have they always been this way? Has the repeated freezing and melting made these cracks? The latter seems unlikely given how straight and flat the layers are. What say you geologists?
On I go seeing rocks jutting out of the ground as though they had been hurled like a lance as a challenge to all comers.
Around and through them the trail continues. I am really enjoying this section. Sure beats electric and radio towers.
More seriously rocky and up hill.
And then I come to what looks like a road . But the road goes off from this trail. It doesn’t cross the trail. It seems to begin, or end, at the trail. Old roads are pretty hard to cover up. I look closely for traces of it but the direction it would continue is pretty straight down hill.
Ahead a short distance I find a gate. It isn’t swung open from the trail but seems to have been erected beside it. Sure wish David were here to figure this out. He’s built many gates like this and might well have an idea of its purpose.
Because of the recent rains, there have been many sections of the trail in this area which have so much water they are now streams. Following them means walking up and down hill in the water. Not deep water but rocky and slick.
When I reach a second gate also off to the left of the AT, I stop and take pictures of it in some detail to show to David.
The hinges are on the left and an interesting metal handle is on the right. The trail runs to the right of the white blaze.
This picture of the handle, or whatever it is, is taken from the south side of the gate. It turn around once I’m passed to take it. The picture of the hinges is taken
from the direction in which I’ve approached from the north.
The rocky trail continues up and down. Finally I see someone coming toward me. It’s David and I know I’m almost at the end of my time on the AT in Shenandoah. He’s come to meet me and walk the last little way with me.
Very near the end of the AT in Shenandoah, tacked to a tree, we find a note from the Trail Angels. Boy these guys are organized. It welcomes through hikers to the AT here and gives a list of their names and phone numbers and when they can help out along with all sorts of other numbers both emergency and convenience. Very cool I think! I’m proud of my fellow Virginians in the Shenandoah Valley which is where these helpful folks reside.
And there it is, the end of the AT in Shenandoah. You walk right down to the Skyline Drive. From here you have to hike south down the drive to where it crosses I-64 and then pick the trail back up again as it goes along the Blue Ridge Parkway further south into Virginia heading for the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.
David goes ahead to take a picture of me leaving my last hike on the AT here in Shenandoah. I did it!! I’m at the Rockfish Gap beyond the park’s entrance station. It’s a record breaking day all right, 12.5 miles and 31, 842 steps. Disney PLUS Nancy.
I’ve come from the Tom Floyd Wayside outside the park to the North, all the way to beyond the park’s entrance to the south. All totaled, more than 105 miles considering all the side trips.
It’s certainly not the Thru Hike I once dreamed of but it was a fun thing to do over the summer and I’m proud that I finished it.
We walk back up the road to enter the park from the South. Time for me to sit down.
By the time we reach an overlook, the sun has set, but we get pictures of the after glow of our last sunset in the Blue Ridge. It’s been a really wonderful summer getting to know intimately our own National Park. If you live near one, I recommend it highly as a way to spend an entire season. Go to it and stay inside, don’t commute for day trips. Stay awhile.
Or if you don’t have one near you or are a full timer, just pick one and go and stay as long as you can. Being here for the summer has convinced me I can never know how much each of our National Parks has to offer without an extended stay.