This trip is quickly coming to an end and the reality of that really only hit today. My targeted finish is Rockfish Gap which is the last road before Shenandoah National Park starts. I got an early start today just to make sure I could knock off as many miles as possible today and not leave them for tomorrow. Where I am camped now I have only 11.8 miles to go and I will try and get there between 1:00 and 2:00 tomorrow afternoon because the forecast says it’s supposed to start raining. It would be awesome to be able to get off the trail before it rains.
I had set the alarm for 6:30 but I was awake at 6:15 so I went ahead and started packing. There were several other people camping so I tried to be as quiet as possible. I packed up, ate my breakfast, and was on the trail by 7:00. It was just starting to get late but I still needed my headlamp to see the rocks.
From the Priest Shelter I had to finish climbing to the top of priest Mountain. It was only about a third of a mile and went quickly and when I got to the top there really wasn’t much up there other than trees. But about 20 or 30 minutes later the trail came out to a nice ledge where I got great views from an angle I hadn’t seen before. I stopped and ate a quick snack. I would need my energy because this was a 4,000 ft descent down to the Tye River.
The hike down took longer than I thought. I passed many people coming up and several with dogs that weren’t on leashes. I don’t want to be anywhere near them when some of these unfriendly dogs meet each other for the first time.
When I got down to the Tye River, it was shallower than I remembered from 10 years ago. Maybe the time of year has an effect on the depth of the river because then it was summertime and probably raining more. And then of course the trail climbs again.
2 miles from the river is a junction where the AT splits off from the Mau-Har Trail. The AT climbs around a series of ridges with rocky ledges and good views of the valley. The Mau-Har Trail goes the other direction and goes up a steep chasm where a cascading river flows. The AT is longer but easier and since I took that route last time and I was looking to save a little time today I decided to take the Mau-Har Trail this time.
The trails started off pretty normal for about a half a mile and then turned to really steep switchbacks. At the top of the knoll where the switchbacks were taking me it then descended into a ravine. In the ravine was the cascading stream. In the stream bed was a hodgepodge of very large boulders and there were waterfalls everywhere with a deep pools beneath them. The trail next to the stream was very rocky and very steep. People who do this section as a loop with the Appalachian Trail usually go the opposite directions since this is so steep they would rather go downhill. In this case I think it is better to go uphill. Even though it’s harder you get to be looking up the cascades rather than looking down them which is a far better view.
After nearly a mile following the stream it turns directions and starts following a much smaller stream that is one of the feeders to this amazing stream. After about a half a mile that it turns to switchbacks again and continues to climb to the shelter where the trail meets again with the Appalachian Trail. I stopped at this shelter and had a snack and talked to a pair of couples who were just finishing the loop.
At this point Northward the trail was pretty tame and unremarkable. It came down to Reed’s Gap where there’s another parking area that was overflowing with cars. It had a nice rock wall and a pretty meadow to walk through to continue the trail. Pretty soon I was zigzagging back and forth across the Blue Ridge Parkway again. Only this time the trail was getting really rocky and very technical and was slowing me down a bit.
After a few miles of this rocky trail it came out to a ledge called Cedar Cliffs. It’s called that because their cedar trees all over these cliffs and these are the first cedar trees I think I’ve seen on the entire trail so far. I picked and crushed one of the berries just to smell it and it smelled really good. That’s one of the things I’ve gotten in habit of doing is pulling leaves off some of the pine and fir trees and smelling them as I walk. The Douglas firs smell the best by far.
The last few miles of the day were pretty rocky again and had quite a lot of climbing. I was trying to hike till at least 6:00 but I couldn’t go too late because where the trail was taking me was very rocky and probably had small trees but for not good for camping. From the map it look like there was a dip in the ridge where there might be good camping spots. About a half a mile from that area was another set of ridges where two guys were hanging out waiting for the sunset which was about 30 minutes away. Part of me wanted to sit there and watch the sunset with them but the other part wanted to go find a camping spot get set up and cook dinner.
Dinner tonight was a special dinner. Most trips I try to have freeze dried lasagna the first and the last night of the trip. And in this case I have been saving a Mountain House lasagna that I bought for the PCT in 2016 and have been carrying since Pearisburg.
When you cook freeze dried dinners they come in a Ziploc bag that is sealed at the top. You tear the top off and that reveals the Ziploc portion and then you remove the oxygen absorber pack. Even at the right amount of boiling water which in this case is 2 cups, stir it, pencil the Ziploc and let it sit for 10 minutes or more. Well preparing this one I noticed it was defective. The Ziploc portion had become detached from one side of the bag and was just hanging free. I used an extra quart size I had and put it upside down onto the dehydrated bag to keep the steam in and then put the pot cozy on top of that to keep the heat in.
I finished setting up my hammock and then came back about 15 minutes later to eat the lasagna. It was still fine, there was nothing wrong with it, but it seemed like there was too much water in it. I still had dehydrated spinach and tomato powder so I put some of each in just to absorb some of the liquid and it improved the lasagna 100%. The extra tomato flavor really enhanced it. I enjoyed it so much I had my extra honey bun for dessert.
I had trouble hanging the bear bag as all the branches around here seemed rotten or are too high for me to throw the rope over. Since I am low on food everything will fit inside the odor proof sack that’s inside my bear bag so I’m just putting everything in the outer proof sack and hanging the bag from the end of my hammock. I have done this before in areas where bears are the problem but I’m only 10 miles away from Shenandoah where there’s tons of bears. So I have a bag of food which includes tuna fish about two feet from my head. What could possibly go wrong?