One of my goals coming to Virginia was to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Park. The AT begins in Georgia and ends in Maine, crossing 14 states and approximately 2,200 miles. To hike the entire length of the trail takes anywhere between five to seven months.
Growing up in Texas, I didn’t really climb anything higher than the dirt hill down the street, so being able haul myself up to altitudes of several thousand feet was exhilarating.
Before making it to the AT, Sue (my supervisor) and I climbed Old Rag Mountain, which was also my first rock scramble. It was a challenge mainly because I have a terrible fear of falling. I used to get nauseous just climbing a staircase to the second floor. At one point, we had to jump over a steep gap, and I almost couldn’t do it.
Finally, after several moments of shaking (and one dropped cell phone) I remembered my Cuban friend Riska’s words to “vencer el miedo” (vanquish the fear) and jumped. And of course nothing happened because it wasn’t that wide, and I was being ridiculous. Sue had already jumped without even thinking ages ago. We climbed through small crevices and I felt like I was going to have a 127-hour moment when my arm got stuck in narrow gap…
But we made it through.
We did about 10 miles at Old Rag, and on Earth Day, returned to Shenandoah to hike a small portion of the AT.
The AT is beautifully maintained in Virginia and runs almost parallel to Skyline Drive, a scenic highway that goes through Shenandoah.
We climbed to the tallest peak in the park, Hawksbill Summit, which after Old Rag was a cake walk and met a group of hikers from the James River Meetup in Richmond.After Hawksbill, the rain moved in but we continued on to Hightop Summit to hike a little more of the AT. This was a moderate hike but felt steeper than before. We stopped in to visit the Hightop Hut, a shelter for thru-hikers who are walking the trail from Georgia to Maine.
We found the log book and read hilarious and inspiring descriptions from other hikers who’d stayed there. Apparently there was a group of boy scouts hiding out from the cops in the Hut. (or at least that’s what two of the scouts: Killerz and Fishy told us in the book) One man wrote he was about to finish the Appalachian Trail after 30 years of section-hiking. Sue and I wrote our own little entries and went on.
We made it to Hightop Summit, the highest peak in the southern section of the park just as the rain was rolling in. The view was absolutely glorious over the Blue Ridge Mountains, purple and gray hues touched the green farmland below, and we could see the storm forming as massive black clouds moved in to the left.
Being able to visit our national parks has been one of my greatest joys while traveling. Today, on Earth Day, I’m interested to know what’s being done to protect and preserve these natural wonders so my children and grandchildren can enjoy these experiences.
I may not be a thru-hiker yet, but after my first taste of the AT, I’m definitely hungry for more.
Five miles down. 2195 miles to go.