A Devil of a Hike

I had the day off so I woke up at 5:30 and was out the door in less than an hour. I drove to Shenandoah National Park on highways, super and not so super, and byways, finally driving about three miles on an unpaved road. My directions weren’t very good (thanks Google maps) but a man in a floppy hat walking a dog set me straight. You drive to the end of the road. And park. Alone. Yesss!

There were no prominent signs just a small wooden sign for Little Devil Stairs trail. Good enough. Off I went. Up. Not a steep slope but one that provided a good warm up. The path was relatively smooth too. I could hear a stream to my right. Just me, the path, the sound of a gurgling stream and a bird or two discussing the news.

About a half mile into my trek, the trail steepened and got rocky. And crossed the stream. Back and forth. Slippery rocks that made me feel old. Every so often a waterfall. I’d stop and listen.

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Up some more. Steeper. This is getting hard, I thought. Huffing and puffing. Wishing I had brought some albuterol. I came to another creek crossing. It was beatiful but the only way across was a giant fallen tree covered with moss. Very, very carefully I got up on the tree, found an advantageous large rock in the stream and made my crossing without a splash.

Up. Up. Sometimes the trail builders had put in rock stairs. Thanks. Up.

Finally, the trail turned from the stream. I would miss the sound of water but the trail became smooter and less steep. Up some more. As I climbed more and more sunlight hit the trail. Finally I came to Fourway. A guidepost in the middle of a crossing. As I munched some mixed nuts, I made my decision: go the long way. The Pole Ridge Link trail.

It was an excellent choice but not perfect. The trail was now smooth, almost rock free. It gradually decended the far side of the mountain I had just worked so hard to climb. The decent was across the face of the mountain. A couple hundred yards in I saw fresh scat in the center of the trail. Uh oh. Paranoia really does striked deep.

My calm was now rattled. Move along. Look for paw prints. All I saw for about a mile were the occasional hiking boot print pointed in my directio18764624234_2267e24474_zn. Until I saw a paw print. Eek. Apparently a one-legged bear as I could find no other prints. It looked fresh too.

Move along. Nothing more to see here.

Every sound made my head swivel.

After about ten minutes of this, I calmed back down and kept on keeping on. The Pole Bridge Link trail gave way to the Piney Branch Trail. I kept angling down. The trail followed a stream down the side of the mountain. I passed a camp site that looked like heaven.

After a mile or so I crossed the stream. The rocks were slippery but I managed. More smooth hiking gave way to another stream crossing. One thing I like about hiking is that every so often you are presented with a puzzle. Where did the trail go? How do I cross this stream without killing myself? This was one of the latter. I could not find a sure-fire way to get across without getting wet. I gave it my best shot and then splash, my left foot went all the way in. The water was surprisingly warm. And the creek bottom was, thankfully, firm.

The Piney Branch gave way to the Hull School trail. The name of this trail and the occasional rock wall in the woods hint at the days when people lived in these mountains. They were remote in those days, before the Depression. It must have been hard living here.

The Hull School Trail was smooth and recently weed-whacked. It went straight up. For 0.7 miles. For ever. It topped out at a cool old cemetery. I went through the gate with the name Bolen on it. The tombstones told the story of hardship. People here died young. Some children didn’t have much of a chance. Seeing the names of the children was moving. The early 1900s were tough times.19361028736_a39f5e2589_z

The rest of the hike followed an unpaved fire road back to the car. It was a pleasant downhill track curving through the dense forest. The constant trudging was wearing out my legs though. I decided to see if jogging would ease the discomfort. Sure thing. I jogged a few yards and my legs felt relief. I was tempted to let ‘er rip and just run the last half mile but I knew I’d pay a price tomorrow if I did.

Tomorrow is baseball. Maybe some rain too. After the game, I hope to hang out with my friend Normie “Woodrow” McCloud (not her real name) and her BFF from college. Then it’s dinner and fireworks with friends in the burbs.

Some more pix of my excursion are over on my Flickr page.

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