On 12/31/2019 I aka Condor 3 traveled south to Waynesboro, Virginia in order to meet Jamie aka Commander Plodder (and also later my sister Ellyn) for four days of hiking along the Appalachian Trail (AT). Mother nature offered nearly a week of mild January weather which allowed us to hike in the low to mid 50s temperature for parts of this journey. But first, I had to check in to Stanimal’s 328 Hostel in Waynesboro which would serve as our base of operations for the four day hiking plan.
Adam Stanley, who hiked the AT in 2004 and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2010, owns this hostel and another one in Glasgow, VA. When I arrived at the hostel, I parked out back as hikers use the rear door entrance. Notice the tree in the backyard with hiking shoes hanging from the branches.
Before entering the kitchen door, I saw this wooden pallet being used as a hiker boot rack.
After walking through the kitchen into the living room, I met the caretakers Glen and Cora. Glen showed me my available options and I chose a corner bed in the second floor bunkroom, room #4. It was AT hiker off season but this hostel also is an AirBnB so non hikers frequent this location too. Shuttle drivers from this hostel pick up and drop off hikers often. According to Glen, they have even traveled to Washington, DC to pick up hikers.
Commander Plodder arrived and selected a sleeping nook just off the main bunk room.
We had dinner on New Year’s Eve at Applebee’s and discussed our hiking plan as usual. Our overall goals for this four day period were to finish the last part of the AT in Shenandoah National Park (SNP), to break the 700 mile overall AT mark, and to begin the Blue Ridge area of Central Virginia.
Hike Day #1-Happy New Year’s Day-1/1/2020:
After making our breakfast in the hostel’s kitchen, we made the very short trip to Skyline Drive at Rockfish Gap where we turned to head north to position our cars at the Turk Gap parking area first and then at the Jones Run Trail parking area where we had left off in our November hike. While driving north on Skyline Drive, the brilliantly orange sun was intermittently flashing its warmth to the right side of my face like a strobe effect as it was momentarily blocked by trees without leaves, only to flash warm again and off again in quick succession. It was a beautiful morning as we prepared to do our southbound 10.3 miles starting from Jones Run Trail parking lot.
We crossed the Skyline Drive immediately and began our ascent up Blackrock Mountain. In a little over a mile we noticed this huge pile of rocks and boulders on our left. We are used to seeing piles of rock which had tumbled down from cliffs but there was nothing above this gigantic mass of huge rocks. That is Plodder walking next to the pile.
After passing both the Trayfoot Mountain Trail and the Blackrock Hut, which is a three sided shelter for hikers to use overnight in the SNP, we descended about 700′ before taking a sit down break at Blackrock Gap at 10:30am.
After the short break we continued south up and over a series of small hills as we passed Riprap Trail and the Riprap Parking area before walking along the Wildcat Ridge for a couple of miles. Just before beginning our descent to Turk Gap, Commander Plodder looked ahead, and later photographed, a shadow which looked very much like a hiker with a trekking pole. It was so real looking, it almost appeared to actually be a hiker up ahead of us. I am ducking down with my orange hat just off the trail. Here is the photo.
We reached Turk Gap a couple minutes before 2pm and, after picking up our other car, we drove to check out the parking area at Rockfish Gap for tomorrow’s hike. There was a small parking area just off the Blue Ridge Parkway which is what the Skyline Drive becomes after exiting the SNP. There was a larger parking area which had a couple of abandoned and very neglected buildings but where there was also the King’s Gourmet Popcorn Truck. Unfortunately, it was closed on New Years Day, but we would be checking this out tomorrow.
Plodders Hiking App said we had completed 10.5 miles and had done 2,315′ of elevation gain and 2,534′ of elevation loss. My Iphone health app said we had covered 10.1 miles, taken 28,184 steps and climbed 72 floors. It was a perfect first day of hiking and we finished 10.3 miles of the AT.
In our Guess the Number of Hikers Seen contest, Plodder chose six and I chose seven. Little did we know when we chose our predictions, that we would set a record today for hikers seen. As we descended toward Blackrock Gap we saw the first group of trail runners heading up the hill toward us. That’s right, they were running uphill! We asked the lead runner how many were in his group behind him and he stated about 25. I guess it was sort of a New Years Day tradition. By the time our hike ended, we had seen more than forty. And I had a sweet contest victory on Day 1.
At Stanimals we met a southbound, solo thru hiker from Alaska whose trail name was Baby Legs. She had been picked up by a Stanimal’s shuttle driver at the same Rockfish Gap parking area and was staying at Stanimal’s for a couple days to resupply and to rest a sore knee. She accepted our invitation to go to dinner and we went to a nearby Ruby Tuesdays.
After finishing her career in the Army, Baby Legs owned a roller derby business and also worked as a bouncer in Anchorage, Alaska. She had thought about hiking the AT for nearly twenty years and had finally decided to do it. She began her southbound thru hike from Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the AT. She had a harrowing twelve hour hike up to and back down from Mt. Katahdin. The hike included 40mph winds and Baby Legs, with the assistance of another hiker, helped a disoriented, elderly hiker turn around and get back down safely in the bad weather. This was the start of her first day of hiking-September 23, 2019. She continued south to the Mahoosic Notch in Maine but, due to weather and lyme disease, had to leave the trail for a few weeks. She resumed hiking near Killington, Vermont and has hiked south from that point to where we met her in Virginia. She intends to continue hiking to the Southern Terminus of the AT at Springer Mountain, Georgia and will then go back to finish the 230 mile stretch in Vermont, New Hampshire and a short piece in Maine so that she will have completed the entire 2,189 mile AT. Quite impressive.
Baby Legs explained that she loves dachshunds and had two dachshunds named Li’l Bit and Rollie Pollie Ollie II. Unfortunately, they both passed away fairly close together in time. Baby Legs proudly showed me a necklace which contained some of the cremains of her beloved pets. She has carried the necklace during her thru hike.
We returned to the hostel, Baby Legs had her own sleeping nook with an actual door just off the main bunk room. Hiker midnight (ie. 9pm) came quickly and we got much needed rest for the next day’s hike.
Hike Day #2-1/2/2020:
Breakfast again at Stanimal’s and then we arranged our cars at the planned parking areas. Plodder took this beautiful photo of the sunrise.
We were doing the last 12.1 miles southbound from Turk Gap to Rockfish Gap. We would finally be done the entire 105 mile section of the AT inside the Shenandoah NP. We would also pass the 700 mile overall mark of the AT.
After a slight uphill climb passed the Turk Mountain Trail crossing, we began a gradual descent and after a little over an hour of hiking Commander Plodder noticed a different type survey marker on the trail. It was set in concrete and was from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior. It bore some stamped numbers in the center of the metal marker.
A little over an hour of hiking after that marker we saw this yellow colored, information band on a concrete marker post near a spring. All the informational/directional bands we have seen so far are a grayish colored metal on these type of posts. Here is the warning information on the yellow band.
Trail maintainers wanted to make sure all hikers using this water source would boil the water before drinking.
Less than a half hour later, here is Plodder standing under a Powerline crossing. It is the largest one we have ever seen. There were three different lines of towers.
As we walked uphill under the power lines, we noticed a series of light greenish colored tubes in the ground where trail maintainers had planted small plants to restore some trees or shrubs to the area. The tubes were to make it difficult for animals to eat the young plants.
We continued our uphill climb toward Calf Mountain and passed the side trail for the Calf Mountain Shelter. The intersection is marked by this sign.
The shelter was .3 miles away and we would have to hike .3 back to rejoin the AT, so we kept climbing Calf Mountain. Along the way we saw a For Sale sign to our left, deep in the woods. This part of the SNP abuts some privately owned land and I guess the owner wants to sell the property. I don’t know how much “walk by” prospective purchasers the owner would get from this advertisement.
Finally, at 11:08am, we reached the summit of Calf Mountain which is at 2,989′ above sea level. It is marked with a large rock cairn. I found a small flat stone and balanced one on the top.
We had a small descent, came to a small grassy meadow and reached the summit of Little Calf Mountain.
We descended 400′ and reached Beagle Gap where we had reached the 6.6 mile mark of today’s hike. We had noticed some large communication towers in the distance earlier in our hike. We now began an ascent of Bear Den Mountain where these Communication Towers were located. Nearby the towers and the control building, were numerous, old tractor seats mounted in the grassy area for hikers to sit.
After passing another tower, we began a fairly steep descent into McCormick Gap. Having checked our map the night before and from information we received from Baby Legs, we knew the short ascent out of McCormick Gap was very steep, despite being only about a half a mile long. After crossing the Skyline Drive, we followed the trail cross a small grassy area where we noticed a private property sign. Just a short way before the private property sign, we saw to our right an older wooden sign indicating the AT turns to the right. We began the steep climb which did not have the benefit of terraced steps or convenient steeping stones. We had hiked over 8.4 miles already and now had to use a lot of energy to dig our hiking boots into the trail to get a foothold to climb.
The next three miles followed a gradual downhill grade but it was not on the nice trails we had experienced in the prior 100 miles of the SNP. We spent a lot of our time picking through rocks and having to be very careful not to make a misstep. It took over two hours to finally reach the AT’s southern entrance of the Shenandoah NP. There is a self registering kiosk with a small desk lid which houses the registration forms. We had seen a similar one on the northern end of the SNP.
The good news was that we only had a half mile of steep trail to reach Skyline Drive and then another half mile of road shoulder walking to reach the end of our hike at the parking area just below the intersection of I-64, Rt. 250 and the Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Parkway in Rockfish Gap. And King’s Gourmet Popcorn truck was open! We both got bags of Caramel Popcorn, even before we went to retrieve my car at Turk Gap.
Plodder and I had both guessed ten on the Hiker Number contest so we both lost as we did not see that number of hikers.
On our way back to Stanimal’s, I learned my sister and prior AT section hiker partner, Ellyn, had arrived safely at the hostel. She would join us for the last two days of hiking.
We had dinner at Applebee’s and had three different servers over the course of the meal. One took and served our beverages; a second took our food order and a third did everything else. The #2 server made a point of telling us the correct way to pronounce the seafood word “Salmon” which was to pronounce the “L”, not to say the word with a silent “L”. Huh?
Hike Day #3-1/3/2020:
I made cheese omelets again for breakfast and we planned to drop off Baby Legs in Rockfish Gap so she could resume her sobo hike. We did so and then arranged our other car further south at the Humpback Gap parking area. We planned to do a 7.7 mile northbound (nobo) hike back to Rockfish Gap. There is a short .25 side trail from the Humpback Gap parking area east to connect to the AT. Once there, we turned left at this sign to head north. Plodder photographed Ellyn and I as we were ready to turn left to start the hike.
In less than an hour we reached the Glass Hollow Overlook. Here is Ellyn and I.
During the early part of the hike, Commander Plodder wanted to have a sub contest where Plodder and I would each predict what time we would pass Baby Legs this morning. She was heading south and we were heading north. Plodder picked 9:45am and I picked 9:15am. This is tricky to predict when the relative closing speed can be 4.5-5 mph. But we stated our predictions and just kept hiking.
At about 9:20am, the trail lead right to the Paul C. Wolfe shelter which was at the bottom of a 700′ descent from the Glass Hollow Overlook. We decided to take a sit down break and I went to use the privy which had a half door so users of the privy could enjoy the beautiful forest.
I sat down on the shelter’s sleeping platform and wrote a note in the shelter’s register, photographed the page and finished my morning’s snack.
As I got up to take a couple of photos, I first heard some noise and then looked to see Baby Legs coming down the trail just above the shelter. The time was 9:38am. Since we have a documented history of using a Price is Right type formula, my time guess of 9:15am was the only one before Baby Leg’s arrival. Plodder’s guess of 9:45am was closest time prediction, only 7 minutes past the actual arrival time, but was too “high”. We may have to tweek our game rules for these other type contests during the hiking day. But it is a fun way to pass the time.
Anyway, we chatted briefly and, thanks to Plodder’s selfie skills, we were able to get this photo of all four of us. Plodder is on the left, I am in the back, Ellyn is in the front center and Baby Legs is on the right.
Baby Legs was considering not going much further today as she was monitoring her sore knee. We said good bye and wished her the best of luck.
In just 1.2 miles, we passed a very old cemetery on our right hand side. A wooden sign on a tree identifies it as the Lowe Family Cemetery. There were very small headstones still visible above ground. One stone appeared to have the year 1927 scratched into it. Here is Plodder looking at some of them.
Plodder captured some of the smooth trail as Ellyn and I walked ahead.
In just another .7 miles, we came upon the ruins of the W.J. Mayo home place with its stone fireplace.
We passed a spring and then a stream around 11:38am. We now had about 1.9 miles to go with the last half a mile steadily uphill to the rock steps steps leading onto the Blue Ridge Parkway where we had left off the day before. We finished at 12:45pm and started walking the short distance to our car in the parking area.
On the way back to our car, there were a couple of potholes containing standing water in the parking lot. We used the puddles to help clean the stuck-on mud off the bottom tips of our trekking poles.
I still had not eaten my caramel popcorn from yesterday. Plodder and Ellyn bought some popcorn at King’s Gourmet Popcorn. Plodder had the caramel again and Ellyn got the caramel with nuts variety.
Ellyn had mentioned that she brings good weather for various events when she’s around. She succeeded this day(and the next as well). We finished the hike in the low 50s temps. Plodder’s My Hike app said we had done 1,233′ of ascent and 1,732′ of descent. My Iphone health app said we had hiked 8.0 miles, taken 22,338 steps and climbed 21 floors.
No one won the Guess the Number of Hikers contest as we all guessed too high. We only had seen one hiker-Baby Legs.
We enjoyed our last dinner together at Ruby Tuesday’s as we discussed the next day’s hiking plan. Back at the hostel, Ellyn used her laptop to do some work and to watch a program. Here she is sitting on her bottom bunk in the same bunk room where my bed was located.
Hike Day #4-1/4/2020:
After our usual breakfast at Stanimal’s, we headed back to the Blue Ridge parkway where we dropped off one car at Humpback Gap parking area before beginning our hike further south at the Dripping Rock parking area. Our plan was to hike 6.6 miles northbound and we discussed the possibility of seeing Baby Legs again if she had rested her knee by doing a low mileage day the day before. Despite having a series of uphill hikes in the morning, we hoped to be done by around Noon. Plodder and Ellyn were planning on heading home this afternoon. I would wait until the next day to drive home.
The AT passes right through the Dripping Rock parking area which is just a small horseshoe loop next to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had a slight uphill climb, very short, before descending into Laurel Springs Gap where we saw another warning sign near a spring. Again, water should be filtered/treated and boiled before consumption. We began a series of three climbs with small plateaus between on our way to the summit of Humpback Mountain, 3,628′ asl. We would reach the top about 2.8 miles into our hike and just before reaching the top, we looked up to see Baby Legs coming down toward us.
I used this last opportunity to get a photo of the necklace containing the partial cremains of her two dachshunds and we handed off power bars and gorp to Baby Legs to help supply her with food.
About forty minutes later we passed another one of these massive rock formations on our right.
The path as we began descending 1,300′ was fairly rocky in the upper part of the descent. As we got further from the summit, the foot path improved such that we could keep a better rhythm. We started a series of switchbacks as we passed a couple of springs, one of which had water flowing out of a pvc pipe from a spring box.
Ellyn posed by a tree alongside one of the nicer areas of the footpath which can be seen over her shoulder. I believe she was practicing some “forest bathing” during this hike.
After walking across a wooden log which had the top flattened by a series of chain saw cuts,
we reached the directional sign to bear left up a drainage ditch to the Humpback Gap parking area.
Here is our end of hiking trip selfie by the sign next to the parking area. Three happy hikers.
Plodder’s My Hike app said that we had covered 6.9 miles, had ascended 1,400′ and descended 1,900′. My Iphone health app said we had hiked 7.1 miles, taken 19,673 steps and climbed 24 floors. Plodder won the Guess the Hiker Number contest within the last mile or so when a group of six hikers came walking southbound as we hiked northbound.
The four day total of AT miles covered was 36.7 miles which means that we have now covered 172.4 miles in Virginia and overall have covered 719 miles of the AT. Our next hike will help us pass the one third completed mark.
Thanks very much to Commander Plodder and to Ellyn for being such good hiking companions. As always, we owe special thanks to our respective spouses Sandy, Bernadette and Greg who support us in these hiking adventures.
More hikes to plan.