This loop has long been a favorite hike of mine. While most trail guides have you start along the AT first and then come back along the relatively flat Bluff and Mount Marshall trails, I like doing it on the opposite direction so that you warm up before hitting the views along the AT. Given the short length, I also thought it would be a good option for a winter shakedown hike—test your gear and your layers with the safety net of having a shelter and being close enough to the cars that you could hike out if necessary.
Early December is always an interesting time for a backpack as you don’t really know what you’ll get with weather. We started in a misty fog and had occasional spurts of rain, all in temperatures hovering in the low 40s. It was certainly a trip to test layers.
I’d recently heard of the Peak, a bushwhack that exists in the northern district, and had filed it away as an idea to explore at a later time. So it was a nice coincidence when Russ mentioned the Peak as we drove to the trailhead… and that he had the GPS tracks with him… and that we’d be walking very close to where it is located. I took that for the sign it was. A bushwhack was now on the agenda.
We started from Jenkins Gap and made our way along the Mount Marshall trail first. It is fairly flat, and we made good time arriving at the intersection with the Bluff Trail. From there, we deviated slightly from our plan—and from the trail—and made our way up to the Peak. I was glad we had Russ’ GPS tracks handy—while you could see signs of the old trail and its blazes, there were still some bits where it was tricky to spot and follow. It is a rather stout and steep climb, and we made our way over and around downed trees before arriving at the top. We celebrated the summit with a well-deserved snack break or, in Lisa’s case, a pizza break, and then retraced our steps back to the trail.
As you approach the shelter, the Bluff Trail dips and rolls. We could smell a faint fire as we approached, only to discover that it was one of those wood-burning-battery-charging stoves which weigh as much as some DCULers summer base weight. Still, the shelter was a welcome sight. Lisa, Severin, Christian, and I decided to set up in the shelter for the evening, while Russ set up his tent. The rain and mist of the day had us all a bit chilled, so meals were devoured, food was placed in the bear bin, and we were snug in our sleeping bags rather early.
The next morning, the mist rolled in and out as we got ready. From Gravel Springs, you climb to South Marshall first and then to North Marshall. I was disappointed that we missed the views but the hiking was superb with the mist adding to the experience. As we neared the end, we could see the clouds settling in the valley below us.
All in all, another great outing and a big congrats to Christian for becoming a member! We’ll definitely keep this outing on the list for winter shakedown options.
Photo by Lisa K.