Section Hiking the A.T. in Shenandoah National Park: Calf Mountain Shelter to Rockfish Gap

This post summarizes the eighth (last!) of eight days I spent backpacking through Shenandoah National Park on the Appalachian Trail. Click here for my Trip Summary to find articles, maps, and details around trip prep, packing, and lessons learned.

Day 8: Calf Mountain Shelter to Rockfish Gap

Start: Calf Mountain Shelter, 8am
End: Rockfish Gap, 12:35pm
Total hiking (including to/from campsite): ~8 miles to the parking area at US 250 and the Blue Ridge Parkway
Water: None along the way. We filled at Calf Mountain Shelter.
Food/resupply: Food cart at Rockfish Gap (popcorn, hot dogs and drinks)
Campsites we passed by: None
Shout-out to fellow hikers: Bigfoot (one last time)

Busy morning at Calf Mountain Shelter. That's Mike digging out the fire pit. Chris (not pictured) is weed-whacking nearby.

Hats off once again to PATC trail maintenance volunteers! Two gentlemen hiked in about 7:30am and got right to work digging out the fire pit, spraying for wasps/bees (I think), and weed-whacking. Seem like loud work for so early? Didn’t matter. Nobody slept well, which meant everybody was up and cooking, packing, etc.

Another bad selfie (!) this time with Bigfoot and Lynn

Lynn and I said our hut farewells at 8am but had to stop within 10 minutes to take care of one crucial item: take ibuprofen. I ran through my whole supply but Lynn had me covered. “Best hiking partner ever. She gives me little pink pills, she gives me big white pills…!” I was shocked to have exhausted my stash, but was sore each day from tough hiking and awkward sleeping. For the record, the pink pills were Benadryl and the white, ibuprofen :)

On top of Little Calf Mountain with "Cell Tower Ridge" in the distance.

Though we generally lost elevation over the course of the day, the morning started with a healthy climb and an up-down-up with a fun twist. There was quite a view from the summit of Little Calf Mountain, and we joked about “Cell Tower Ridge” in the distance. Little did we know that we’d hike down to Beagle Gap, cross the road, and then hike up, up, up to those very cell towers. Let me tell you, they’re a lot bigger up close.

Ugh, covered in pollen

Before the up, up, up, there was a brief section of open field with tall plants and grasses creeping in on the trail. Who knows what was blooming, but within minutes, my legs and pants were covered with yellow pollen. As if we weren’t grimy enough already! It bugged me so much I stopped to wipe down with a couple wet-wipes.

Behemoths up close!

Ferny/piney/rocky path, past the cell towers

Beyond the cell towers, the trail became pleasantly ferny/piney/rocky and Lynn and I stopped both for a foot rest and to soak in the ferny/piney/rockiness. Much to our delight, Bigfoot rounded the bend and decided to drop his pack and rest with us. Yay! We even hiked together for a bit until he finally bid us adieu and took off at a ground-devouring clip (he has long legs to go with those big feet). It was easy to say farewell to Bigfoot that time; we’d had our “last” goodbye so often, I felt certain we’d meet again.

Bigfoot overtakes us!

Lynn and I fretted over Bigfoot time and again. His left knee had been bugging him for 100 miles, and was noticeably swollen. Though heading for a hostel to take stock of the situation, Bigfoot already seemed resigned to cutting his hike short (he was shooting for Springer Mountain in Georgia). We hoped for a rally, but Bigfoot’s online trail journal confirmed that he did indeed leave the trail. I emailed good wishes and Bigfoot replied “You two were great company and I will miss you until our paths may cross again.... I’m deciding on therapy for my knee and hope that there is improvement without surgery. All the best Julie!!!!” All the best to you, Bigfoot!

From there, we rolled downhill to the rendezvous with Steve. I felt kinda bad for the German duo huffing and puffing up the hill as we tripped the light fantastic down. Only kinda bad because it wasn’t all puppies and kittens and rainbows for us; eight days on the trail made for tired bodies and sore feet (a constant).

Lynn on US 250, crossing over the Blue Ridge Parkway. The parking area where we met Steve is dead ahead.

Though we were supposed to meet Steve at the food cart down at Rockfish Gap, Lynn and I crossed over Blue Ridge Parkway, plopped down in the parking area, and called it good. Steve pulled up at 12:43pm (woop woop!) with a change of clothes for Lynne, and snacks and water for us both. Before pulling away, we said final final goodbyes to Bigfoot who was waiting for his ride into town. I just knew I’d see him again!

Jazz hands! Can you tell Lynn and Steve are happy to see each other?

Our afternoon agenda:

  • Food: We drove straight to Lord Hardwicke’s for spinach salad (mmm, veggies) and ice cold beer.
  • Shower: GLORIOUS
  • Unpack: Well, Lynn unpacked; I still had travel ahead. I at least rinsed my ground cloth and draped it out to dry.
  • Phone calls, email,…: Back to reality. Sigh. Time to make arrangements for the RAV (it died in NY, 32 hours before I was supposed to drive it to Virginia!). RIP little car, we’ll miss you.
  • Photos: We downloaded and traded photos.
  • More food: Grilled steak, salad, broccoli, bread, wine, and Klondike bars. Pampered, once again.

We laughed and shared trail stories through dinner, clean-up, and pre-bedtime lounging in the living room. As Lynn said, it would have been perfect if we’d just been able to teleport Chris in.  No rest for the weary! Lynn and I were out the door by 8:20am the next morning to pick up my rental car in Charlottsville.

And that was that.  I drove 400 miles back to Keuka Lake. You know, Lynn and I had only met twice before this trip, and briefly at that. When we started hiking, she was “the sister of my good friend Anne.” Now? I feel fortunate to call her friend. After eight days sharing every waking moment together, it could have gone either way, but we got on like two peas in a pod (even sleeping that way, lol). Lucky lucky me.

Lynn and I started the day on a high but got more and more blue as the hours ticked by, missing both the trail and each other. We were ready to be done, but it was hard to be done. Strange combination.

Before signing off, I have a few final messages for my most-excellent hiking partner Lynn (aka No Way, aka Bossy McBossyPants):

  • Use your superpowers wisely
  • It’s always the right time for J-I-N-G-L-E Bells
  • When you need to indulge, head back to the AT Salon. Be sure to spring for the French tips.
  • Always, always, be polite “for there are NOT two sets of rules, one for the princess in her palace and one for those hiking the Appalachian Trail”.

Yours in hiking,

Bonus shots:

At Beagle Gap, with cell towers ahead, and port-o-potties to the left (just out of the photo).

Up and over! I'm a sucker for a good stile.

AT survey marker on the trail. I hope more of these are in my future.