Conquering Massanutten

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Massanutten has been on my list for a while. I didn’t finish it last year, but I was determined to conquer it this year. The loop is 71 miles of ups and downs, and rocky stretches.If you finish it, to paraphrase another backpacker, you’ve really earned those 71 miles.

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This year, the weather decided to have some fun with us. We started with sunny skies and ended with snow, wandered through fog, and had periods of rain. The journey started on Thursday afternoon with a nine mile stretch to Little Crease Shelter. Having done this last year in the dark, getting to see the views and sunset from the top of the first ridgeline was a welcome treat. Friday morning, we established the plan – head to Waterfall Mountain and stop. That was about 25 miles for the day. The climb up Waterfall Mountain is an especially grueling one but we were well rewarded for our efforts – not only did we manage to find a nice camping spot, a fellow backpacker decided to  carry 18 beers for the group. Yes. That’s at least 14.5 pounds of delicious beer that he carried for us.

Saturday is where Massanutten made me earn it. I had bailed last year at Edinburg Gap, and I was delighted to pass that mark this year. I was feeling great as I strolled past the gap and started the next climb, but it quickly wore on me. Only six miles left to camp, though, I thought. I can do six miles more. And I did, but they were slow miles in fog and rain. I was happy to see Woodstock Tower, and even happier to see a huge bowl of a vegetable stew handed to me as I sat down at the campsite. I polished that off, headed to the shelter, and then polished off the second half of dinner. With a full belly, I was cozy in my sleeping bag and settled in for the night.

Just 14 or so miles were between us and the end of Massanutten on Sunday. The day started off nicely – another great ridge walk with nice views, and a pleasant stretch (seriously) on the fire road up to Signal Knob. It was snowing lightly as we made that final climb, but then started to come down quickly. Somehow the forecast had turned from 50s and sunny to near-blizzard conditions (okay – a bit of an exaggeration but that’s what it felt like at ~68 miles). I just kept moving – albeit at a snail’s pace, and finally finished the trail.

This is not an easy trail – it’s definitely tested me in a multitude ways – but we had quite an impressive group of backpackers on it this weekend.

Trip Report: Maryland’s Appalachian Trail

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So far the theme of the year is Plan B. I was co-leading a trip for DC UL Backpacking last weekend. We were slated to head up to Old Logger’s Path. Typically, the road to OLP isn’t the easiest to navigate, but we learned that it was covered in snow. In fact, it seemed, all of Pennsylvania was covered in about two feet of snow. The ranger strongly dissuaded us from attempting to bring our cars (mine being a 14 year old Honda) to OLP. With the short notice, we opted not to send people on a last minute scramble to dig up snowshoes and started to look for the least snow-covered path between D.C. and Lancaster. The 41-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland seemed like the best bet. A staff person in one of the state parks excitedly told me that there were only three inches of snow – and they were melting fast. Plan B was in full effect.

The first few miles of the AT in Maryland are nice and gentle, running along the C&O Canal. It then leads you up to Weverton Cliffs, giving great views of Harper’s Ferry below. We continued on our way, the sun starting to shine a little more and the snow under our feet starting to slowly turn to slush. Now walking through nice, fluffy snow can be fun, but we had our choice of either ankle-deep slush to wade through or pockets of crunchy, icy snow to navigate. (Note – I have no idea where the woman said there were only three inches of fast melting snow. I can only assume she laughed manically after hanging up the phone with me.) And we had 15 miles of this until we hit our first night’s camp at Rocky Run.

Next morning, we were up and on the trail around 8:15, ready for our next day of adventure and about sixteen more miles of slushy snow. It was a beautiful day but with warm temperatures and great views, but the slush / ice was wearing me down. By the time I got to the shelter, I was tired and cranky. I wandered around to find a flat spot to set up my shelter – I was trying out a friend’s Notch this weekend – and found a semi-flat spot.

A huge bonfire was blazing at the shelter below as another group had hiked in from PenMar but left rations in their cars nearby. Heading down, I was quite ready to dig into my chili, have a swig of whiskey, and relax for a bit. I found a feast as our shelter-mates passed along stuffed grape leaves and olives, cured meat, and cheese. One person softly played “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and another offered us his extra venison sausages. With a bellyful of chili and sausage, I headed up to the Notch in a happier mood.

Day three, we were on the trail by 7:10. Once we hit 77, our group diverted as some elected to stay on the slushy trail, while others (including myself) I opted to road walk the last nine or so miles back to the car. As road walks go, it was a lovely one as we passed by farms, saw an incredibly large rooster, and chatted away the miles.

You can check out our full trip report here.

Gear Review: Rossignol Evo Glade Cross-Country Skis and X-1 Ultra Boots

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I’ve cross-country skied before but only on nicely groomed tracks. The allure, however, of using skis to enable me to do more winter backpacking was a strong one. It’s nearly next-to-impossible to rent cross-country skis in the Washington, D.C. metro area so I wound up purchasing a pair to use for a trip to Cranberry Wildernress in West Virgina. My goals were to get decent skis for a beginner – ones that wouldn’t break the bank, but ones that I could grow with. And if I became a cross-country skiing dynamo, I would eventually invest in a better set.

After several consults, I wound up getting the Rossignol Evo Glades and the X-1 Ultra boots. (I wear a size 10 in women’s shoes so I got bumped up to the men’s boots.) Of course I should insert the caveat that I have a limited basis for comparison – I’ve only rented in the past. But the skis and boots overall worked well in Cranberry. I had no complaints. We had a mix of terrain: from following people who laid down tracks before us to me following Denise as she broke trail, and from gentle hills to short steep climbs. I skied with a full pack on our way in and out of the shelter, and then with a reduced pack during our longer day. I was quite happy with the skis – they got me where I needed to go, and I could feel myself learning how to use them on the climbs and descents.

If only there were skis that could prevent face plants. :)