Sunday, May 23, 2010

Backpacking Shenandoah National Park - Austin Mtn to Furnace Mtn to Black Rock Summit loop

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May 21-23, 2010

Chris Nixon, Patrick Mumm, Sam McGrath, and I left Virginia Beach around 5 pm for the drive to the Shenandoah National Park. We made it there in about four hours and found our way to Loft Mountain just before dark. We found a pleasant campsite and hurriedly set up our tents. It was supposed to rain so we brought car-camping tents so we could throw those tents in the car if they got wet and at least start out with a dry pack and contents (including tent, tarps, etc).

We got up Saturday morning around 6 am, made oatmeal and coffee breakfast with the Jetboil, washed up (with hot water in the bathrooms!), and broke down the tents. Because the reservation kiosk still wasn't open, we deposited our $15 camping fee in in an envelope and headed to the Loft Mountain Wayside to get our backcountry permit. Made out the paperwork and deposited the copy in the assigned container and headed to Blackrock parking lot for the start of the hike.

We begain the hike at the Blackrock parking lot. The Appalachian Trial (AT) ran right along side and we got a photo at the concrete sign post and began the hike heading north towards Brown's Gap.

The start...


It was an easy section, and we were going 2 mph or slightly better. It was overcast, but cool and pleasant for hiking. We were all secretly wishing the rain to stay at bay.

Hiking on the AT...


Along the way we came across a five foot-long black snake which Sam and Patrick agreed was a black rat snake. IT climbed up a nearby tree and slithered into a hollow in the tree. Even though we were more interested than scared, watching it slink into that hole in the tree still gave us the heebie-jeebees.

The snake...


When we got to the Brown's Gap parking area we had a choice to go up the AT or follow the Madison Run Fire Road. The boys were using a Hiking Upward trail description, so we stayed on the Fire Road for 0.8 miles until it intersected with the yellow-blazed Big Run Spur Trail. Up we go (!) for 0.3 miles to a ridge and intersect the blue-blazed Rockytop Trail.

The Madison Run Fire Road...


Big Run Spur Trail...


We continued on the Rockytop Trail for 0.4 miles to the intersection of the blue- blazed Austin Mountain Trail. The trail was mostly ridgeline and we enjoyed the hike and all the mountain laurel in bloom along the way.

Mountain laurel on the Austin Mountain Trail...


We started to descend and passed a number of rock slides, and then continued to descend down to the valley and reconnected with the MAdison Run Fire Road.

Rock slides on the Austin Mountain Trail...


We were making good time as we stopped at the intersection of the Madison Run Fire Road and the Fernace Mountain Trail. We decided to stop here for a meal. We were worried about the lack of water near our destination camp site at the summit of Furnace Mountain so we decided to eat our "just add boiling water" dinners for lunch at the Madison Run and save our fresh water supplies for breakfast and drinking along the rest of the hike. We'd eat our tuna sandwiches (no water needed) for dinner at the water-less Furnace Mountain summit.

Chris pumped water while the Jetboil boiled. Within a few feet of the Fire Road, we had a couple day hikers pass us and watched a man running and calling after his freedom seeking and unleashed dog. After a too-hearty mid-day meal, we began the climb of Furnace Mountain

Pumping water on the (lithium-free) Madison Run...


We were climbing in earnest now! We climbed steadily, but took plenty of breaks over the next 1.8 miles. The flowering mountain laurel kept framing beautiful views of the foggy mountains.

On the way up Furnace Mountain....


Ascending the trail made it seem longer than it was, but we finally made it to the saddle and the intersection with the Furnace Mountain Summit Trail. We turned lft and continued up! Argh! About halfway up the half mile Summit Trail, it began to rain, lightly at first, but it steadily kept notching up a bit, right on the brink of breaking out the rain gear, and then we found the campsite.

We hasilty put up the tarps, stowed the packs underneath, and then set up the tent and the hammocks. It was only around 3 o'clock and were bummed at the thought of sitting around for the next 6 hours under the tarp in the rain. We donned tain gear and walked the couple of hundred feet to the summit overlook - a large table rock with nice views to the northwest. Unfotunately, because of the weather, there were lots of low clouds and fog, so the views were obscured. We headed back to the campsite and Chris and I cought some Z's. The rain stopped and we headed back to the summit overlook. It was nicer sitting on the rok watching the clounds roll by below us so we got the cards, and Sam and Patrcik schooled Chris and I in hearts.

Card sharks at the Furnace Mountain Summit overlook...


The campsite...



We ate our tuna sandwich dinner around 6 pm at the overlook and then retired back to camp for a round of spades. Chris and I regained a modicum of dignity by winning a Wolfe-style 2 out of 3 tournament series. My nil failed in round 1, but Chris' was successful in round 2 to pucsh us toward victory! We packed it in shortly after 8 pm and fell asleep quickly.

Sunday, May 23

Got up around 6 am, and started to take down the camp. Took down the bear bags, grabbed the food, made breakfast at the summit overlook, and then finished up getting all our stuff together.

The Sunday morning view from the overlook...


We hit the trail again around 8 am and backtracked half a mile down to pick up the blue-blazed Furnace Mountain Trail.We were disappointed, but soldiered on up and up the trail taking breaks along the way. We climbed steadily for 2.1 miles to reach the Trayfoot Mountain Trail. We met some AT club volunteers who asked us about treefall blocking the trail somewhere from the Furnace Mountain summit spur trail and up Furnace Mountain trail to the intersection with Trayfoot (since they were coming to clear it). But we advised them they had gotten bad intel. They saw my hat and we talked a while about some rare violets they had found at Douthat State Park and then they continued on their way for a nice day hike sans work.

We were thankful for some nice descending trail and had to climb just a bit to make it to the Blackrock area with great SW views of the rock slide in the lower section and then nice NW views in the summit area.

The lower Blackrock trail section...




Blackrock rockslide...


Blackrock summit area with views to the northwest...


Sensing the the end of our hike, we continued on the AT for about a third of a mile where Patrick and Sam took the shortcut (by maybe 100 feet) while Chris and I stayed true and took the parallet AT back to the Blackrock parking area. We were happy to get back to the car, changed clothes, and headed back to the Loft Mountain wayside to look for some trail books and hydration.

Heading north on the parkway, we couldn't help but stop and admire the mountain view, especially the particularly beautiful one at Big Run overlook.

Big Run Overlook...


It was a good trip, even with the forecast of rain. It's always nice to spend time at elevation - with friends, with scouts, and with good humor.

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