Trip Report – Half Massanutten: “It’s just a straight line”

I knew I was spending too much time staring at weather reports and trying to interpret precipitation patterns. (My love for the Capital Weather Gang is strong.) We’ve often had odd weather for Massanutten—last year’s relentless rain, the random snowstorm on top of Signal Knob a few years ago—and this year was shaping up to be no exception. A late March nor’easter was promising to deliver eight to 10 inches of snow to the area just a day before the full Massanutten group was to start and two days before the Half. Ugh, to put it lightly.

Fortunately, we had a man on the ground. Chris Taylor was staying at his family’s cabin in Massanutten, and delivering weather reports throughout the day. There was about six inches of snow on the ground, but starting to melt already. The conditions were less than ideal but, well, Massanutten isn’t known for being easy. The trip was on.

This year’s Massanutten event also falling earlier than usual, which meant that some of the roads bisecting the area were closed. Fortunately, it didn’t cause too much of an issue. For the Half group, we were able to park a mile shy of our intended campsite and walked into meet the full group near the top of Waterfall Mountain.

Perhaps it was the benefit of hiking after the storm swept through, but the views on Saturday were some of the best and clearest that I’ve seen from the ridge. It made the morning rather pleasant. Walking wasn’t too bad–as long as you were on the eastern side of the ridge, which benefited from the rising sun. The snow had indeed melted here. The western side still had a good bit of snow, however, making the footing less than ideal.

Great views along the ridge.

As customary, we hopscotched along the trail, passing each other as we took breaks or photos. David and Logan had long taken the lead, and others quickly passed me. I enjoyed the views and walked along. The stretch from Jawbone Gap, though, to Edinburg Gap began to wear on a few of us. The footing was rough, with a good amount of snow. My right foot kept working itself into a cramp which made the going slow. I finally stopped and added a NUUN tablet to my water to see if that would help. For good measure, I ate some salty snacks and a few banana chips. Take that, cramping foot!

Something in that mix worked, and the descent into Edinburg Gap went smoothly. I was starting to dread the next climb, as now my back was starting to twinge, but my spirits were lifted when I caught sight of Ashley, Steve, and two of their friends who were delivering some trail magic. I devoured three (okay, maybe four) maple sugar cookies, and enjoyed some of the hot cider.

Then, it was up for the climb back to the ridge and to the signs that always have Woodstock Tower seven miles away. My foot worked itself into one more cramp, and my back was still bothering me. (Yes, I am apparently falling apart.)  I felt like I was crawling back up the ridge, but we made it to the top and the smoother trail lent itself to cruising along–until we had to switch to the west side for the last mile or so into camp. Finally, the tower loomed into view, and we took the trail down to Little Fort.

Yay. Only seven miles to go!
I’ve been walking for 30 minutes. How is it still seven miles away?

But the magic wasn’t done yet. Dave Shook was there with a kayak full of beer and curried chickpeas to warm us up. And, as I had hoped, a roaring fire awaited us.

We all trickled into our respective campsites, knowing that it would be another early morning. I woke on Sunday, however, with my back feeling incredibly stiff and causing issues if I turned or bent. A night on the ground hadn’t helped. Rather than aggravate it further, I opted to bail here. Fortunately, we had a car at the campground, and I was able to get back to Signal Knob. A bit disappointing on my part not to finish, but probably a good call.

Kudos to all who did this year’s Half and Full Massanutten–and to our trail magic angels. This event continues to be one of my favorite DC UL traditions–I enjoy seeing those who return each year and those who are experiencing it for the first time. It truly is a wonderful trail. Until next year.


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