On the Trail Again

By Posted on Mar 01 2011 | By

Backpacking Maven Assembles His Faithful Followers

The packs are hoisted on the backs…hip belts cinched tight…hiking staffs clutched firmly in hand.  Then a voice calmly announces, “Pace yourself gentlemen. It’s a 2,500 foot elevation gain in the first four miles.”

Hmmm…2,500 feet?  Hey, wait a minute, that’s equal to climbing the Washington Monument almost five times. And we each have about forty pounds on our backs.

“Commander” Testerman has not changed his evil—but enjoyable—ways.  Welcome back to the fold.

Jeff Testerman

I’ve posted articles over the past few years about Jeff Testerman, the driving force behind the restoration of a civil war era cabin located just outside the park boundaries of the Shenandoah National Park, or SNP, near Elkton, Virginia.

The volunteer project took over five years of weekend work to complete and pulled Mr. T and his disciples away from their first love, backpacking.  When the cabin was finally placed into the rental system of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, or PATC, last October, Jeff vowed to hit the trail again.

His first trip was last November and my schedule precluded joining his band of weekend mountain men.  But when one of his emails hit my inbox last month announcing another adventure, I locked in the dates and began preparing for the ramble.

For years, Jeff had been encouraging me to hang up my heavy external frame pack and go with a modern internal frame backpack.  I couldn’t bring myself to part with my old mate, dubbed “The Refrigerator” by those who hiked behind me.  But time, and an increasingly cranky body, finally convinced me to switch gear. It was the best backpacking decision I had made in years.

Gregory Internal Frame Pack

The new pack—a Gregory Baltoro 70—is lighter, more flexible and fits like its grafted onto your back.  Hiking with this beauty almost makes you forget you’re carrying anything.

Most of our group spent the first night at the PATC’s Tulip Tree Cabin on the edge of the SNP near Luray, Virginia.  The next morning we were joined by a few more friends. When we left the cabin at 9:30 AM, ten trampers headed up the mountain.  We started hiking up Crusher Ridge Trail—aptly named—and ascended to the Appalachian Trail, or AT.  There, we moved south along the AT to Little Stony Man Mountain and enjoyed a lunch break with superb views on a mild winter day.

Rest Break

An hour later, we were gazing out over the Shenandoah Valley from the peak of Stony Man Mountain, 4,000 quiet feet above the maddening chase below.  The steady trail chatter heard throughout the morning subsided as we gazed out over the valley.  Only a soft breeze and silence embraced us.

The Summit

From there, we dropped down and crossed over Skyline Drive and descended the Corbin Hollow Trail on the morning side of the Blue Ridge.  Later in the afternoon we picked up the Indian Run Trail, arriving at the PATC Corbin Cabin around 4 PM.

Corbin Cabin

The rustic dwelling was built in 1910 by twenty-one year old mountaineer George Corbin.  A framed history of the cabin is mounted on the wall with details of his hard life, including the death of his wife in childbirth.  After he buried her in a cemetery behind his home, he walked several miles through a snowy landscape to purchase milk for his new born child.  It’s difficult to appreciate how harsh life was in certain parts of Virginia less than a century ago.

That evening our intrepid band was joined by a comrade who’s schedule did not permit her hiking the entire weekend.  An enjoyable evening of libations and camaraderie came to a close around 10 PM as the tired crew hit the rack for a night of sound sleep.

The following morning we climbed 1,500 feet up the Nicholson Hollow Trail, crossing back over Skyline Drive and down Crusher Ridge.  The “crush” had been taken out of the trail as we descended two and one half miles straight down to Tulip Tree Cabin, where we had begun the day before, a total of fifteen miles of backpacking under our belts.

Half of our band bid the group adieu and headed back to civilization while the rest of us spent a quiet afternoon sitting outside the cabin, swapping stories and listening to bluegrass music on one of the truck’s stereo system.  An early dinner was followed by a 9 PM bunk crash.  And get this, everybody slept soundly once again.

Tulip Tree Cabin

“Commander” Testerman has warned us that another mountain assault will occur within the next few months so I think my neighborhood walks will continue unabated. Throwing a pack up on your back requires a wee bit of conditioning.  But it’s an investment with a ten fold rate of return.


Corbin Cabin

Categories : HAGARTY TALES