Trail Tales 9: Northern Virginia/West Virginia (Shenandoah to Harpers Ferry)


Relevent posts:

Alive and Well on the Rollercoaster of Love…..hell really
Harpers Ferry
West Virginia


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.

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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.

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Pinefield Hut; taking a break from a quick rain shower.

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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.

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Tup, Sideways D and Moonshine and other hikers at the Hightop Hut.

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Hanging your food!

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Ah, another type of trail angel, trail maintainers! There would have been a lot of spring growth to wade through if it wasn’t for some of these guys out there working to maintain the trail for us.

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Somewhere near the South River Picnic Grounds is the 900 mile mark!

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In a little over two months we’d walked 900 miles! It was starting to feel more real at this point, something more attainable.

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We saw a plethora of deer in the Shennies, most likely because there is no hunting in national parks. We would walk for weeks sometimes and not see deer anywhere else.

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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.

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Hippity hoppity! After a climb up Hazeltop and some nice cruising afterward we pulled into the Big Meadows Wayside at 3pm, wrapping up 20 miles.

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Big Meadows Wayside

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We had an early dinner with Tup and resupplied a bit for the next few days. I think it was mostly to supplement what we had coming out of Waynesboro.

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We left the wayside and went 4.5 more miles to the Rock Spring Hut.

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Sunset at the Rockspring Hut. Walk down to the cabin a few hundred yards passed the shelter for this view.

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Section hikers around the campfire at Rockspring Hut.

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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.

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Another bear sighting! We stealthed somewhere in the middle of a tick field passed Elkwallow Gap and saw a bear on the way so we were sure to hang our food!

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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.

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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.

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The walk along this route was historic and very beautiful. Several Civil War battles were fought around this area.

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A resident copperhead at the Manasses Gap shelter. Everyone wrote about it in the logbook and sure enough there it was hiding out in the rocks. I am very glad we didn’t stay there!

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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.

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A blurry photo of the sign and me about The Rollercoaster. It’s a warning sign of sorts, half joking/half real.

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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!

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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.

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Finally, we were leaving Virginia and entering West Virginia!

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Goodbye Virginia Blues!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Coming down into the Shenandoah River valley I started crying a bit. They were happy tears, tears of amazement that I’d made it to Harpers freakin’ Ferry! 1,000 miles of trail had been walked.

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We took the blue blaze into town to get to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy offices so we could get our photos taken and our official number.

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#’s 153 and 154. It was fun flipping through to see who was ahead of us and by how much.

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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.

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Gig ’em!

Harpers Ferry, VA
We stayed at the Townes Inn which has a hostel section, but we upgraded a bit and got a private room upstairs. They were very friendly and if you need to stay in town, they are worth checking out.

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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.

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And we walked passed the Jefferson Rock, across the Potomac River and into Maryland.

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One thought on “Trail Tales 9: Northern Virginia/West Virginia (Shenandoah to Harpers Ferry)

  1. BigHodag says:

    Greetings! Thanks for commenting on my Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail blog.

    No, Misti/Ridley, I don’t believe we got to meet unless at Deer Lick shelter in early PA. I was a week or two ahead of you two. I note in the ATC photo you were thrus 153 &154. Your photo shows sectioners #100 & 101. I was sectioner #84 this year. We’ll forever be in the same book with RoboJesus, Veggie, Redwing, Lil Dipper, Josey Wales and others. I had hoped that I hoped to meet you and several others I was following as you all were in SNP when I departed for Harpers Ferry. I did get to meet some wonderful thru’s though.

    BTW, I selected your journal early on due to your consistent updates. You also had a good story.

    Congrats on finishing!

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