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(for those with ADD-link to pictures of the trip at the bottom)
I promised a second trip report after we applied lessons learned from our first backcountry overnighter and what follows is our experience from trip #2 - The Mount Marshall Loop.
We have been planning this trip since our return from our first backcountry overnighter. If you recall we had a few missteps on that first trip. We took what we learned and proceeded to plan the Mt. Marshall Loop. Our two reference books listed this as a 3 day 2 night hike. We are gluttons for punishment... and have jobs so we compressed it into 2 days and one night. Mind you, it was the same route, same mileage, we just pushed hard and did it in 2 days.
We had to work Friday so were not able to leave for Shenandoah until about 8PM. Our plan was to pull into Mathews Arm and grab a car campsite for the night and start our hike on Saturday morning. Before we left home I pulled the third row out of the Suburban and laid down the second row, put our air bed and our big king size sleeping bag on top. This was a luxury.. just back her in crawl in the back and go to sleep. We bought a National Parks pass before we went out to The Grand Tetons in Wyoming last July so all we had to pay for was the $15 per night site fee. Cheaper than a hotel and worth every penny for not having to make the drive early Saturday morning.
After waking up and driving off to Jenkins Gap with the wife still sleeping in the back (she had a few choice words for me on the first corner) we arrived a Jenkins Gap. There were only 2 other cars in the lot which was a good sign. We had our packs, topo map, altimeter, water purifier, MSR stove, and all the gear we would need.. nothing more. The first day we did right at 8 miles. It was a bit of a grind the last 1 mile but well worth the extra effort on the first day. This allowed a side trip on Big Devils Stairs on Sunday morning. We used the topo map to identify areas that might provide a good level campsite. It worked perfectly. We were a bit worried because we were approaching our empty mark on our energy gauge with just around a mile left before we hit the target area. As it happened we came across 2 other folks heading the opposite direction and asked if they had spotted any good areas to pitch a tent. Sure enough, right in the area we had identified on the topo map. We did them the favor of telling them the location of some good sites in the direction they were heading. We pitched our tent at around 5:00 and cooked up dinner. Then it was off to our sleeping bags and headlamps for some reading before we zonked out. We had some visitors in the night but they were just passing through as we had taken all the precautions as far as food storage (10ft up - 4ft out) and keeping our site free of enticing odors. The morning was a crisp 53 degrees. I think it must have gotten down to the low 40's overnight but we stayed cozy in the Kelty with our down sleeping bags. It's a lot of weight to haul that 11lb tent, and I would not mind picking up a lightweight 2 person jobber, but the added weight = added exercise which is always good. If I was doing anything more than a 14 miler I might invest in a lightweight. For now the Kelty serves us well. We left the campsite and our backpacks behind and took our out and back hike on Big Devils Stairs. What a piece of cake without the pack.
Wildlife sightings were limited to buck and doe along with 2 snakes. One of the snakes was a moccasin about 2 feet in length. I kept a safe distance and observed for a bit while the wife continued hurriedly down the trail yelling over her shoulder that I was insane. This is a common occurrence in our relationship but I can live with being insane as long as it does not require any sort of medication. It turns out the moccasin was stalking a frog in a pool of the stream. Results, Frog 1 Moccasin 0. Today we passed one other hiker in the 5 miles of trail we covered. If you could only appreciate how amazing that is in the Shenandoah National Park - 1 1/2 hours from a major metropolitan area with 3+ million people at near peak color for fall foliage. Simply amazing!! To give you a bit of perspective. When we emerged from the trail about a 1/4 mile from the lot which is across from a scenic overlook, there were at least 50 cars and twice as many people looking at the mountains and valley we had just emerged from. Its funny how you look at these folks differently after a backcountry trip. I felt sorry for them... It seems, whats the word, arrogant?, not sure, but I wanted to tell them what they were missing by not getting out of their cars and onto a trail... then again, maybe I would rather they not know.
Sorry I could not provide more entertainment today as the hike was flawless with no major blunders.
Stay tuned for trip report #3 Winter Camping... as soon as it gets cold enough for snow covered mountains.
Enjoy the pictures.
Pictures of the trip (click sideshow and then click the middle of the photo for the narrative)