After spending Labor Day weekend with John’s uncle Rich in Charlottesville, VA, we headed to Shenendoah National Park to finally test out our backpacking skills. Up until now, we’d been on a few long day hikes to train for the big hike in Maine, but we really needed to get out there with fully loaded packs. This first trip was short, just two nights, and not particularly remote, but it was a lovely hike and he had great weather.
We set out with some trepidation – during our long drive from North Carolina to Charlottesville on Friday, my back had started hurting. Over the weekend I rested a lot (I was so absorbed in a novel all weekend that I would only put it down to cook dinner in Rich’s wonderfully large kitchen or go to town with John and Rich), but the pain only grew worse. By Tuesday morning I was experiencing waves of pain during the drive to the trailhead, and could not twist my back at all. Since it hurt so much while sitting in the passenger seat, and I had spent four days resting already, my theory was that the pain was caused by sitting, and hiking would cure it. I insisted we continue as planned, though John did try to talk me into resting. I am glad we did – the pain slowly faded and was much better by the end of the hike.
We started out on the Whiteoak Canyon Trail, a hike recommended by Rich’s girlfriend’s daughter. We started at the top, along Skyline Drive, since we had slept the previous night at Matthews Arm Campground in the park. This trail follows the Whiteoak Creek and offers views of many waterfalls, named in clusters as “Upper Whiteoak Falls” and “Lower Whiteoak Falls”. We proceeded down the steep trail slowly; I had to depend a lot on my hiking poles for support as my back was not entirely cooperative, but I was rewarded for my effort with many spectacular waterfall views. From the bottom of the canyon, we turned back toward Skyline Drive on Cedar Run trail, and were treated to MORE waterfalls! There were too many of these beautiful features to take them all in, and this is coming from someone who could easily gaze at the dynamics of water rushing down and around boulders for hours on end.
The first night we planned to camp at the Rock Spring Hut along the Appalachian Trail (for some reason the shelters in Shenendoah are called ‘huts’, but don’t let the name fool you – these are three-sided lean-tos, not luxurious cabins). When we arrived at the hut, a giant group had already claimed it. We filled our water bottles at the spring, and back-tracked along the trail to a suitable place to set up a tent. Choosing a site was a little rushed, as the sun was setting by this point and visibility diminished quickly, but we found a great site, threw our bear-bag line over a branch and settled down for the night.
We walked along the Appalachian trail for much of the second day, and were rewarded with views along this ridge-line path. The highlight was a slight detour off the AT we made in order lunch on a rocky ledge called “Stony Man Mountain“. Later in the day we were able to see the peak from a distance and verify the resemblance to the stony profile of a face. After walking the ridge line for most of the day, we descended into a valley on the Nicholson Hollow trail, a less popular trail where we didn’t see anyone. We set up our tent in a stealth site (legal, we abided by the back country camping regulations).
On the last day we hiked out via Indian Run Trail -> Corbin Mountain Trail -> Old Rag Fire Road -> MP 43 parking lot, where our van awaited us. Along the way we encountered more spider webs than you can imagine. We even saw one spider who had invaded another’s web to prey on it. Each of us took a turn in front clearing spider webs – sometimes with our hiking poles, and sometimes with our faces. John’s method is more effective but too tiring for me – he continuously waves his pole up and down in front of him like a crazy man, while I just use my poles on the webs I see and end up with a fair number of them on my face. A couple spiders landed on me along with their webs; they bit but luckily were not poisonous. We also encountered some crazy looking creatures, for instance the bright green caterpillar thing below.
After the hike, we relaxed and treated ourselves to popcorn back at Mathew’s Arm Campground. The following day, we passed through many states on our way to spend a weekend with our friends back in NYC.