Saturday, November 26, 2011

Walking Off the Pie: 17 Miles on the Bluff and Mount Marshall Trails

Almost exactly a year ago, we attempted to hike The Peak and the Bluff Trail-Appalachian Trail loop all in one day.  We wound up doing The Peak and then got sidetracked on Big Devils Stairs.  It was a really nice hike, but I wanted to go back and do the whole loop.  Yesterday, instead of participating in Black Friday madness, I went out with four friends to make another attempt.  The loop itself is 14 miles.  We started at the Jordan Run trailhead on the east boundary of the park, which added 3 more miles, for a grand total of 17.  My previous record for a dayhike was 16, back in 2009. 

We started at the Jordan River trailhead on the eastern boundary of the park.  We climbed steeply to Thoroughfare Gap, between The Peak and the main ridge in Shenandoah.  From there, we made good time on the Bluff Trail, stopping briefly to look around a the Big Devil's Stairs trailhead.  We had lunch at the Gravel Springs Hut, just off of the Appalachian Trail.  Sitting at the picnic table in the warm sun, it was hard to believe that it is the end of November. 

From the hut, the trail climbs steeply up the hill to the Appalachian Trail, where we turned north and crossed Skyline Drive.  We climbed South Mount Marshall and got our first real view at an overlook facing to the west.  The air was clear enough to see the mountains in West Virginia off in the distance.  North Mount Marshall was even more interesting with a beautiful outcrop at the top.  We spent a few minutes taking pictures before the chilly wind drove us back to the trail.  The rest of the hike north to Jenkins Gap was uneventful.  We ran into a half dozen other hikers, all southbound.

At Jenkins Gap, we crossed Skyline Drive and hiked south along it for about a quarter mile to the junction with the Mount Marshall Trail.  The Mount Marshall Trail is a pleasant hike along an old road.  There were several good-sized creeks with nice, small waterfalls along the way.  By the time we reached the junction with the Bluff Trail, we were running out of daylight.  Just before the junction with the Jordan River Trail, we came up to the gap to the most amazing sunset to the south.  We hiked out on the Jordan River Trail in the dark.  17 miles in 9 hours.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Looking south from North Mount Marshall.
Bootshot looking west towards Mansanutten
Purple berries along the Appalachian Trail.  It isn't a great picture, but if anyone knows what they are, please leave a comment. Thanks to AW who identified these:  Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry)
An National Park Service marker along the Appalachian Trail
The fading sunlight at Jenkins Gap, looking east.
At Jenkins Gap, the sun was sinking below the ridge to the southwest.  The top of this tree was the only thing that was still in the sunlight.
 A small waterfall on the Mount Marshall Trail.
Small cascades on the Mount Marshall Trail.
Another small cascade.
Green ferns in the leaf litter.
Sunset at Thoroughfare Gap.


  1. Great shots, as usual, thanks for sharing your adventures. FYI I think your cute purple berries along the AT are: Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus).


  2. Thanks! I've added the name of the berries to the photo.