Shenandoah National Park is known on the trail as the point in which you can really speed up. Some refer to it as the Appalachian Highway. It isn’t ‘flat’, but the terrain is very smooth and there are lots of flatter, easier, miles. After signing in at the kiosk just outside of the national park boundary we set off for five days through the park. The first day was mostly non-eventful, a few mist showers but that was it. The park has mile markers very frequently especially at roadways and trail intersections so it is very easy to figure out where you are and how far you have to go.
Our first night in the park we stayed at Blackrock Hut (called huts instead of shelters in the park, but not like the huts in the Whites) and it was packed. We thought we’d have to tent but the tent sites were full so we ended up staying in the crowded shelter. Buckwheat and Peace-o-Cake were at this shelter. We hadn’t seen them since Fontana Dam. They’d take a week off to go their son’s graduation and had just got back on the trail. Also, we met Sideways D and Moonshine for the first time after having followed their journal entries for awhile.
After winding our way around Blackrock (no view because of fog) we crossed mp 84.3 and looked to our right and found a bear on the road! Little did we know we’d see a ton of bears in the park, 13 to be exact. The Shenandoah’s have Waysides and campstores that are fairly close to the trail. This offers up ample opportunities to fill up on sodas and candy along the way. We stopped in at the Loft Mountain store to eat some ice cream and drink soda before heading to the Pinefield Shelter for lunch.
After a 21 mile day we rolled into Hightop Hut after seeing another bear on our way up Little Roundtop Mountain. We met Tup, a hiker from Scotland, here, someone else we’d been seeing in the journal registers.
A stop at the Lewis Mountain campground store for some grub! Right before coming up to the campground we ran into a momma bear with some cubs. We were able to ease on by without any issues, but it was fun to see the little babies scurrying up the tree. Momma didn’t seem to care, just eyed us a bit and kept on foraging.
The next morning we stopped by the Crescent Rock overlook before bypassing the Skyland hotel for breakfast which some hikers stop in for. Our goal for the day was to make 23 miles by dinner to have food from the Elkwallow Wayside.
On our last day in Shenandoah we did about 20 miles of mostly non-eventful hiking. It became cloudy and a bit drizzly and there weren’t any views. After a brief stop at the Tom Floyd Wayside, a big misnomer by the way, it isn’t a wayside it’s a shelter, we powered on and stealthed about a half mile from U.S. 522. Houses were on the east side of us and a big, fenced field was to our west. It was thundering and lightning on our way down from the wayside so we booked it and the storm ended up fizzling out.
The next morning we were anticipating some trail magic from fellow hikers, The Traveling Circus at the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter, but we were a bit early and they hadn’t started cooking anything yet so we ate bagels, drank orange juice and hung out for about an hour until we decided that if we were going to make it 24ish miles to the Rod Hollow Shelter that we had better get booking it.
The Dick’s Dome Shelter, a very interesting and tight design. Tup stopped here for the day and we kept going, passing through Sky Meadows State Park. I loved this park and am sad I do not have photos of the park. It was open and beautiful walking through the park. We stopped for the night at the Rod Hollow Shelter and it happened to be packed. I chose to go to this shelter because The Rollercoaster started after this. The Rollercoaster is a series of 13 straight up and straight down climbs over 13.5 or so miles. We heard from the weekend hikers that it was pretty rough. These same hikers also shared some hot dogs with us so we greatly enjoyed the trail magic even though the shelter and camping spots around it were packed. This shelter is also the only time we ran into a homeless person, or at least the only one we knew of. He got his checks in Front Royal and came on to the trail and went shelter to shelter. Once he realized it was packed for the night he moved on.
Somewhere along the way we started carrying dog treats, mostly for the trail dogs who were with their thru-hiker owners, but eventually it became for the weekend dogs. Most people were very nice and let their dogs have treats, but sometimes you’d run into an owner who didn’t want their dog to have a treat! Poor pup!
A little more than halfway through The Rollercoaster is the Bears Den Hostel. We were there for lunch, too early to stay over, but if you get the chance this is a super awesome hostel to stay at. We were greeted by an intern who stays at the hostel and gave us some homemade soup. We used the internet for free, free phone calls, you can watch a movie, take a shower with a donation, they have sodas for donation; it’s an oasis in the middle of 13 ups and downs.
We noticed this mark on a tree near Wilson Gap. We determined that was probably the 1000 mile mark. 1,000 miles walked! Almost half the trail was walked and it was so exciting to see in that later afternoon glow in the woods.
We stopped at the Blackburn Trail Center, which is a shelter/trail center run by the Potomac ATC. We’d heard that they often have dinner for hikers but that night we happened to arrive when everyone was elsewhere for another dinner. A trail volunteer was there later on to answer questions and to chat about the trail.
Catching up on the outside world by reading a magazine. You are also supposed to be able to see the Washington Monument from the trail center but it was much too hazy for us to see anything. I remember listening to NPR that night in the shelter, and Parliament was having their opening session. It was hilarious to listen to how raucous they get, quite entertaining to go to sleep by.
With only 13 miles to go to reach Harpers Ferry we were very excited and quick paced that morning. I remember there were some rocks covering the path, foreboding of Pennsylvania, and it frustrated me because I wanted to go faster to get to Harpers Ferry so we could meet Meghan and Jesse, our friends from college.
For being such a talked about town, Harpers Ferry isn’t as hiker friendly as one might think. Hostels and affordable hotels are lacking and there is not a grocery store in town. You can take a bus to the next town to get to Walmart, but if you want to pass in and out, shipping yourself a drop box to the ATC is a must. There are a few outfitters there which are worthwhile and the town itself is pretty cool and full of history.
We stayed in town late the next day, leaving well after lunch in order to spend time online and to rest up a bit. And this is where we met Merf for the first time as she came in to resupply, check email and get her photo taken with the ATC.