I picked up Jeff (Trailsurfer) about 1pm on Friday 19 Nov 11. We then swung by the pickup site in Williamsburg to pick up Megan Sherpa, about 1:45. We then headed up to the trail head just off HWY 250 about 30 minutes north west of Staunton, Va.
Try as we did, we didn’t make it before the sun set around 5:04pm. When we got out of the cars we found the temperature had dropped into the 30s!
We unloaded, put on coats, put on water shoes, grabbed our boots, packed up, switched on our headlamps and made for the trail. About 100ft down the trail, you have a choice of going straight, going up the ‘draft’ following the creek up the valley or turning right, which leads to an immediate stream crossing.
Our path led to the right and the first of 17 stream crossings; 1 tonight, then 16 on Sunday coming down the draft on our return leg. I volunteered to go first, mainly so I could try to get some photo’s in the dark. Wow! The stream was very cold, the rocks slippery, and extremely tricky the pitch darkness.
Megan Sherpa was without poles, so she was forced to balance each step, while carrying her heavy winter pack – in the dark. She made it, no falls. We all made it.
As we were crossing, we were met by Chuck aka ‘beast’, from the midatlantic backpackers meetup, who had arrived before us and set up a camp with a roaring fire on the other side of the creek. He had spotted our head lamps and came over to guide us to the campsite he had established.
We trudged on to the camp with wet feet, not bothering to change shoes until we were able to drop our packs.
Phase 1 over.
We set up camp, warmed up and visited by the roaring fire, until one by one each of us went off to bed. I checked my watch thermometer about 3am and it was 24F in side my tent. That morning I found that the water inside my camelback hose had frozen solid. The water in the bladder and my canteen was ok.
We got up, made breakfast and swapped stories about how cold (or warm) each of us had slept and what each of us had to do to get warm, and spent some time complaining about the rating systems for sleeping bags.
As we were getting ready to hit the trail we were met by Mike aka ‘U.K. Mike’, who had arrived about 11pm and had slept in his car. U.K. Mike was also from midatlantic backpackers. This brought our number up to 5.
We hit the trail about 9am. The sun was shining but hadn’t risen enough to hit us. The first leg is the climb up to the first of the series of ridges. We took our time and made the 2 miles in about 1hr and 15min. The sky was clear and we enjoyed amazing 360 degree views for the entire day.
We walked on and didn’t break for 4 hrs, about 1pm. We had a 45 lunch break, followed the ups and downs and flats of the ridges. After 2 more hous of hiking, most of us were starting to feel it. Day 1 is 11 miles and the ridge has some long flat stretches and some ups and downs, nothing too long or steep, but it makes for a long day.
We pulled into Hiner Spring at exactly 4pm, 7 hrs after we started. I personally was beat, maxed out, very tired. Tents went up and everyone unpacked. Almost everyone but me had the energy to collect deadfall to make a fire. We started eating before 6pm and by then it was DARK.
I had planned to heat packaged taco filling and eat it in several flour tortillas, with the salsa I had carried, but I made the mistake of not rehearsing it in the kitchen before hand, and decided that in the dark, it appeared to be too large to heat inside a ziplock, in the new pot I brought (I was using my brand new jetboil system for the first time), and I didn’t want to heat in directly in the pot because I was too lazy to clean it, sooooooo, I made the decision to just eat it cold! YUK. I choked down 2 and then finished off my 3rd tortilla by itself. FYI a flour tortilla doesn’t contain running salsa very well.
The Hiner spring area has 2 springs, each flowing together making a giant “Y”, with a huge camping area inside the top of the Y.
That night was much warmer, mid 30’s. During the day the temps were probably in upper 50’s, cool, but comfortable, no or very little breeze all day.
That morning we took our time breaking camp and making breakfast. Jeff ‘trailsurfer’ shared some of his mountain house instant raspberry(?) cheesecake he was having for breakfast, it was FANTASTIC!!
We hit the trail about 9:30 and headed down the mountain. The trail heads down a ravine following the stream (Draft) until it hits the end of an old almost obliterated road.
The trail then makes SIXTEEN crossings, where you WILL get your feet wet. This last 5 miles of the trip took 4 whole hours, although it was mostly flat. I suppose what takes so long is stopping at each crossing taking a look to see if one can avoid plunging in (you can’t); accept the fact you are going to get your feet wet, and plunge in. You lose a lot of accumulated time trying to analyze each crossing.
But in the end it was done, we all made it back safe and sound.
Everything went very smoothly, so unfortunately, there was no ADVENTURE to write about. It WAS a very beautifuly day, gorgeous scenery, great company, practically everything went great (darn!)
Note 1: U.K. Mike, wore leather (and I say heavy) mountaineering quality boots (waterproofed via waxing) (soles were prepped to accept crampons) and waterproof O.R. brand super gaiters, and maintained that his feet did not get wet. This is a very good combination to remember when hiking in the snow. The drawback is the extra weight on one’s feet.
Note 2: Getting feet wet during a winter hike can be deadly, it was around 65-70 degrees on our hike out, and we were able to keep our feet warm as we kept walking and immediately changed at the cars. This was planned in advance. If the temps were forecasted to be below freezing, this hike out would have not been recommended.