Section Hiking the A.T. in Shenandoah National Park: South River Maintenance Hut to Pinefield Hut

This post summarizes the fifth 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 5: South River Maintenance Hut to Pinefield Hut

Start: South River Maintenance Hut, 8:15am
End: Pinefield Hut, 5:25pm
Total hiking (including to/from campsite): ~14.7 miles; ~15.1 with the detour for water at the Simmons Gap ranger station
Water: Just a couple options. We filled at re-supply and again at the Simmons Gap ranger station. There was also a creek with shallow pools at Pinefield Hut.
Food/resupply: No stores or waysides, but Steve met us with near the Swift Run Gap entrance station.
Campsites we passed by: Hightop Hut
Shout-out to fellow hikers: Kathy, Travis D, Just Paul, Reverend Honey Buns, Stephanie, P&W (Prayer & Work)

We survived! Not that we were in any danger, but it was a markedly different feeling to camp off by ourselves in the woods vs. in a campground surrounded by other folks. I have to say, I appreciated the periods of solitude that came with the trail, but more so during the day. In the evening, I much preferred to come “home” (even if home changed nightly) to other people cooking, setting up tents, getting water, making fires; each doing our own thing, but doing it together.

Julie recording her thoughts, waiting for breakfast to cook (i.e. rehydrate). That silver rectangular thingy is an insulating food cozy.

Being off in the woods threw our whole routine off! On a normal morning I’d get food out and make coffee while Lynn packed up the tent, but today we tossed stuff together quickly, walked 200 yds to collect our bear bag (it too survived!), and then cooked, ate, and re-packed at the South River Maintenance Hut picnic table. We took a few minutes to scout the area around the hut and I noted “Matt Murray, you’re a nice guy but we’re calling liar liar plants for hire on you.” Matt’s the maintenance guy we met yesterday who said there’s a bear pole at this hut. We found a super-flat gravel-covered campsite behind the hut (for the maintenance workers?), but no bear pole.

At exactly 9:28am we arrived at out our resupply rendezvous point with Steve. The moment Lynn spied Steve through the woods, she took off so fast I worried she’d turn an ankle or trip over a root in her haste to get to her beloved hubby and all the goodies in the car. It was the giddiest and skippiest I’d ever seen her!

Lynn with Steve, our awesome resupply guy.

We spent a full hour and a half at the car, much longer than anticipated, and savored every second. I later noted “It is freaking genius to have a human being you know and love to do resupply. What a boost in mood!” Steve thoughtfully brought two Subway sandwiches (“What kind is this? Wait, I don’t even care!!”) along with the water and resupply bins stocked with food and supplies. Lynn had even thrown in extra clothes and changed into a fresh set. We charged phones while re-packing, taking on food and off-loading gear we didn’t need. While Lynn played Foot Care Salon, I sat in the back tailgate and contentedly munched through a half-bucket of peanut butter filled pretzels. Oh man, those things tasted so good, but I had nothing on Lynn. I turned around and she scarfed two huge forkfuls of Nutella straight from the jar; no spoons available, but who cares, LOL!!

Julie and Lynn at Hightop. A bunch of people converged at this point, making it feel like a party on the rock. We met Kathy who became everyone's official photographer; loved her soft southern drawl.

By 11am we reluctantly said our final goodbyes to Steve, wonderful Steve, and started the climb up to Hightop. I exclaimed in delight when I realized we were finally in new territory for Lynn. She routinely hikes in Shenandoah National Park, but mostly in the northern and central sections; it was high time for her to experience some firsts with wide-eyed wonder, the way I’d been this whole trip.

Lynn about to cross the road at Powell Gap. We crossed Skyline drive many times, often at gaps, and I appreciated the brief change to wide-open spaces.

Our packs, looking over Powell Gap Hollow. Don't they look happy to be off our backs?

We had hoped to run across hikers who could confirm there was good water at Pinefield Hut (where we’d camp) but no luck so we had to go to our back-up plan, a 0.2 mile detour down to the frost-free hydrant at the Simmons Gap ranger station. An extra 0.4 miles of hiking didn’t sound appealing, but it turned out to be a delightful sojourn.

This is a terribly blurry photo of Julie heading off to find water at the Simmons Gap ranger station. Some hikers teased us about the 4L water tank, calling it a "water purse." I can see it!

We dropped packs in soft grass under a shady tree, I traded my boots for sandals (glorious to free the feet!), and set off down the road with water tank and spare bottles. Lynn relaxed with the packs during my water run and we were both surprised I took just eight minutes. Lynn was just settling in when I returned so we lounged a bit longer, staying through park quittin’ time at 4:20 when rangers and other park workers turned past one by one. One guy gave us a shout-out, making sure we had water; very kind.

Hamming it up at Pinefield Hut. That's Stephanie, Travis D and Reverend Honey Buns.

Pinefield Hut was quiet and mellow when we arrived at 5:25pm, but a fun crowd gradually assembled as the evening wore on. First came Travis D and Just Paul, with Travis quietly building a fire that he’d end up feeding and stoking for hours. Next, Reverend Honey Buns and Stephanie returned from hitching a ride into town for beer and smokes (!). Much later, two young ladies joined the group after chilling in their tent for a few hours. The mood was lively and upbeat much like Byrd’s Nest a couple nights before, with everyone chatting and joking while cooking dinner, etc. At one point a PATC maintenance volunteer (P& W) wandered in to say hello, most memorable to me for imparting that 8:30pm is “hiker’s midnight” - ha! It’s funny because it’s true.

Conversation was easy and comeradery ran high. Just Paul repeatedly mentioned a German he’d met who was hiking quickly and didn’t interact much. Paul felt he was missing out on the best part of the trail: You schlep and slog and sweat, but at the end of the day you have this…the people. I happen to agree with Paul - this trip was most special to me for the interactions - but to each his own. Every hiker has a unique reason for taking to the trail; I’m not about to pass judgment on what they “should” be getting out of the experience. Hopefully, we can each come away with just what we needed.

This shot is taken from our tent site, looking back down the hill at Pinefield Hut and fire pit.

The mood grew even more festive as the evening wore on with marshmallows making an appearance courtesy of the girls on the hill, but Lynn and I said our goodnights at 8:30 and made the short but steep climb up to our tent. We loved Pinefield’s layout, with the hut situated in a pretty clearing and campsites up above.

We wrapped up the evening with “Let the record show I’m taking a pretty pink pill”. Oh my! Not to worry, Lynn just offered a half-Benadryl to help me sleep. I am not cut out for sleeping on the ground any more, even with a 2-inch Exped mat underneath. Each night, I felt like an evenly roasted convenience store hot dog, continual rotating through the night (left side - back - right side - stomach - left side - back - right side - stomach - …). I was hopeful but the Benadryl backfired keeping me awake until midnight. Real midnight not hiker’s midnight. It was also hot and my legs just wouldn’t settle down, so I probably can’t place all blame on the pill. To add to matters, all that repositioning rubbed my heels raw - hello bandaids and duct tape!

It’s interesting to go back and read my trail journal. There were obviously highs and lows each day, but it’s the highs that persist prominently in my mind. Much like childbirth, I guess. Sure there’s pain, but look what you get for it :)

Lynn noting our location on a simple park map. We've come a long way baby!

Bonus shot:

Cool trees. Big!