This post summarizes the sixth 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 6: Pinefield Hut to Blackrock Hut
Start: Pinefield Hut, 8:30am
End: Blackrock Hut, 5:15pm
Total hiking (including to/from campsite): ~13.5 miles, perhaps less since we cut across Loft Mountain campground instead of going around.
Water: A couple of creeks, but we filled at the Loft Mountain campstore.
Food/resupply: Loft Mountain campstore (campstore, laundry, showers). The Loft Mountain Wayside is one mile north of the campground and store and has a small grill.
Campsites we passed by: Loft Mountain campground
Shout-out to fellow hikers: Mystic Mike, Dave, Benny and the Jets (Benny, Nick and John), Boris and Natasha (I think Lynn made those names up)
Rise and shine sleepyhead! I took a pretty pink pill at bedtime (half a Benadryl) and thought it didn’t work since I was up until midnight, but groggily awoke to extensive rustling noises at 7:09am. 7:09!! That may not sound late, but 7:09 in my world is the equivalent of 10:09 to most folks. The rustling? That was Lynn packing up and gently nudging me to consciousness; she’s so polite.
When we moseyed down to the hut, the Reverend and Travis already had a robust fire going. Stephanie was sleeping right there in the hut but they paid her no mind, talking and making breakfast. I was glad the guys were up and making noise; if not, Lynn and I would have tiptoed around again like at Byrd’s Nest #3. As we packed up, Just Paul offered to take our trash; his wife was coming to pick him up and they’d toss it in town. Sweet; anything to reduce pack weight!
“The guys said that one of the prettiest parts of the AT is near Abingdon Virginia at Greystone, or Grey-something, where the ponies are. The ponies come up and lick ya! That’s clearly the part of the AT I need to pick up next!” I researched this later and think they were speaking of Mount Rogers in Grayson Highlands State Park.
As Lynn and I hiked out at 8:30am, we were already planning what to purchase at Loft Mountain. So much for nutritionally dense foods, lol. I’m craving candy and we both want Pringles. No, we won’t share a can (psh!); one for each!
Like most days, we hiked up and down and up and down and up and down. The first down crossed Skyline drive at the Ivy Creek overlook before climbing back up for an even better view. The next down finally led to the afore-mentioned Ivy Creek - very pretty, with pools, and huge boulders, and running water and everything! That was the first real creek we’d hiked across, which seems crazy since we’d been hiking for over 75 miles. It was only 10am and already a stinkin’ hot so a little splashing around felt great.
And then, SNAAAAAAAAAKE!!! “Okay okay okay, we just ran into a black snake of some kind!! He was black with yellow and some diamond-like pattern. He was 3/4 of the way across the path and would not move. We’re throwing rocks, we’re throwing sticks but he does not budge. The stupid guy would. not. move!” I’ve never been tempted to keep one of my voice recordings but this one was hilarious. Such excitement from a little ol’ rattlesnake. The best part was how we came upon him: Lynn was in the lead with me close behind. I had just looked down to get a map out when Lynn saw the snake and stopped so abruptly, I smacked onto her cartoon-style. By the time she could get words out, I’d peered around, seen the snake, and started looking for long sticks.
Andy, our friendly camp host from Matthew’s Arm, warned that uncoiled snakes can jump 1/3 of their length but when coiled, that increases to 2/3. Got it! Unfortunately, I nudged our guy one too many times (he was SO stubborn!) and he started to coil. Dang it! I failed Snake Handling 101. Trust Lynn to save the day. She shushed small rocks at him with her hiking stick until he slithered to the far side of the trail. Victory! He got the last word in, though, startling the bejeebers out of both of us with a hearty rattle as we leapt past.
Our excitement eventually ebbed and we managed to have calm, cool, collected conversations with a lovely older couple and a dad with his two tiny sidekicks, and then…DRUM ROLL…Loft Mountain camp store! I know I keep saying that such-and-such was the best stop ever but I’m so cereal, this was the best stop ever. We raved over the campstore, the bathrooms, the covered breezeway with benches and outlets, and most of all, Bill, our friendly Loft Mountain worker-guy. Oh Bill, you’re the greatest.
Bill positively identified our snake as a Black Phase Timber Rattler (there’s also a Yellow Phase which is mostly yellow with black markings) and explained how to cut through the campground to pick up the AT on the far side. Hooray for shortcuts! Bill might be biased, but he thinks Loft Mountain is the best campground in the park because sites are secluded, each surrounded with foliage and hedgerows.
This had to be our longest stop yet at over an hour and a half, but all good things must come to an end. To pick up the shortcut trail, we followed signs to the amphitheater. Holy cow! If we weren’t already in love with this place, the stunning amphitheater sealed the deal.
“Took another long stop at three o’clock. You can tell we’re like, meh, we’ll get there when we get there.” Indeed. We ran into a number of folks but chatted the longest with Mystic Mike from Connecticut who started at Rockfish Gap and was hoping to cover a mere 18 miles to Pinefield Hut. C’mon Mike, you’re making the rest of us look like slackers. One helpful nugget: he confirmed there’s a good water source at Calf Mountain where we’d stay tomorrow night.
Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, along came Blackrock. The approach gave a slow reveal of rock, and more rock, a hint of open space, a glimpse of rolling hills, and then resolved into the most memorable panorama of the trip. Lynn chuckled at my incredulous reaction as we advanced, “Lynn are you SEEING this? Do you need me to duck down??” No, it’s a mountain, Julie, I can see it just fine.
I couldn’t resist the tempting pile of rocks that is Blackrock Summit, so dropped my pack and scrambled to the top for a close-to–360 view; maybe 270.
Given all the exclamation points and all-caps, this had to be my favorite day of them all, and the good times kept rolling. We shared Blackrock Hut facilities with:
- Dave, a pilot from Gettysburg
- Benny and the Jets, a father with his two sons, Nick and John. The guys had done all the high adventure scout expeditions: Philmont, Northern Tier and Sea Base.
- Boris and Natasha. Boris was Bulgarian; I’m not sure Natasha was actually her name! Whoever they are, they made us nervous cooking and eating near their tent, which was near our tent. C’mon…bears!
John and Nick kept us laughing with stranger-than-fiction true stories like the one about a guy who sold home-made energy drinks comprised of gasoline and a little meth, but mooooostly lemonade (!). They also teased me to no end, dubbing my 4-liter tank a “water purse”, and ribbing me about my apparently complex water-treatment computations. No guys, no “drag coefficients” necessary. I swear I just looked at my watch and added 15 minutes to the current time.
This marked the first time we had to treat water and it went swimmingly. There was a nice water supply from the creek below Blackrock Hut and I treated two batches, one before dinner and another right before bed. I’m a fan of the AquaMira drops and after her first taste, Lynn agreed the water tasted like water; no chemical aftertaste.
I also washed my socks in a ziploc bag and scrubbed the feet a couple times to staunch the stench. Poor Lynn. “I pity the fool who has to sleep in a tent with me.”
Only one and a half days left and I’m feeling the loss already. Time is flying.