Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Paine Run/Blackrock/Trayfoot Mountain, SNP

Alone Atop Blackrock Summit
Saturday morning, Ann got up to have coffee with me before I headed off for the final work day of the week at the restaurant. Thinking about our 6th hike of our 2017 52-Hike Challenge just before I left, I said, "We need to get up early tomorrow and get on the road." After pausing a couple of beats, she said, "Ugh!" You might think that she was reacting to getting up early on a Sunday, but I was on the same mental wavelength with her and I said, "We have Thermoses, don't we?" I just knew she was thinking about the miserable coffee and breakfast experience we had at Sheetz last weekend. I think it's time to face that fact that we are, if not coffee snobs, at least hardcore coffee aficionados. "We can brew a pot while we are packing the car and take it with us," I offered, "And I can make us some breakfast today at work."

Lox and Smoked Bluefish Cream Cheese Sandwiches
And so it was that we started thinking about our hike a day early, a hike that would be our first foray into the southern district of Shenandoah National Park. We set off down I-81 about 8:30am for the long ride armed with coffee and sandwiches of lox and smoked bluefish cream cheese. At Weyer's Cave just south of Harrisonburg, we would leave the interstate and head east to Grottoes and thence to the western boundary of the park a few miles south and east of Grottoes, a straight shot to the dead end on Horsetail Rd. We weren't exactly sure where the trailhead was but it turned out that when the dirt road ended in a little cul-de-sac, the trail was the continuation of the road. It could not have been easier to find.

Most hikes in SNP start on Skyline Drive. I'm not a fan. Invariably, you head downhill (at the top, there's nowhere to go but down, unless you are ridgewalking the AT or a parallel trail) when you are fresh only to have to climb back to your vehicle at the end of your hike. Much better in my opinion to start at a park boundary, climb to Skyline Drive while you are fresh, and then be left with a downhill walk at the end of your day.

Our hike would take us northeast up Paine's Run to Skyline Drive and the Appalachian Trail. After following the AT north to Blackrock Summit, we would head west towards Furnace Mountain but turn off before getting there to walk along the ridge of Trayfoot Mountain southwest back towards the car. This is not a common hike and so finding maps and trail descriptions was a bit of a struggle.

The weather this winter has been nuts. It is still February; it hit 75 degrees this week; and the daffodils have started blooming. Fortunately for us, a cold front blew through about 1pm on Saturday bringing a little thunder, some gusty winds, black clouds, a few spatters of rain, and thankfully, cooler temperatures. We walked Sunday under bright blue skies with slightly gusty winds with temperatures in the 40s; all in all, a great day to be on the trail.

Fording Paine's Run
Paine's Run is a beautiful gurgling little creek that apparently runs along the border between Rockingham County and Augusta County as it falls down from the mountains. The trail up from the end of the road to Skyline Drive and the Appalachian Trail is constantly uphill, but very gentle. It was a harbinger of what would be a very easy 10-mile walk on the day. This yellow-blazed trail allows horses and it was clear from the hoof prints and the horse apples that it is well-used by equestrians, though none were about on Sunday.

Paine's Run is a Beautiful Stream
As we climbed up the hill, we could see several rock formations on the hillside opposite, on Trayfoot Mountain. We would return through these rock formations at the end of our hike.

Rock Formations on Trayfoot Mountain
As we walked up the gentle grade towards Skyline Drive, Ann said to me that she thought we ought to change the name of this blog, an idea that had been percolating in the back of my mind for some time. Originally conceived to document our forays into food and drink, the name Mangia e Beve, while perfect for that, no longer seems to encompass our lives, especially our life on the trail. For many minutes we debated new names and themes, not really getting to a resolution.

We might have come to some idea about rebranding the blog, but that will have to wait. As we climbed to about 3000 feet up on the mountain, just below Skyline Drive, our phones got signal and they both started blowing up simultaneously with message after message and voicemail after voicemail. My mother had died suddenly in her sleep.

I suppose if you must get such terrible news, it isn't so bad to get it on a gorgeous day, out on the side of a mountain, all alone except for your best hiking buddy/friend/wife. After a bit of a daze and a phone call to my sister, there was nothing for it except to push on up the hill. Nothing we could do would change what had happened and I needed to walk.

Blackrock Gap, 700 Feet Below the Summit
Not two or three minutes after restarting our hike, we came upon the parking lot at Blackrock Gap on the western side of Skyline Drive. It was pretty easy to spot the white blaze across the road for the Appalachian Trail, which we took north in an easy walk, climbing gently all the way, just over a mile to Blackrock Summit. The AT started following Skyline Drive as you see in the photo, but stayed west of the pavement as Skyline Drive turned eastward. There was no car traffic so road noise wasn't an issue on this hike as it typically is on the AT in Shenandoah National Park.

On the AT Headed to Blackrock Summit
Just before reaching the summit, you will come to a four-way intersection. If you are northbound on the AT, the Trayfoot trail heads left down the hill and right up to the Blackrock parking lot. Even though you are headed to Trayfoot and ought to be heading left, you really want to stay straight on the AT here. Very quickly you will come to the summit and you will see the Trayfoot Spur trail heading west off the mountain. This is the trail you will take to Trayfoot. But first, keep going around the corner to your right to see all the vistas Blackrock has to offer, before backtracking to the spur.

The higher we climbed the more we could see what looked to be rockslides on the sides of Trayfoot Mountain. These are in truth scree fields made of very large boulders, though that is impossible to tell from a distance. It was only as we climbed to Blackrock Summit, itself a rock scramble of a scree field, that we could gauge the size of the rocks. These appear to be a form of sandstone (NPS says it is quartzite from highly compressed quartz sand) from an old seabed that tends to fracture into blocks. From the rusty color of a lot of blocks, I surmise that there is a fair amount of iron lurking in this stone. As you can see in the photo below, some blocks are nearly as tall as Ann.

Approaching Blackrock Summit

Looking Southwest Down Paine Run; Trayfoot Right
Given Blackrock Summit's very close proximity to Skyline Drive, we were fortunate to have it almost to ourselves. We met a young family just leaving as we were approaching and three other hikers came south down the AT, but did not linger (Why people? It's gorgeous here!), as we were scrambling to the very top.

Northwest from Blackrock

Summit Marker at AT-Trayfoot Spur Junction

On the Rockpile

Annie Bundled Against the Wind
After winding around the summit on the AT, we backtracked a few yards to a decent enough looking spot, just opposite the junction of the Trayfoot Spur and started scrambling to the top. The huge rocks were a good bit tougher for Ann to climb than for my huge self. I climbed all the way to the top for the incredible 360-degree views.

After 20 minutes or so on the summit, it was time to get down out of the wind and find a more sheltered spot for lunch. Taking the Trayfoot spur trail west down from the summit through the boulder field, we found a small north-facing cliff face on which to sit and enjoy our lunch of baked orzo with ricotta and salsa bolognese, finished with an almond-fudge cookie. Who says we don't eat well?

Funny story about the pasta. On the way up, just before we got into the thick of our discussion about renaming the blog, we were talking about pasta and when we last had real pasta. Although we love it dearly, we're both still some pounds too heavy (but lots lighter than at this time last year) and it's not on the diet. We both had a good laugh when I asked what the odds were that I brought pasta for lunch: Ann because she knew it was impossible and I because I knew I had small containers of pasta hidden in my pack. With all the calories we are burning, we can eat a bit of pasta now and again. Who would have thought that cold pasta could taste so good?

Trayfoot Ahead, Taking the Spur
After lunch, we continued on west around the northern shoulder of Trayfoot, which you see in the photo above. Although it looks pretty high, it is only 300 feet above us with most of that elevation gain coming in the last tenth of a mile to the summit. That was the only steep gradient of the day and it was very, very short. Once at the summit, which you reach almost immediately at the northern end of Trayfoot, it is a long slow descent over about three miles back to the car along the ridgeline. Out east are decent enough views to see how high we are above Skyline drive off in the distance. I imagine that this ridgeline trail becomes a long green tunnel when the leaves are out, so it is another trail best hiked in winter.

Skyline Drive Below in the Distance

A White Polypore?
Once we neared the southern end of the mountain, the trail started weaving in and out of the rock formations, making for a very interesting ridgeline hike, before dropping off the end of the hill and quickly back down to the creek. We encountered five hikers on this part of the trail, coming up from where we parked the car; otherwise, we had the trail all to ourselves. It was a beautiful day for a hike and though ours was the lone car at the trailhead when we left, there were 7-8 others there when we finished around 2:30pm.

Trayfoot Trail Weaves Among the Rocks
We had decided to stop for a beer in Harrisonburg on the way back to Winchester. The original plan was to stop at Three Notch'd Brewing's Harrisonburg outpost and see what their beer was all about with a potential stop later at Brothers Brewing. We ended up liking Three Notch'd so much that we stayed for a second beer and decided to forego Brothers, whose beers we have had on numerous occasions.

Three Notch'd Brewing's Industrial Vibe

Minute Man New England Style IPA

Jack's Java Espresso Stout
Annie got Jack's Java Espresso Stout which was pretty amazing. We've poured both Troeg's Java Head and Monocacy's Brewtus Coffee Imperial Stout at the restaurant and both are excellent beers. Jack's is both creamier and more coffee-flavored. No secret that I'm a big hops guy. The bartender said he had just the beer for me and brought me a taste of Minute Man IPA. I was dubious because the chalkboard description for this beer read "20 IBU" and most of the beers I have been drinking recently are in the 100+ category.

I was so confused by the fresh citrus hop nose and the fresh hops on the palate that I actually went back up to the bartender to ask him how a beer that is less bitter than their stout can have so much hop character and such a wonderful hop nose. The beer is dry hopped after the wort is cooled, giving it a lot of aromatics without the bitterness from boiling the hops. I'm a believer. This beer was awesome.

Awesome Post Hike Beer Drinking Recliners!
How cool was it that they have recliners for us to relax in après hike? Two beers, a decent hike, and some crushing news and I was spent. Ann drove us home up I-81. We spent a half an hour mired in ten miles of stop-and-go traffic because of an accident near Maurertown. I didn't bank on that and with two beers on board, we had to make a screaming emergency restroom exit in Stephens City. Whew!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Strickler Knob, New Market VA

"Ow!" I exclaimed to the dogs and to no one in particular as we headed downstairs Monday morning to go outside. My quads were really sore, as sore as they have been in decades, thanks to an 800-foot descent in a half a mile on Sunday. It was so intensely steep that we had to take a "quad break" about 600 feet down to rest our burning legs. And worse still, though I didn't know it at the time, that descent caused a blister on my left heel, the first I have had in over a year.

We roused for our fifth hike of 2017, the year in which we have committed to 52 hikes, at 8am on Sunday morning, very early considering that we got crushed at the restaurant the night before and that I didn't sleep well on account of this damned cold that started coming on about Wednesday. 8 am was not a friendly hour to get up considering all that, but up we got with some insistent urging from the aforementioned hounds, mainly because we had a long day ahead of us in climbing Strickler Knob, reputedly one of the toughest hikes in this area. By now, my screaming quads have already let you know that it lived up to its reputation.

Atop Strickler Knob
It was a warm day in February, already 54 degrees and threatening to go to 65, so we both pulled on shorts and were away about 8:45 to stop at the local Sheetz for gas, coffee, and breakfast. Ann went inside and returned with two sausage and egg muffins and two cups of coffee while I filled up the tank on the Jeep.

We are spoiled by great coffee. We need to give a shout out to Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters in Cannon Beach OR from whom we get our coffee for home. It is truly delicious. And our coffee at the restaurant isn't half bad either. Once I got onto I-81 heading south for New Market and got settled in to traffic, I finally got a second to take a sip of the Sheetz dark roast. Wow! Just Wow! It really sucks for coffee is the best that I can say. To compound things, breakfast was totally unsatisfying: the sausage in particular tasted like equal parts sawdust and cayenne. Delicious! NOT! At least it got us moving more quickly than wrangling coffee and grub at home.

Not a Great Start to the Day
At New Market, we headed up into the gap on 211 towards Luray, to turn north up Crisman Hollow Road to find where the Massanutten Trail intersects the dirt road. There is a gate a ways up the road where it turns from narrow paved road to dirt, right at the trailhead for the Massanutten Story Book trail, a short, wheelchair accessible trail. We had heard conflicting information about the gate, that it is closed from February to April and that it is only closed during bad weather, of which we have had approximately none this winter. We took a chance. As chance would have it, the gate was closed seven-tenths of a mile short of the Massanutten trail head.

At 9:45am, we were the third vehicle in the lot that can hold about six vehicles. The drivers of the other two were waiting on members of their hiking club to arrive before heading out to Strickler Knob. Ann and I decided to hoof it up the road to the trailhead and get some space between us and the group, reportedly 10 to 15 people, so we left at a rapid clip. What we didn't know is that the hiking group had a plan B that we would find out about later when they came blowing by us just about where we met the Scothorn Gap Trail.

Seven tenths up the road, we turned east into the warm morning sun on the Massanutten Trail which gently meandered along and over the ridgeline, before plunging straight down the hillside and by straight down I mean straight down, 800 feet of descent in a half a mile, where 500 feet in a half a mile is considered steep. This was no joke of a hill. It was so steep that I felt like I was skiing a triple black diamond slope. We had to take a "quad break" about 600 feet down to rest our burning legs.

Crossing Big Run on the Massanutten Trail
I could see by the bottom that Annie was not having a good day with her legs. She has good days and not so good days and this was one of the latter. I was worried that she needed to turn around, but turning around would mean scaling that beastly hill. As we got to Big Run creek in the bottom, it started to become really apparent how high we were going to have to climb to reach our goal. It was kind of cute when Ann exclaimed, "We have to climb THAT?!?" But trouper that she is, she soldiered on.

Ann: "We Have to Climb THAT?!?"
Our track took us east on the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail down the very brutal hill to Big Run. At Big Run we turned north and walked up the creek for two miles, crossing it a couple of times, climbing all the while to the intersection with the Scothorn Gap Trail. At this intersection, the Massanutten trail turns right and due east and makes a gentle climb to the ridgeline that is capped by Strickler Knob.

At the ridgeline, the orange-blazed Massanutten continues down over the mountain and eventually heads north again towards Camp Roosevelt, where we hiked back in the fall. But we were interested in an unofficial 3/4-mile pink-blazed trail south along the ridge to Strickler Knob. It was obvious where the trail should be but not obvious where it was for the trail was nothing but hopping from rock to rock and I hadn't yet figured out that the pink blazes were on rocks on the ground, as I was so used to looking for them in trees.

It was actually kind of fun sleuthing out where I thought the trail should be, sometimes finding a blaze and sometimes not, winding in and out of rock formations and hopping from rock to rock. Towards the end of the walk, the rocks started getting a bit more serious, including one about 9 feet high that we had to scale, which you see Annie doing below. It became obvious that our trekking poles were starting to be a hindrance, so we left them leaning against a big rock. On our return to this point, we had obviously started a trend because there were a dozen sets of poles where we left ours.

Some Climbing Required
From there it was a matter of winding in and out of cracks between immense boulders and rock stacks until we came up and through a formation of three large boulders to a very large stack capped with slab of rock, much like a giant's diving board.

Almost to the End

A Large Rock Stack at Strickler Knob

Annie Just Making it to the Top

Turkey Vulture Over Luray
While we were up top, we were joined by the large group that we had been leapfrogging all day. We all sat together and ate lunch. One guy even brought a plastic container of chocolate cake that he shared around to all interested takers. We felt a touch out of place as we were older than everyone by a good 20 years. After we ate our grilled chicken BLTs with pesto on focaccia, Ann decided that she wanted to go to the very top. I wanted to go up too, but she started a trend and it started to get crowded up there so I stayed below to photograph the goings on.

Lunch was Grilled Chicken BLTs
Show Off!

Selfie Queen in Action

The Resulting Selfie

Panorama from Very Highest Point
New Market Gap and Beyond
It was quarter to two when we started back along the ridgeline. I could see Ann's legs knocking together as she was walking, a sure sign of jelly legs and I was really starting to feel the blister on my left heel, despite a tape job at the top. Never mind that I had a raging cold and was only about 60%. I always scope the maps for potential bail-out points and alternate access in case of emergency. In this case, I knew Annie was going to have a rough go of climbing that 800 feet that we had descended earlier and I was leery of doing the same on a gimpy heel.

We bailed out on the Scothorn Gap trail back to Crisman Hollow Road, trading the 800-foot climb in half a mile for the same climb in two miles, a much more gentle and doable climb. It left us with a 2.7-mile road walk, but it would have been stupid to go the other way in our condition. I like to think that I have gained some wisdom from age. The 18-year old Ed would not have done this.

Just beyond the crossroads where we picked up the yellow-blazed Scothorn Gap trail, we started hearing an insistent noise coming from the woods just ahead. It was clear that Annie was hearing it too. I asked out loud, "Could that be geese?" Then I mused blackbirds. But then it became obvious that it was frogs. I don't know what kind of frogs though. Certainly not spring peepers, which I could also hear calling back in the woods and certainly not bullfrogs, whose calls I well know. We bushwhacked through some really soggy ground to come out on the little pond below.

Surprise!
As I was scanning the pond for signs of life, I saw a what looked like a log out at the far end. I imagined that perhaps there was a turtle on the right end of the log and I asked Ann if she thought there was one. She thought there might be, but it was too far away to tell for certain. I snapped a photo for giggles. Imagine my surprise when I got into Photoshop and could see not one, but three turtles! I do not recall ever seeing turtles basking in mid-February, but then, when have I ever been hiking in the mountains in Virginia in shorts in mid-February? This non-winter is pretty freaky, but I have to admit that I did enjoy hiking without toting all that winter gear on my back.

Turtles Sunning. In February?!?
Once we got back to Crisman Hollow Road, it was a long, long 2.7-mile trudge back to the car, nearly an hour. We were both really tired, but glad to be on a smooth dirt surface. But as we would crest one rise on the road, another would appear, and so on and so on for two straight miles. Being dog tired and hoping for a downhill stretch really makes a hike seem long. When we finally crested the ridge and started downhill to the car, we were exactly at the point where we started walking the Massanutten Trail. The last seven tenths went very quickly with the prospect of beer calling us on.

We were totally unprepared for about 50 cars where we left ours. They were lined head-to-tail down the left margin of the road, converting the already narrow road into singletrack. Thirty minutes after we thankfully unlaced our boots and sat down in the Jeep, we were sitting in the Woodstock Brewhouse just a few miles up route 11 towards Winchester.

Woodstock Brewhouse
Hophead that I am, I went straight for the 130 IBU Crow's Provender IPA, while Annie decided to go with the delicious Casey Jones Vanilla Porter, her first really big-girl beer. She's been slowly coming over to the dark side after starting with Corona and Blue Moon. It's been a steady evolution in her palate. I don't think she'll ever come over to hopland with me, but her palate is definitely widening. The beer here is very good.

Annie Tackles a Big-Girl Beer
While getting our second round at the bar, Ann also ordered a pretzel and a flatbread. The pretzel has size going for it, but not much else and the flatbread kind of reminds me of cheap college bar "pizza." It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either.

Monster Pretzel

Meh Flatbread
To change the subject slightly, we've been discussing getting a tent and had narrowed the choice to two from a sea of contenders. We both ended up choosing the same one for slightly different reasons. Ann said wanted the one with more headroom for the times when we get in the sleeping bags and aren't ready to go to sleep. I told her that I would remind her of that at some point. My experience is that you are passed out within moments of hitting the sleeping bag after a long day's hike. Suffice it to say that back at home on Sunday after the brutal Strickler Knob hike, she rolled over and turned out the light at 8:20pm and was asleep within seconds. Ever the gallant husband, I now take the opportunity to remind her.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Little Crease Mountain to High Peak, GWNF

With the rain forecast for early in the day on Sunday, we decided that we would do an afternoon hike for our fourth hike of the 2017 52 Hike Challenge. And because we had dinner plans with Jeff and Kelly in Front Royal after our hike and after the winery closed for the day, we decided to hike George Washington National Forest between Strasburg and Front Royal.

After a late awakening and a leisurely pot of coffee, we drove in the rain into Winchester to Steamy's to have a breakfast bagel of egg, bacon, and cheese with proprietor Lenny Sweet. I had on my chef shoes over my hiking socks and quite apparently there is a hole in the sole of my chef shoes. Predictably, my sock was soaked walking to and from breakfast and I had to change it out when we arrived at the Elizabeth Furnace day use area in Fort Valley, my right foot cold and miserable.

The very real threat of rain (though we only had sprinkles for about 10 minutes twice during the hike) was enough for me to leave the big Nikon at home and only bring the iPhone. Many was the time I was wishing for a big lens during the day.

Ann on the Peak of Little Crease Mountain
When we arrive at the trailhead in the George Washington National Forest, there is often a kiosk that has a map of the surrounding area which I always photograph with my phone as a useful reference during our hike, without having to pull the topo map out. I didn't notice until much later (we didn't need the map at all) that this particular map is useless for most of the hikes departing from the Elizabeth Furnace area, those to the east. As an aside, we have hiked pretty much all of the trails shown on this map in the last year. You can see that our route for the day, up to Sherman Gap and back along the ridge to Shawl Gap is way off the map to the right. Good job USFS!

Non-Helpful Map
The Elizabeth Furnace day use/picnic area is situated on the banks of Passage Creek, with a short entrance road leading east off Fort Valley Road over Passage Creek to a main parking area on the far side of the creek. In the winter, the bridge is gated and there is no automobile access to the main parking area so you have to park in the spaces before the bridge and walk in.

On a really crappy rainy day, we saw a lot of cars in the parking lot before the bridge, a lot more than we would have expected. As we were gearing up, a couple walked up to a nearby vehicle wearing waders and bearing fly rods. Then I started figuring out why all the vehicles were there, especially when we walked by the signs below on our way to the creek.

Passage Creek is a Favorite Trout Stream
The photo below is one of those for which I wish I had my big Nikon. There is something really nice about the symmetry of the horizontal lines of the fallen tree, its reflection, the fly rod, and Fort Valley Road above.

Fly Fisherman, Passage Creek
The start of our day was in mist with the threat of rain, though the bulk of the rain had fallen and stopped 20 minutes before our arrival. It was tough to figure out how to dress for such a day. We started cool and rainy with temperatures expected in the mid-50s coupled with thundershowers and late in the day, very gusty winds.

Rainy and Muddy Start to the Day
We left from the southeast corner of the main parking lot on a white-blazed trail (which may be called the Botts trail). The walk south along Passage Creek from Elizabeth Furnace was beautiful and peaceful despite the weather and the inherent sloppiness of the trail. I had expected to see beaver sign along the creek and remarked to Ann as we stopped to take this photo that I was surprised that we had not.

Peaceful Passage Creek
 Not two minutes later, we came across abundant beaver sign, just to make a fool of me.

No Sign of Beavers Here
From the creek, the white-blazed trail starts to climb gently and merges with the pink-blazed Sherman Gap Trail at the site of the monument shown below. The monument indicates that the Old Dominion 100-Mile Endurance Run cares for this section of trail and it is very well maintained indeed. This trail heads south and upwards but gently for a good long stretch before turning due east and heading straight up the mountain in a very steep climb.

Ann and I found it to be all the climb we wanted to take on. From the Old Dominion web site: "The next three miles are best left undescribed but are summed up in the phrase “Sherman Gap”. Rumor has it that the gap was not named for any great explorer but rather for the first (and possibly the last) endurance race runner to try to run up it. It is said that you can see his grave ten feet from the top, especially if you are one of the masses trying to do this part of the course in the dark."

Monument Marking Start of Sherman Gap Trail
About halfway up, we climbed through the clouds and into some vicious sun. You can see that Ann is down to a T-shirt and shorts.

Hot Climb Above the Clouds

Old Dominion 100-Miler Blaze
After the bitchy climb, we crested the ridgeline at Sherman Gap where the Sherman Gap trail we were following intersects the Tuscarora Trail (blue blazes) and the Massanutten Trail (orange blazes).

One Tree, Four Blazes
We headed south on the ridge trail to climb Little Crease Mountain and to go see if we could see the Shenandoah River (doubtful with all the cloud cover). The trail up Little Crease is fairly rocky as you see in the photo below and as you can see from Ann's rain jacket, it had started raining again. All along the creek and at various places, we would see entire hillsides of lichen-covered rocks such as the ones that Ann is traversing below.

Climbing Little Crease

Lichen Detail
Once up at the summit of Little Crease, we could look north back along the ridgeline on which we were hiking. Because we were above the clouds, we could see High Peak and Buzzard Rocks well to our north. Later in the afternoon, we would be walking the ridgeline to the gap (Shawl Gap) between the two peaks before dropping left and west down the mountain and back to the car.

High Peak and Buzzard Rocks above the Clouds
At Little Crease, the trail heads due east along the ridge line before turning once again south. After about a half a mile hike, we came to a set of rocks adjacent to a large camp site, the halfway and turn-around point for our hike. These rocks overlook the Page Valley and the Shenandoah River below. Alas, the valley was all fogged in, but the views of the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah National Park across the Valley were all the more stunning for poking up through the clouds.

Lunch Spot Overlooking Page Valley

The Shenandoah River, Not So Visible
While we were getting breakfast at Steamy's, we asked Lenny to make us a couple of bagels for lunch because with all the preparation for the huge Valentine's Day weekend, I simply did not have any time at work on Saturday to make us anything for lunch. These bagels had smoky ham, cheese, avocado, and red onion and were quite possibly the finest lunch I had all day! It is amazing how much better any food tastes after a long haul up a mountain!

Bagel in Paradise
By the time we finished lunch, it was already 3:15 in the afternoon and with about three hours left to get back to the car, I was starting to worry about daylight, not to mention that we had planned to meet Jeff and Kelly at PaveMint in Front Royal at 6:00. We started hoofing it back as quickly as the rocks would let us, but there were long stretches along the ridge where we just couldn't make any time for all the extremely slippery rocks.

The closer we got to the northern end of our ridge hike, the more the rocks started encroaching on the trail and the more and more it reminded me of walking a little further north near Buzzard Rocks. Beautiful, but hard to make time on a trail like this. Ultimately, we skirted around the eastern flank of High Peak on the combined Massanutten/Tuscarora trail and reached the gap or saddle at Shawl Gap where a white-blazed trail continues north on up to Buzzard Rocks, while the combined trail dives down the hillside back to Elizabeth Furnace where we left our car.

The large rocks and the endless switchbacks coming down the hill were a pain in the ass. We stuck to the orange-blue trail but I think if I were to do it again, rather than making huge and seemingly pointless switchbacks on that trail, I would take the old and unmaintained jeep trail straight down to the picnic ground at Elizabeth Furnace to save at least a half an hour of frustration.

This being our first trip to the Elizabeth Furnace day-use area, we did not know that there was an actual furnace here, a large stone furnace for smelting pig iron. Apparently, the Union did not take too kindly to the Rebs making ordnance here during the Civil War and trashed it. I would have liked to have spent a minute or two looking about, but it was dark and we had a dinner date for which we were already late.

There is a Pig-Iron Furnace at Elizabeth Furnace

Taken in Near Darkness
It was nearly 5pm when we hit Shawl Gap and we texted Kelly to let her know that we were going to be late to dinner, there still being a two-mile hike down the mountain to go. As it turns out, she texted us back that the winery got slammed and she and Jeff were running equally late. Coming down, most of our walk was in twilight with sunset officially at 5:47, though the sun had long been behind the western ridges. We arrived at the car at 6:07 and started off on the 20-minute drive in to Front Royal. We and Jeff and Kelly would arrive within minutes of each other about 6:30.

Ahh! Schlafly Grapefruit IPA

Goofballs!
It wasn't too much of a party at PaveMint. We were all very happy to see each other, but Jeff was clearly exhausted and Kelly was done after a long week at the winery. I was whipped after a huge Saturday night at the restaurant and hiking all afternoon. And Ann and I were both beat and beat up after our hike, our legs and joints aching despite our best effort at anesthetizing them with beer. We left at 8:30 to get home just at hiker midnight, 9pm, and after a quick shower and a little light reading, were passed out by 10pm. A good day, but neither of us are in a hurry to tackle Sherman Gap again in the near future.




Our 52-Hike Challenge 2017

On January 1, 2017 as Ann and I were headed to Harper's Ferry WV for our first hike of 2017, Ann told me of something she read about on ...