We left Hampton Roads around 1 pm on Friday (10/19) and rendezvoused with Ike and Bryan in Short Pump before grabbing some grub at Jimmy Johns and hitting the road west. We entered the Shenandoah National Park at Thornton Gap, JC got our backcountry permit, and then we staged a truck at the Panorama area and then drove everyone to the parking area for the Rock Spring Hut (blue mark on the map above) and hiked in the dark for about seven tenths of a mile to the shelter (the first area highlighted in yellow above).
There were two guys already in the shelter, and we enjoyed the fire and the conversation, and the apple jack, until it was time to hit the hay.
JC and I chose a tent site up on the hill above the shelter. It was not that flat...
For those of you that care about these things, here's the privy...
First thing in the morning, we engaged in that time worn ritual - pumping water for making breakfast and carrying during the day's hike. Here's JC and Ike gettin-er-dun!
After oatmeal and some coffee, we got our stuff together and made our way back to the Appalachian Trial and turned out sights north towards our next shelter at Byrd's Nest #3.
After about a mile of hiking, we reached the first of two rock slides. John monkeyed around on the rocks while the rest of us picked our way through the ankle-twisting minefield.
The views from the rock slides were very nice - our first open views of the magnificent fall colors in the Shenandoahs!
John was doing a project for college - taking GPS coordinates on points of interest along the trial and making notes. When he wasn't be studious, he was climbing rocks and playing where's Waldo.
Our first major way station was Skyland. On the way, the trail was pleasant and picturesque.
In several places, the AT comes close to Skyline Drive which takes away the sense of wilderness we crave. Oh well.... Some descents, some ascents and we soldiered on.
While wildlife was sparse along the trial, we did get to see this growth on an old tree that looked like a female lion.
At about mile 2.6, we got another nice view of valley to the west. Here are a series of photos looking northwest, west, and southwest from that vantage point (Timber Hollow I think).
JC on Little Stony Man with the view looking NW.
We continued on as the AT paralleled Skyland Drive. I have to admit, I do not like hearing cars from Skyline Drive while I'm on the AT. I also do not like having to share the trail with the hoards of tourists from the overlook parking areas, but I do understand the desire to see the sights. I'm thankful for the portions of the AT and other trails that provide solitude for those willing to make the effort. Ah, but I digress....
Onward to the Pinnacles...
The colors on the mountain slopes were gorgeous and every opening in the canopy provided excellent views. However, there was lots of color all along the trail. You just have to remember to lift your head up!
After about 4 miles from Skyland, we reached the Pinnacles picnic area. We hustled through the hoards and continued on the AT ascending about 400 feet over the next 1.4 miles before being rewarded with this fantastic view of Jewell Hollow.
The highest point of the Pinnacle is at 3,730 feet. The trail descended for 0.8 miles until it delivered us to the Byrd's Nest #3 shelter (second area highlighted in yellow in the map below).
The shelter at Byrd's Nest 3
We had heard about a fireplace in the shelter and we discussed forgoing the tents for the luxury of a fire-warmed shelter spot. Unfortunately, when we turned the corner to see the front of the shelter, this is what we found!
Some "City Folk" from northern VA had thought it was a good idea to actually pitch their tents inside the shelter - makin it unusable by anyone else. You've heard of trail names, trail magic, trail angels... this was TRAIL HERESY! And when we showed up, they seemed oblivious to their greedy and wasteful ways.
We just set up in the tent camping area behind the shelter to avoid any conflict. Turns out that was good Karma since the tent area was sheltered from the cold west wind and, consequently, our camping area was about 10 degrees warmer than the shelter area.
Note to cabin hoggers, the sun doesn't set and rise on the same side of the mountain! Our good Karma continued as we woke to this.
We made a quick breakfast and broke camp as quickly as we could. Here's JC, Ike, Bryan, and John.
John and Bryan were kind enough to hike the extra 0.3 miles to the spring to pump water so we'd all have enough for the hike out . I think we solved at least 2 world problems during the short wait.
Up we climbed for about 0.4 miles to reach this fine view.
Jonathan again with the classic silhouette.
After about a mile, we made it to the spur trail for Mary's Rock. Speedsters Ike and Bryan were coming down the trail as the rest of us made our way up and they remarked that the views from Mary's Rock provided the "reason we do this". I couldn't agree more and I think these were the best views of the trip.
Jonathan again - our sure-footed man on the mountain!
As we scrambled up to the top of Mary's Rock, we found these geodetic markers (3,514'). One old...
And one new...
Geologists believe Mary's Rock is over one billion years old!
The view from the peak was even more beautiful!Looking south...
The VA Piedmont to the east...
It was so nice, and the hike back to the car was a scant 3 miles, we took our time poking all around Mary's Rock. Here's John getting comfortable.
The AT skyline and the Alleghenies to the west...
Jonathan being pensive at the top of the world...
Coming down the trail from Mary's Rock were were pumped (especially John)!
From Mary's Rock, the trail descended steadily for about 1.7 miles to the Panorama parking area (second blue highlighted area in the map profile below).
In that time, we solved another world problem or two as our calves began to talk to us. Enjoying the high of a great trip with great friends, we ignored the burn and cruised to the truck waiting at the Panorama parking area where we celebrated with a group shot.
We threw packs and JC and John into the back of the truck and shuttled back to the Hampton Roads vehicle for the ride home.
What a great trip! On the ride home, we eagerly talked of our next trip, maybe picking up where we left off and doing another section hike of the AT. We're so lucky to live in VA and within striking distance of the Shenandoah National Park.