Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Quick Overnight on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park: Swift Run Gap to Bear Fence Hut

We got out for a quick overnight this weekend.  All things conspired against us, between work schedules and weather, we wound up on Plan C.  The original plan was to hike about 2/3 of the Appalachian Trail in the South District of Shenandoah National Park.  The weather caused Skyline Drive to close, so we talked about hiking the entire Central District Appalachian Trail.  In the end, we hiked about 9.5 miles from Swift Run Gap to Bear Fence Hut, where we camped.  Then we hiked out of the park via the Meadow School Trail, a short trail down the west side of the ridge. 

The temperature was in the 20s when we set off from Swift Run Gap yesterday.  Our friend who is working on hiking every trail in Shenandoah needed to hike the first 1.5 miles of the Appalachian Trail north of Swift Run Gap, so she joined us for that section.  We quickly reached the junction with the Saddleback Mountain Trail, where she turned around and headed back to the car.  The plan was for her to go hike some other short sections she needed to pick up.  At the end of the day, she would park the car at the Meadow School trailhead and hike up to Bearfence Hut to camp with us. 

There were a surprising number of dayhikers out, but once we passed the South River Falls trail, the only tracks we saw belonged to bobcats, deer, rabbits, birds, and various rodents.  We hiked through a thin layer of snow that got as deep as an inch at higher elevations.  We brought microspikes in anticipation of ice on the trail, but with the exception of one spot, we didn't see much ice at all.  There was a lot of frost heave on the trail, making it interesting to step on what appeared to be solid ground only to break through the thin crust and fall an inch or two.

We spent a pleasant, if chilly evening beside a fire at Bearfence Hut.  One of the nice things about Skyline Drive being closed was the lack of noise from traffic, particularly motorcycles.  In spite of the cold (the cheap zipper-pull thermometer on my pack said it was in the lower teens last night), I was warm in my sleeping bag.  This morning, we made the short hike down off the mountain on the Meadow School Trail, followed by lunch in Shenandoah, Virginia.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 The Appalachian Trail near Baldface Mountain.
 Snow on moss.
 Icicles on Baldface Mountain
 Skyline Drive
 Ice and a small waterfall on the Meadow Spring Trail.
 Tracks on the Meadow Spring Trail.
Ice in Michael's beard.

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