Despite rain and occasional thunderstorms, our week-long hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoah Valley area was greatly enjoyed by nine Central Indiana Wilderness Club (CIWC) backpackers. The hike was to start just north of Front Royal, Virginia and culminate five days and 50 miles later in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).
Our first day started with heavy rain and threatened with severe thunderstorms that actually didn’t materialize until bedtime, so we altered our plans and secured a beautiful camping site at the Sky Meadows campground further north on the trail than our intended starting spot.
As the weather front moved out, we managed to hike a three mile segment of the trail back to Dick’s Dome, where we had originally planned to spend the night. We all agreed that we’d taken the right course of action when we saw the small size and less than ideal camping situation at the shelter.
Day two of hiking was quite beautiful. The elevations and topography was challenging but manageable and it was SUNNY. The wildflowers were plentiful and provided some nice eye candy
We reached Rod Hollow shelter by 2:00. We decided not to push on as the next section of the trail was the challenging “roller coaster” section, comprised of 13 miles of continuous ups and downs and we wanted to be well-rested for the trail ahead. Plus there were predicted heavy storms that evening.
After drying our gear from the previous night’s deluge, we wanted to keep our tents dry and opted to stay in the shelter – cozy for sure! We were joined by Scott from Virginia, another section hiker whom we would see every day thereafter. If Scott had come to the trail for some solitude, he had come to the wrong place or at least at the wrong time. We made room for him in the shelter. We don’t think he appreciated our lively game of charades, but staying dry probably trumped aloneness. And yes, the thunderstorm, did come and made a spectacle from our mostly dry vantage point.
The following day the group split up. The roller coaster had been serving as a point of anxiety because of the need to hike the first 10 miles of it in one day. Four of the hikers decided to hike back over the previous day’s trail to retrieve the van and drive it to our day three destination, The Bear’s Den Hostel. The five other hiker’s wanted to push forward and conquer the coaster. Check-in plans were made so contact between the two groups could be maintained as much as possible. The trail lived up to its name, though the hiker’s agreed that it was less grueling than the section of the Knobstone Trail in Indiana that we had done two weeks earlier in preparation. Again, it was a sunny and pleasant day for hiking with several lovely stream crossings and a few vistas over the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Bear’s Den is a hikers’ hostel that serves as a refuge for thru-hikers and section hikers alike. It is housed in a stone lodge built in 1933 and currently owned by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Association. It is likely that our group was a bit of an annoyance to the thru-hikers we met at Bear’s Den. However hearing their stories was a nice highlight of the trip.
For the evening we took the Hiker’s Bundle option which provides a bunk, shower, load of laundry, and best of all, pizza and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. This was thoroughly enjoyed and fully consumed. Rain all through the night was no worry as the group shared our own private and nicely accommodated bunk room.
The final two days of the hike were the longest, but we were now well seasoned and up to the task. Rocks and rain were plentiful, but the company was good. The lure of the trail town of Harpers Ferry kept everyone moving along at good speeds. Yet another wet night was spent at David Lesser shelter where only tent camping was still available.
Coming down out of the mountains across the Shenandoah River and into Harpers Ferry was a scenic and welcomed experience. In addition to being the home base for the ATC, the picturesque village is historic site of the John Brown rebellion as well as Civil War battles. Much of the town is a national park and many historic buildings and sites have been preserved, making it well worth at trip on its own. Its natural beauty is remarkable with the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers cutting deeply formed valleys.
The Teahorse Hostel was home for the evening and we wasted no time exploring the area around the hostel. After a restful/restless night (depending on which bunkroom one inhabited) and a whopping, wonderful, waffle breakfast, the historic sites were explored by all and the Maryland Heights, a scenic look-out, was accomplished by some.
A trip with CIWC is usually a good experience, and we bonded as an exceptionally compatible and congenial group of friends. Even with the rainy weather, it was still a magical and rewarding trip. Talk along the way back home was where we might find our next adventure on the AT, with Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts all being discussed. Stay tuned.
Thanks to my good hiking buddy Lindsey Pine for providing some of the photos for this post.