Kylie and I spent months talking about how nice it’d be to go on a women’s only trip, and we finally made it happen in the new year. Kate and Susanne signed up right away, and we were excited to have Elsa join us for her first trip with DCUL. It was a busy weekend with three DCUL trips congregating at the Vienna metro, where we poached Maggie from her group and convinced her to join us instead.
We got to the trailhead a little after 8:30 (more than a bit smug that we were already there and didn’t have hours left to drive like the Pocahontas crew) and quickly layered up against the chilly night air, despite knowing full well that we’d warm up on the climb. Just 5 minutes into the hike, we took off our shoes and socks to cross the (very cold) Ramsey’s Draft in the dark. From there, Kate led the charge uphill for a couple miles to a great campsite just below The Peak (seriously, it’s called The Peak). We set up shelters and all went to bed fairly quickly, anticipating poor weather overnight.
It rained heavily throughout the night, although most of our sites were fairly sheltered from the wind. We left camp just after 8 a.m., in daylight but still in the rain. We continued on Bridge Hollow until reaching the road to Braley Pond, where we turned left to loop around and enter the campsite from the north. The bathrooms were a welcome dry spot to swap out some layers, and the pond was eerie and gorgeous – mostly iced over from an earlier cold snap but steaming in the warmer air.
From there, we started up Dowells Draft, swapping out umbrellas and trekking poles as the drizzle came and went. We took an early lunch (brunch? second breakfast?) break at a water source, but mostly kept moving – it wasn’t quite warm enough to just hang out. Just after noon we’d descended to Braley Pond Road and had second lunch in an effort to not get to camp too early.
We’d been hiking mostly as a group, but we pulled apart as we climbed up Dividing Ridge, each managing the increasingly steep ascent in our own way. The small pond at the top was fairly stagnant, but Elsa managed to pump some clean water from it – the rest of us held off to get water at Hiner Spring.
It was easy walking for the next few miles over Big Bald Knob to Hiner Spring, where Maggie and I started to evaluate camping potential. The rain had picked up again at this point, and the weather forecast predicted strong winds throughout the night. Hiner Spring is right in a saddle, and every time a gust came through we could feel how strong it was. We decided to get water for the night but push on another mile or so to the next junction (trail 447). We weren’t sure that ridge would be any less exposed, but Kylie felt that at least there’d be more flat spots to camp.
On the way, Maggie found a king size Snickers bar right in the middle of the trail – trail magic from the other DCUL trip hiking in the area just north of us?? We knew they’d passed through Hiner Spring several hours earlier, but weren’t sure why they hadn’t left us the Snickers at a trail junction or on a rock or anywhere more obvious. Turns out it just fell out of someone’s pack, but we happily claimed it for our group regardless.
We skipped the out and back to Hardscrabble Knob, since thick clouds would have blocked any views from the top, and got to our updated campsite around 4:30. In a saddle and on a ridge, we anticipated pretty strong wind exposure, but managed to tuck our shelters deep into a small stand of hemlocks and borrowed most of the rocks from the fire ring to anchor our stakes.
I’d brought a second tarp for us to hang out in, but it wasn’t raining and we were able to cook dinner and swap AT thru hike stories outside our shelters for most of the evening. As predicted, there were strong winds and heavy throughout the night. Fortunately, all of our shelters held up; no one fell prey to any widowmakers (widowermakers, given our group?); and Susanne got to see some cool lightning from her hammock.
Sunday morning brought clear skies and we could finally start to see the views that we’d been missing in the clouds. It was a pleasant walk south along the ridge, even warm when we were in the sun. We stopped for a while to test out some acrobatic challenges and make fools of ourselves. South of the junction with trail 441, there were plenty of small streams and waterfalls crossing the trail (especially after turning onto Road Hollow); this ridge is usually dry, but the heavy rains of the last few days gave us plenty of water sources.
For the last half mile of trail, we could hear cars along the main road. Before long we could see our own cars way below us, and then the trail suddenly and steeply descends back down to Ramsey’s Draft. The water was running fast and strong; all of the rocks that had been exposed for us on Friday night were now deep under rushing water. It’s always wild to see how variable environments can be depending on recent weather; we were glad we didn’t have to cross it in its current state.
We were back at the cars around 11, just in time to have lunch at Bella Luna wood fired pizza in Harrisonburg. The other DCUL group that had been hiking in the same area as us showed up just as we were leaving, and we swapped stories of the inclement weather and lost & found Snickers.
Thanks to everyone for a fantastic women’s only trip, and welcome to DCUL, Elsa! Hope to hike with all of you again soon.