Spring Break

By Posted on Mar 07 2012 | By

Turning the Corner on Winter with Old Friends & Mountain Trails 

Take seven friends, fifteen miles of mountain trails, a cabin built in 1933, and late winter weather serving as a backdrop, and you’ll find a cure for any wintry blues that might be obscuring your life view.

And oh, throw in a couple of strangers to further brighten things up.

Son-in-law Drew & the old man

So it was on March, 2, 3 and 4, that I spent a rewarding three days in the Shenandoah National Park. I’ve been backpacking for over two decades. It began as a defensive measure when my four teenage children began to lose interest in Dad’s car and cabin camping trips and discovered girlfriends, boyfriends and cars. The great outdoors fell by the wayside as the young’uns got on with their lives.

Since the mid-eighties, I have logged hundreds of miles on Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western region mountain trails enjoying every footfall. The central focus is to lace up the boots and hoist the pack with both old friends and new.

During warmer months my trips are exclusively tenting events. But when winter comes round, a snug cabin after a full day on the trail is captivating. And it’s an indulgence easily acted upon by renting one of the numerous rustic cabins maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

Range View Cabin

In early January, I reserved Range View Cabin in the North District of the SNP and issued a clarion call to my backpacking friends to join me; seven of them responded and the March trip was on.

The long weekend was divided into two parts. Since I’m retired I elected to escape into the forest on Friday morning and was joined by another retiree who has logged many trail miles with me over the years. We drove up Skyline Drive to milepost 22, parked, and hiked a mile to the cabin. Securing our backpacks inside, we grabbed light day backs and headed out for a seven mile mountain loop, arriving back at the stone dwelling around 4 p.m.

As we approached our lodging, voices and barking dogs broke the mountain silence. Who are these people hangin’ round our humble abode, I wondered.

“How are you guys doing,” the stranger said. We’re doing just fine I thought, but what about you two?

Not so good. Two friends, ably prepared to complete their day’s backpack, were overtaken by adverse weather four miles short of their destination. Windy, pelting, cold rain is not conducive to enjoyable hiking as dusk is falling; especially after having already logged ten hard miles on the trail. It was serendipitous they passed our cabin just as we were arriving.

Trail Break

“Would you mind if we spent the night on your cabin porch?” one of the hikers inquired. Hmmm. Moment of truth. I had two more friends joining us that evening so the eight person cabin could accommodate more people. But strangers?  Instinct took over as I quickly assessed that the two trekers were solid citizens. “You’re in luck, we have room, come on in,” I said.

Later, when my friends arrived, an evening of warm camaraderie unfolded on the cabin porch as friends and strangers quickly became comrades. It didn’t hurt that our best new buddies—former military men—indulged in libations and stogies, a trait not often found among the outdoor set but one our crew engages in on every trip. Yep, outlaw backpackers, that’s us. And we happened to have run across two of our own. Sweet.

The next morning we parted with the two men and drove down to the morning side of the valley to meet the rest of our band. At 10am, eight hikers split into two groups at the traihead; one ascending Little Devil Stairs and the other the Keyser Run Trail. Two hours later we reassembled and group hiked the remaining four miles to the cabin. Cobalt blue skies and a fresh breeze driven by a cold front pushed the rain off to the east creating stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley below.

Saturday evening was a reprise of Friday’s celebration, sans our two newest mates. Old friends engaged in an evening of conversation, catching up with our lives since we had last gathered. The second evening was not a late one with the tired band hitting sleeping bags around 9 o’clock for a night of sound sleep.

We awoke Sunday morning to temperatures in the mid-twenties, prepared breakfast, packed up and hit the trail by nine. Our descent back to the cars was via the Piney Ridge and Hull School trails and included one dicey stream crossing. No one took a plunge, thankfully, and by noon we were bidding each other our goodbyes with promises of future trips to come.

To pull on a pair of hiking boots, throw a pack up on your back and wander over mountains trails with boon companions is the soul of a satisfying experience. It’s a primeval adventure in many ways, pulling you back to the essence of life.

Good friends. They’re hard to find, difficult to leave and impossible to forget.

Our stalwart group absent photographer Bob


Categories : HAGARTY TALES