Saturday May 16
Dutch and I figured on meeting at the Old Rag Mountain trailhead around 3:30 or 4:00 p.m.; he's driving from PA and I'm flying into DCA. Plan was we'd call each other on the cell phones when close. Turns out that when close there is no cell coverage! But I pulled into the spill-over parking lot just as Dutch came down from the trail head lot. We did get spots up by the trailhead, which saves 0.9 miles of walking in, and back out, from the spill-over lot.
Plan A had been for us to climb Old Rag immediately, and make camp after climbing down from the summit. The weather--occasional thunderstorms---forced Plan B though, which was to head off towards where we would have gone on Sunday anyway, and finish up on Tuesday a.m. with the Old Rag Mountain summit loop.
We hiked in for a couple of hours and set up camp close to the trailhead for the Whiteoak Canyon trail.
Dutch was sporting his bridgeskin version II and new 1/2 length UQ, I had a narrow foot DIY bridge sporting a new removeable bugnet, new lightweight (8.5 oz) down half-length UQ, and (because of the threat of rain) protection from side-blown rain, made from cuben (0.33 oz/sq yd). No sooner had we set up camp then the heavens opened and it really poured. We had thunderstorms on and off all night long.
Sunday May 17
We were up at 7 a.m. and on the trail again by 8:30. Our objective today was to climb up the Cedar Run Trail, catch the Big Meadows Horse Trail, and walk it in to the Big Meadows Wayside for lunch. The Cedar Run Trail climbs pretty directly up, along side a stream, and there are lots of waterfalls along the way. We stopped at a small pool so that I could get some water. My pack was partially unpacked because I'm putting water into a camelbak that tucks into the pack. Over the noise of the rushing water Dutch hears an animal cry. He sees not 10 feet away from me across the stream, heading my way, a bear cub crying for Momma. Dutch calls to me, I look up at this cub, turn to Dutch and say "This is bad. This is really really bad!" I tossed the water, stuffed my backpack together hurriedly, and we left the area pronto.
The Big Meadows horse trail was usually a lot narrower than I would have expected, and where we picked it up there was no evidence of recent passage by horses. Every half mile or so a concrete marker would give the mile number on the trail, we picked it up right around Mile 5. But the numbers increased as we hiked, so while it was a nice bit of feedback on absolute distance gained, it didn't tell us how far we had still to go to get to Big Meadows.
We got to Big Meadows Wayside, and ate well, shivering. It was just about as cold inside as it was outside...and it was brisk! The forecast for over-night lows was near freezing, and Dutch was concerned he'd not packed enough warm, so now he has a Shenandoah National Park fleece he was fleeced for at the gift shop. At this point in the day we'd done over ten miles, the target shelter was only 3 miles away, and so we did an add-on loop to see the Lewis Falls, which are worth the trip.
We pulled into the Rock Spring hut around 6 or so, ready to be finished for a 15+ mile day, and there were a dozen people there. Lots of people had heard the weather forecast for cold, and are some concerned. Dutch got to show off his bridgeskin to an admiring few. I shot a video of Dutch explaining his setup (stay tuned for more youtube offerings) and while Dutch was cooking his dinner a guy asks him about his hammock he saw as we were filming. Dutch ditches the dinner and says "C'mon, I'll show you", to which the guy asks "Are you the sales rep or something?" owing to Dutch's enthusiasm.
So this night was the first test of my DIY summer quilt and if not the first test of Dutch's quilt, certainly the coldest. We both have 2" of loft. I thought I'd test the "pack as leg insulation" technique that Cannibal has described, and so put my 20" x 40" x 3/8" Eversote pad between the hammock and the underquilt, and put the pack (rain gear within) inside the hammock, under my legs. I put my weather cover on as well to cut any wind. I stayed warm, Dutch stayed warm, and the temp hit 33.4 degrees F. Those quilts will do.
Monday May 18
I was up around 6 a.m. looking for photo opportunities, Dutch was awake, and we decided to hit the trail and get pancakes up at Skyland lodge. So we were on the trail by 7 a.m., heading north on the AT. It was 6 or 7 miles, but got that under our belts and enjoyed the fine National Park Service cuisine. Planned a route that would take us further north along the AT, along the Skyland Drive for a mile or so, and then drop elevation down the Hannah Run Trail, ending up ultimately very near the Old Rag Mountain trailhead. Had some great views along the AT, but my camera met a mishap en route and so video shooting was over for this trip.
Here is the last picture ever taken by that camera
Fortunately my cellphone shoots OK pictures, so we were not completely unable to create a visual record. Along the ridge it was breezy, but once we started dropping elevation it got really warm and the insect repellant was broken out for the first time. All the bugs went to Dutch, not me, but that's because he had sugar water in his DEET bottle. This stretch was very pretty woodland, and after an initial steep descent, the trail was fairly flat. We made camp just inside the Park boundaries, a couple hundred yards from where the cars were parked. This site was chosen strategically so that in the morning we could leave most of our gear in the cars before heading up Old Rag. The camp site was a 100 yard bushwack off the fire road so that we'd be out of sight. It was fine to be there, but out of sight is better.
After another 15+ mile day Dutch had had enough fun and turned in at 8 p.m. while it was still light. I was just waiting for him to blink first, and turned in shortly afterward. The forecast for this night was again to be near freezing. I wanted to see if my quilt would do the job without the pad support, and so used the pad for my legs and the quilt for my torso. My pack was prepared to be brought in if I ended up needing to move the pad up my body. But it turned out to be a warmer night than forecast, getting down only to 44 F. Both Dutch and I reported staying more than warm all night. Both of slept the sleep of the innocent and tired. Tired, anyway.
Tuesday May 19
We were up at 6 a.m. again, at the cars at 7 a.m., and on our way up the Ridge Trail to summit Old Rag. Not much traffic on that trail at 7 a.m.! It is steep with lots of switchbacks, and then you get to do the boulder scramble. It took us to 9:30 to get to the top, and that portion of the trail is only 2.5 miles. Views are worth it, and scrambling was fun. I really regretted that I couldn't shoot video of us crawling through these spaces between boulders...
The difference in trail difficulty between the Ridge trail up, and the fire roads down is truly remarkable. It's nice that Old Rag is accessible to those who can't scramble over boulder fields, but doing the scramble you feel like you've really earned the views. Summiting Old Rag was a great way to cap a great trip.
Dutch and I got back to the parking around around 11:15 (after a detour for me to recover my hiking poles I had sleepily left at the campsite when we'd packed up), drove into Sperryville and treated ourselves, again, to fine food that someone else prepared, and headed on out in our respective directions.
I had a great time with Dutch, who tells excellent stories. Get him going on Adventures with Brother Adam, and the miles slip away. Those of you going on the Northern hang with Dutch, be careful when you drop your sun-visors in your vehicles. 'nuff said.