View of valley from overlook in George Washington National Forest


George Washington National Forest
April 2007

Last updated April 22, 2007



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Day One | Day Two

Growing up in California has made me a bit spoiled when it comes to weather. I find in Maryland that there are just a few weekends in the spring and a few weeks in the fall when the weather is perfect...not too cold, not wet, and not humid. This was one of those weekends.

The forecast as of the night of April 20, 2007 was as follows:
Saturday: Sunny, with a high near 69. Calm wind becoming north between 5 and 8 mph.
Saturday Night: Clear, with a low around 41. Calm wind.
Sunday: Sunny, with a high near 77. Calm wind becoming south between 4 and 7 mph.
Sunday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 46. Southwest wind around 7 mph.

With such a prediction, I decided to leave the tent at home, instead bring my bivy bag cover, and sleep under the stars. Part of the logic is that I tend to overpack. What else could I do to reduce the amount I had to carry?
  • For starters, I knew our leader would be Mike of the Howard County Sierra Club. I've hiked and backpacked with him several times before and know that he was very familiar with the route we would be travelling. Hence, I left the global positioning system (GPS) at home. Since he was a hike leader, I knew he would have a first aid I also left mine at home.
  • We would only be out for two days and one night and with the forecast being what it was, I only brought a change of underwear and socks, a fleece top, and the clothes I was wearing. Mike said there wouldn't be any major stream crossings so I left my water shoes at home too.
  • I figured I'd leave the stove and cookware at home. Instead, I brought turkey salami, cheese, tortillas, nuts, cranberry trail mix, and dried fruit...nothing that needed to be cooked and which would last unrefrigerated for a couple of days.
  • But I could have done better. I brought my camp tripod chair. On a previous trip, I learned that an insulated seat cushion would suffice and be significantly lighter. I had plenty of those that I used for kayaking but I didn't think to bring one instead of the chair. Oh well, maybe next time.

    Day One: April 21, 2007

    We met at the Broken Land Parkway and Route 32 Park and Ride. Mike drove with John, Kathy, and me as passengers. We'd meet the others along the way. By 0730, we were off.

    Our first stop was Strasburg, Virginia where we stopped for a bite to eat and to meet Craig and Mollie, part of our group. Then we were off to the trailhead parking lot where we met more of the team: Tony, Anne, and Anne's black labrador, Molly. This lot, where the Blue Ridge Parkway and Reeds Gap Road (route 664) meet, holds about 25 vehicles. It was full when we arrived around 1110. Mike drove a bit further, made a U-turn, got flipped off by some crazy woman, then managed to squeeze his truck in a makeshift space.

    Lots of motorcycles out for a fair weather ride.

    Our trip was the Appalachian Trail (AT) and Mau-Har Trail Loop of the Pedlar Ranger District in George Washington National Forest (GWNF). There were several of Mike's backpacking trips I could have signed up for but this one caught my eye for two reasons:
  • It was rated strenuous, partly due to the 6800 feet in elevation change.
  • It was the first backpacking trip of the season, and I was more than ready to leave the suburbs for a chance to sleep and sh*t in the woods.

  • At 1130 we began walking southwest on the Appalachian Trail along the crest of the Blue Ridge, starting at 2637 feet above sea level.

    We walked by an open grassy area then up a gradual incline. See first photo at left. Mike is off to the left.

    Some college kids passed us in the opposite direction. They were carrying some overnight equipment (but not in backpacks), a drum, and a guitar. Made me think about all the good times I missed in college. Guess I started too late in life.

    After 0.75 miles (25 minutes) we came to a campsite on the left and an overlook on the right. With no other campsites in the vicinity, it was obvious they slept there. The area was littered with toilet paper that someone didn't have the courtesy to bury or pack out. The overlook on the west side gave us a nice view of "the village of Love" (yes, the town is really called that).

    We continued southwest along the Augusta and Nelson County border. At mile 1.5 (50 minutes), we came to the intersection of the Mau Har and Appalachian Trails. We stayed on the AT heading due south.

    Fifty five minutes from the start, we passed a sign that read Three Ridges Wilderness.

    Now things got challenging as we began climbing Bee Mountain. The group began to spread out with me and Craig in the lead. See second photo at left for Craig finishing the last part of a grueling climb.

    Lunch was eaten at about 1340 on a rocky overlook (see third photo at left) that gave us a great view of Priest Mountain. This scenic area was packed with other backpackers, including an unusually large number of young women. We were concerned the campsite might be full so we made sure to not rest too long so we could stay ahead of the other groups.

    There were plenty of ups and downs on the trip which made for the significant change in elevation over the two short days. But it also made for some spectacular views. See fourth photo at left.

    Near mile 4.3, we reached the summit of Three Ridges.

    After about 5.5 miles, we came to Chimney Rock which gave us a spectacular view to the east. See fifth and sixth photos at left. This isn't the same Chimney Rock I was at on December 28, 2006. "Chimney Rock" is a popular name just as "Turkey Point" and "Beaver Dam Run" also seem to exist in great frequency.

    I feel comfortable going uphill but rocky downhills are a bitch for me...and that is exactly what we faced after Chimney Rock. See seventh photo at left.

    We passed an interesting fallen tree with a circuitous grain pattern. See eighth photo at left.

    By 1700, around mile 8, we were at the campsite, which was just before Harpers Creek. See ninth and tenth photos at left. Harpers Creek Shelter and an outhouse were on the other side of the creek. Mike wanted to leave the shelter for any through hikers but it was already taken anyway.

    Some tents were set up at the campsite before our arrival. There were several young people and a few adults. Lots of boys in orange hats playing in the water and making lots of noise.

    We met Paul, the final member of our group, at the campsite.

    A few of us were a bit sunburnt which wasn't surprising since for many of us, including myself, this was the first day of the year to get out on a warm sunny day.
    Mike had us set up camp to stake out our real estate. We noticed one of the adults in orange hats giving us a not-so-friendly look. We later found out they were a Boy Scout Troop and that they planned to camp at the area we set up our tents. While they arrived earlier, they failed to set up camp...instead choosing to play in the water and relax. So I learned an important lesson. When you arrive at camp, set up tents before you relax or play.

    It turns out the tents that were already there belonged to some very mature high school kids: Patrick, Gail, and Alex. They were set up near the fire ring and with no other rings nearby, I asked if we could share theirs if we pitched in some firewood. They said o.k.

    Without a tent to set up, I had my sleeping area laid out quickly, hence, I ate and took a quick nap. Then I commenced to filtering water and gathering wood. The Scouts moved to a site across the creek to our west. The college girls were to our east.

    After eating and brushing teeth, we set up the bear bag.

    We sat around the fire for a bit then were off to bed by 2100.

    It took me a long time to get to sleep. A big helicopter passed overhead. I was nearly asleep until Mike sneezed loudly which scared the bejesus out of me. Though my contact lenses weren't in, I could see the moon and stars on the cloudless night.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Two: April 22, 2007, Earth Day

    The night wasn't very cold. I brought a fleece top but just used it as a pillow. I awoke at 0630 to a dewless, cool morning with a light breeze and again, no clouds.

    I started another fire and ate breakfast. More of the same...tortillas, cheese, and turkey salami. Variety isn't my strength when it comes to food. Simplicity is.

    Kathy used her new tent and sleeping bag. She liked the tent but the bag didn't keep her warm enough. But it did provide entertainment for the rest of us. It packed nicely into a stuff sack, making it the size of a soccer ball. The problem is that it also made it easy to roll downhill towards the water...which is exactly what it did. Fortunately, Kathy caught it in time.

    We posed for a group photo (see first photo at left) then were off by 0840.

    Unlike yesterday, the scenery today was more aquatic. See second and third photos at left for a view of Harpers Creek.

    We headed west on the AT until we came to the Mau-Har Trail junction. From there, we headed north on Mau-Har. More ups and downs.

    Near mile 10, we came to another campsite, big enough for 4 tents, in Campbell Creek Canyon. There was a nice swimming hole and a small waterfall. We saw many of the same faces from yesterday.

    The trail followed the creek out of the canyon which made for some interesting scenery unlike yesterday. After a small stream crossing, we were fortunate enough to have stone steps leading us up one hill. See fourth photo at left. Notice Anne and Molly at the base of the steps near the water.

    Venturing onward, we came to the Maupins Field Shelter, near mile 12.5, where we stopped for a final snack.

    Now it was just a short 1.5 miles back to the vehicles.

    We were done at 1300, having walked just over 14 miles over two days. We estimated Mollie walked about 15.5 miles with her walking back and forth amongst the group. I was feeling pretty good. Though I hadn't been backpacking for awhile, I had been doing plenty of day hikes and I think that helped me stay conditioned for this trip.

    After changing clothes and shoes, we bid our farewells.

    On the drive back, we passed an overturned vehicle which brought traffic to a standstill. Good time to catch a few winks. We were back in Columbia at 1830.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    For me, this was more than a backpacking trip. It was a chance to test out my gear. On March 25, 2007, I tried out my new trekking poles and BodyGlide anti-friction skin coating to prevent blisters. They seemed to work fine though a short day hike wasn't a real test. But this backpacking trip was. The poles definitely helped on the hills with a heavy pack. On flat land or with a day pack, it probably wouldn't have mattered. The BodyGlide worked great though I had to reapply it at rest stops. Craig said Vaseline works just as good if not better. Regardless, I didn't tape up my heels and by the end of the trip, I had no I'll just keep on doing what works.