This weekend myslef and 5 meetup group friends went to Pearisburg, Va to do a 26 mile hike. It involved two nights at shelters and 4500 feet of ups, and 6000 feet of downs, so we really got a workout.
We started early for us, leaving Columbia at 5am. We arrived at Angel’s Rest Hiker Hostel about 4 hours later and were shuttled to road 613, 26 trail miles north of Pearisburg. Along the way we passed the Mountain Lake Resort, where they filmed Dirty Dancing (Kellermans). The lake is gone, but the buildings are still there.
Handy dropped us at the road crossing of the AT, and sent us on our way. I had taken my newest toy, my Ham radio walkie, but pretty much every other luxury I left at home. On day 2 we were expecting very little water all day, and would be carrying a lot of extra water weight on our backs. I left behind the camera, the GPS, my string of battery powered LED lights, and even the liquor. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices.
A few miles in (and downhill!) we reached Bailey Gap Shelter, where we stopped for lunch. It was a nice shelter with water flowing. We started spreading out after Bailey Gap, as we tend to do. By 4pm we all arrived at Pine Swamp Branch Shelter, our home for the evening. Officially, the shelter is closed because of all the dead trees around it, but they have been cutting the dead trees down. They were laying all over the place, but it didn’t leave much space for tents and hammocks.
Paul and I looked at the map and decided to just go up the hill a ways, in order to get some of the morning’s 1800 foot ascent out of the way, and to find a better campsite. Often there are unpublished campsites along the trail large enough for a couple of people. I filled my 3 liter camelback and got another 2.5 liters in my Platypus bag, and we started up. The extra weight was immediately obvious on my back and legs. We walked up the hill for an hour, almost to the top. Finally we reached a section that had less slope than the rest and opened up onto a wide hill area with plenty of trees. My thighs had done about all they could and were quivering with every step. I stopped and asked Paul how much farther he wanted to go. He looked around and told me we were fine right there.
We dropped our packs and set up camp, and wound up cooking our food right in the middle of the trail, because it was the only flat spot not covered in leaves that might catch fire. Up on the ridge we had a nice view of the sunset, and we had cell phone service. I couldn’t reach anyone on the radio, although I could hear broken conversations from a repeater many miles away. I was feeling a little sick from the hard uphill right at the end of the day, ate a little of my Pepper beef and rice and wound up burying the rest.
It was getting cold quickly once the sun went down, so Paul and I retreated to the tents. I had set up with one end of the hammock and tarp facing downhill and toward the valley to the west. My Grizz Beak was closed behind me, and the wind changed to blow from my foot end and kept billowing the tarp and rustling the Grizz Beak. With a full day of hiking and 2 hours of sleep the night before, I was soon out. I woke up once to pee at 330, and the next time it was 7am. By the time I was mostly packed and heating my coffee water, Paul was packed and ready to go. I waved him goodbye and drank my coffee.
Several minutes later I was ready, and walked out. It was nice being alone for a bit, knowing that Paul was ahead and the rest of the group was behind in case something happened to me. It was one of those moments when I truly felt alone. I walked until about 930, stopped for a quick snack, and the kept going. Around noon Mike caught up with me and we spent most of the day walking along together. The trail was a strange mix of lots of rocks then smooth leaves and dirt and then tons of rocks.
True to the map and what we expected, there was no water most of the day. Mike and I finally came upon a small campsite and found the trickle of water we expected. Mike had a pump and was able to quickly get several liters out of the ground, enough for both of us for the remainder of the trip. We waited around about 40 minutes and the rest of the group caught up.
While they went for water, Mike and I packed up and headed out. It wasn’t far from there to Rice Field Shelter, which tops my list of most awesome shelter views so far. The shelter itself was set back into the trees, at the edge of a field overlooking Peterstown, West Virginia. The sun went down over the hill to our west as the moon came up to the east. For a minute they were both in the sky, a beautiful full moon and the orange setting sun. The town lit up beneath us, twinkling lights in the darkness. It felt a lot like being in space, standing over the town on the ridge.
The night was a lot warmer than the previous one, and Thomas started a fire for us. Apparently Paul and I missed a good fire the previous night in the shelter, and we were glad to have the official fire-starter of the group back with us. Although I had cell service again (we could almost see the tower over the hill), and I was looking forward to watching something on DirectTV Now, I lay down in the hammock about 8pm and was out before I knew it. I woke up about 2 am and then had a fitful sleep the rest of the night.
The last morning, Paul, Mike and I left first, to a gorgeous view of the fog down in the valley. It was almost all downhill from there, with the exception of a tough fast 300 foot climb near the end. Thanks to the cell phones, I was able to call the second group and hatch a plan: We would call the shuttle driver early, who would pick us up at Narrows Road. Then we would go back to the hostel, Mike would return with the truck and grab the other 3 hikers and we could go eat. It worked out really well, and thanks to the Hostel owner and some free time while we waited, I got a shower and a shave.
Of course we had to try some local cuisine, in the form of La Barranca Mexican Restaurant, where Mike confirmed that the #5 special pretty much is the same everywhere: Two Enchiladas, Rice and Beans.
Overall I was only disappointed with the Ham Radio. Apparently 2 meters (146mhz) is nothing like HF. Its almost like a totally different radio service. I made some general calls to anyone listening, but never got anyone. It would have been GREAT if some of the other hikers had a license – we could have talked to each other once we spread out. I was pleased though that the battery lasted the whole trip, despite being cold overnight.