By Anstr Davidson
The VHTRC's oxymoronically named, "Work Party," was held on the weekend of April 16-17, 2005. Each year, club members travel to the Massanuttens to perform maintenance on the trails, many of which are used in the Massanutten Mountain Mountain Trails 100 Miler.
This year's group of over 20 workers was spread all over the mountains. From Bird Knob to Powell's Fort Camp, VHTRC members hacked, sawed, painted, and dug to improve the trails. Thanks to these hard workers, runners in this year's MMT will avoid down trees, be guided by better blazes, and run on smoother ground.
There were several highlights of the day. The team under Carolyn Gernand's leadership renewed the blazes on Short Mountain and improved the tread on the north end of the trail. Tom Corris's team covered many miles of trail but took the biggest hit when worker Carl Camp sustained damage to a body part, his middle finger. He ended up in the hospital.
Another team joined Ed Brimberg, the PATC coordinator for these trails, on the stretch between Woodstock Tower and Edinburg Gap. Ed has a chain saw and the legal right to use it, so the group was able to clear the entire eight mile section and get to "Miller time" more quickly than the other groups. Finally, Stan Duobinis worked around Powell's Fort Camp.
After the work, several of the workers repaired to the official hotel of the VHTRC, the Super 8, for refreshments and then a trip to Jalisco's. The usual margaritas were consumed.
The next day saw two different runs. A small group took the traditional Dickey Ridge run. It was a beautiful day and the forest at this low elevation was greening up nicely. The other group did a "Sophie-Tom training run" over the last section of the MMT course. Actually, the run had the historic attributes of going out on the MMT course and back on the Old Dominion course. It included the last two climbs of MMT -- the Bear Wallow trail and Shawl Gap -- as well as Sherman's and Mudhole Gap's of OD fame.
As the Sophie-Tom group returned to Powell's Fort Camp, Chris and Anstr met them with refreshments and food. The weather was perfect and the group enjoyed a beautiful day in the mountains. The post run discussion covered the usual mysteries of life and love.
As the runners dwindled off back to their lives in the "real world," Chris and Anstr began their "old fart retiree camping trip" in the mountains. This enterprise started as a planned backpacking circuit of the Massanutten Trail. Plan B changed from a long distance hike to a base camp expedition. People were invited to join the duo but silly things like jobs apparently intruded. Anyway, no one bit on the invitation to join the fun duo.
[Switching to the First Person, here.]
We spent the first night at Powell's Fort Camp. It was quiet and peaceful. Only the whippoorwill disturbed the night. The whippoorwill reminds of the many nights we have spent out here at OD and MMT. (Listen to the whippoorwill.) We find to our surprise that you can actually make a cell phone call out of this black hole. That is a mixed benefit.
The point of this exercise is to do some running. So on Monday morning, we do a loop out of Powell's Fort. We take the Tuscarora Trail north to Bear Wallow. This is the trail parallel to the MT that goes above the Strassburg Reservoir. It is a very rugged trail but has great views both directions as it goes across the top of the knife-edge ridge somewhat like Kerns Mountain. The trail is a bit primitive and we realize why no one ever takes it. We join the MT at the "Dick Good Intersection." On the way down the Bear Wallow trail we cut off on the pink-blazed Glass House trail to the logging road. We now follow the OD course backwards to our start. The stream is not high and it is day time. So, unlike the Moonlight Run, we make the first four stream crossings with dry feet. On the last crossing, however, we intentionally get wet to clean off.
For years, we have passed places in the woods that looked like wonderful places to camp. This was the opportunity to use one of those places. The spot? It is on the MT south of Sherman's Gap. While you pass it on the Ring, we knew it from the old Massanutten Mountain Massacre 50 miler. (The Massacre was a 50 miler on the Massanutten East Trail held in the late '80s. Ed Demoney devised the event. It was very popular in its time.) In any event, at this spot, there is a flat place under pine trees with a great view. At least, that was our memory of this spot.
We drove to the Veach Gap west parking lot. It is only a 3+ mile hike up to the base camp. Unfortunately, there is no water up there. So we had heavy packs, a three gallon "square" of water, and warm weather. It was a long lug up to the top. We get there and there is no camping place. Damn, yet another memory that is faulty. But after 15 minutes of looking, we find it. A perfect camping spot with a view, fire ring, and toilet. (Ok, the entire forest is a toilet.)
We make our camp and settle in. There is no one up here. We check out the view. It is beautiful. Suddenly, a guy comes up the trail with tools and a chain saw. There is a woman behind him. Hmm. She is familiar. She is Jean Whitman. When we leave two days later, all the blow downs are gone and there are water bars to clear at least some of the mud holes. Thanks guys!
[This trip taught the only possible way to sort out Jean and Janice. While both ran MMT one year, now one runs and the other works the aid station. So what you need to do is try to remember who is running. Then you say, "So how is MMT training going?" We did that on Saturday, when one of the twins came by the work party. The answer was, "I am not running MMT this year, that's Jean. She is training hard."]
After our sumptuous freeze-dried meal, we sleep under the stars way above the valley below.
You don't need an alarm clock up here. The sun comes up, you get up. Our run today is, like the Sophie-Tom run, an MMT/OD mixture. We go about a mile north to Sherman's Gap, turn left and go down to Elizabeth Furnace. Fortunately, the water is on. We tank up and go over Shawl Gap to the parking lot and first "real" aid station at MMT. The road section on 613 to the east end of Sherman's brings a surprise. The road is now paved up to within a few hundred yards of the trailhead. The MMT course now has an extra mile of pavement. Will anyone remember this asphalt while he is on Short Mountain?
We return to camp and it's warm. We have been sucking down a lot of water. Our square of water (you can see it behind Chris in the picture above with the campfire) is getting much lighter. So we hike about a half mile down the hill to the spring. Funny how water looks more drinkable when you are thirsty. We fill up on water and take a bath.
Plan B had been to have two base camps. But we thought that it would be good to see some of the Blue Ridge, and decided to set up the next base camp at Big Meadows in the Shenandoah National Park. The facts that the campground has a shower and we can have the car and ice chest at our campsite had nothing to do with our decision. So we went with Plan C.
The way out was much easier than the way in. It was downhill and we didn't have to carry water. We drive to the Park via the Crisman Hollow Road because of work on 675. We see the results of the controlled burn that the Forest Service had performed a couple of weeks earlier. To the left, along the road between 675 and Gap Creek, the forest floor appeared darker. There was no devastation. The trees seem to be unaffected. It actually looks nice. How did they get the fire to spread so far and yet not become a conflagration?
We literally move up to the Shenandoah National Park. It is significantly higher in elevation than the Massanuttens. That means that spring is a bit behind. As we drive in, we stop and go up to Mary's Rock. It's a tough, almost two mile pull. We then drive on in to Big Meadows where we pick a camping place and take a five mile run that includes the Dark Hollow Falls. About halfway back on the run, we pass the "Cave Cemetary." It is an active family cemetary in the middle of the park. We see headstones for people who died in 2000.
It is a beautiful evening at 3,500 feet. We build a fire and have a couple of beers. It is a great luxury to have the ice chest at hand. Unfortunately, we also have a little bourbon. We were on vacation, for goodness sakes!
The next day (it's about Thursday by now, but we are not real certain about that), we drove to the White Oak Canyon trailhead. We run down the fire road and then up to the top of Old Rag by the back, "easy" way. The view from the top is, of course, beautiful, but it is also cloudy. While the morning had been clear, there was talk of rain on the chalk board at the ranger station in the campground. I had put the rain fly on my tent, but Chris, assuming that my analness would prevent the rain, left his off. Big mistake. We decide that we will break camp when we get back and just go home to a real beds that night.
But first, we have to end this run. So we go back down the mountain and then to the lower White Oak Canyon parking lot. Now we have the long five mile pull back up to Skyline Drive and the car.
White Oak canyon is a great place. Several waterfalls, swimming holes for summer, great views, and, for us, wonderful wildflowers. We see fields of trillia, several columbines, a lot of those little white flowers, and a black snake. We think about how Gary would be going crazy if he were here. Too bad he wasn't. He was up in New England "rack hunting," or something like that. We are sure that he would rather have been with us than where he was!
As we drive back to civilization, we reflect on a great week in the mountains. This was certainly not a huge undertaking. We only hiked about six miles and ran no more than 16 miles on any day. But it was fun. Too bad no one else joined us. Maybe next time.
We got home*, unloaded the car, and logged on to read our e-mail. We were back in reality!
* Chris doesn't really have a "home." He has a California drivers license but spends his time split between Brooklyn, New York and Arlington, Virginia. He never seems to be home.