Scouting Shenandoah

img_20170105_113821My 2017 started with me working… boring. However, working on New Years Day earned me a floating day off which I took last Thursday (my weekends are Friday & Saturday) giving me a 3 day weekend. I wanted my first weekend of 2017 to be a trip instead of just a hike. I figured, since it was January… heading south would be the best course of action. Turned out I was wrong.

Having less than 24 hours to come up with a plan I decided to drive the roughly 4 1/2 hours south to Shenandoah National Park. At first I thought I would grab my hammock and winter quilts and do a 2 night backpacking trip. In what would turn out to be a fortunate turn of events… the Shenandoah website had sections under maintenance, including their maps page. Left with no way of accurately  planning a couple nights in the back country, I instead opted to rent a hotel outside the park for the 2 nights. Good thing.

img_20170105_133543I checked the weather regularly Wednesday and all Thursday morning even as I was making the drive down. The weather, although cold, looked at worst – cloudy. As I arrived at the park though, things changed. While at the North Entrance purchasing my pass, I was informed by the ranger that snow was expected that day. After a short conversation, I felt confident that I could make it the 67 miles along Skyline Drive to Swift Run Gap where I would exit and head into Harrisonburg VA to check in to the hotel.

img_20170105_130406Since it was during hunting season in the area. the National Park Service shuts down Skyline Drive at night between 5pm and 8am each day. So, I knew I had until 5pm (9 hours) to make it. That gave me plenty of time to check out some overlooks, and even hike a few trails not to mention scout locations to check out for the following 2 days. I made it about 45 miles to Hawksbill Mountain before it started to snow. I was mid hike along the Appalachian Trail on my way to the summit of Hawksbill when it really started coming down. Since the hike is set up as a loop it was quicker for me to finish the hike then turn back. I returned to the Jeep at about 1:30pm with snow starting to stick to the road, I decided I needed to head for the gate at Swift Run Gap and exit the park… tomorrow is another day.

Day 2 I headed back to the park. With no snow on the ground at the hotel I didn’t expect any issues. Turns out the snow must have continued up in the mountains closing the north and central sections of Skyline Drive. This is when I realized it was a good thing the backpacking plans didn’t materialize. I would have been in the central section, now stranded. Of course I could have hiked out, but my time was limited and who knows when I would have been able to get my car out of the park! I hadn’t planned on spending any time in the southern section of the park so I had no idea what I would find there. I decided instead to access the Appalachian Trail near the park entrance and hike north in to the park for about 4 miles and back. I also drove a short distance into the southern section, which remained open, before heading out of the park at around 2pm when it was obvious more snow was on the way.

img_20170107_093705Day 3 started at the hotel being woken up by the sound of a snow plow in the parking lot. The area had just caught the edge of winter storm Helena, which made a mess of everything south. I made a call to the Shenandoah hotline to check the road conditions and, as I figured, the entire 105 miles of Skyline Drive was closed… so, no 3rd day in the park.  I slowly headed home, making a stop at the oldest State Park in Pennsylvania – Mont Alto. As I drove I thought to myself – really glad I didn’t backpack.

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