Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tuscarora Trail from Dry Gap to US 50

Normally, we work on Old Rag on the weekend closest to July 4. This year, however, we had already been up and down that circus a number of times, so we decided to go backpacking with a couple of friends instead on the Tuscarora Trail. The Tuscarora Trail is a long trail that was once envisioned as an alternative route for the Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT's right-of-way through northern Virginia wasn't secure, so in the event that a landowner decided to block access to the trail, the Tuscarora Trail would serve as the new route. Over the years, the AT's right-of-way has been secured permanently and the Tuscarora Trail is a long trail in its own right now.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of road-walking involved if you are going to hike the entirety of the Tuscarora Trail, but the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) is working on that. Our hike included one of the newest sections to be re-located: approximately 8 miles from Dry Gap near the Virginia-West Virginia Border to Pinnacles Shelter.

The first day was spectacular. The hike starts with a mile or so uphill climb to a stunning overlook at Eagle Rock. Right now, since access is relatively recent, the trail is obviously used, but not trashed and the overlook is not covered in graffiti or litter. Someday, that will probably change, but we really enjoyed getting there before that happens.  Most people turn around at Eagle Rock and the trail sees considerably fewer people. In fact, we didn't see another person for the next day and a half. We were definitely not the first people to hike this section, but there were times where it felt like we were. In many places, we had to squint to see the trail, which was often covered in moss or grass. We also ran across a fairly large bear who was enjoying the berry crop as much as we were. He moseyed on without too much of an eye roll. The trail took us past great views and through beautiful forests. It was just a really nice hike.

We had planned to set up tents at Pinnacles Shelter, but there didn't turn out to be any tent sites there. The shelter is built into a very rocky hillside. Since there wasn't any evidence of mouse activity, we figured we'd just sleep in the shelter. How bad could it be? The mosquitoes and biting midges showed up during dinner and tried to carry us off as we turned in for the night. We all laid there for a while and finally decided to pitch our tents on the shelter's porch. Yes, this is bad form, but it was pretty unlikely that anyone else was going to hike in at 11 pm. And it allowed us all to get some sleep.

The second day was everything the first was not: noisy (ATV course and a gun range - together!), overgrown, no views, and lots of nefarious insects. We looked at the map, which showed 8 miles, mostly downhill and we all thought it was going to be an easy day. Oh how wrong we were. The first part of the trail beyond the shelter was pretty, but it deteriorated after that. Soon, we were hiking 10 yards away from ATV trails. No judgement to those who enjoy that sort of thing, but I don't really want to listen to it when I'm hiking. There was also a gun range relatively close by. Same thing: I just don't want to listen to it when I'm hiking. The trail was in rough shape as well with lots of rocks and downed trees to climb over, under, and around. At one point, we had to fight our way through blackberry bushes. The last insult was dodging poison ivy to get to the car.

We had a good hike. I would happily do the first half again, but I feel as though my life will be complete if I never retrace my steps on the second half.

 Chimaphila maculata (Striped Wintergreen)
 A Luna moth on an Azalea bush. We saw several Luna moths on this trip.
 The view looking south from Eagle Rock.
 Looking east from Eagle Rock towards Front Royal. There were a number of small thunderstorms visible in the distance.
 A bench up on Eagle Rock.
 The trail often looked like this: barely visible and covered in moss.
 A caterpillar on hitchhiking on my boot.
 Another example of the faintness of the trail. It actually extends out in front of the camera towards the center of the picture. Really.
 The view to the northwest from an overlook near Pinnacles Shelter.
 Day 2: Pinnacles Shelter
 A garter snake along the trail
 An interesting insect that I'm not familiar with.
Hiking along a field right before finishing the trip.