It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman in possession of ultralight backpacking gear, must be in want of an excellent DC UL backpacking trip. Such an excellent trip was had by nine DCULers this past weekend to Mudhole Gap and Signal Knob.
I’ve eyed for a while the campsites along the ridge leading up to the overlook for Signal Knob. When DC UL does this loop, the sites by Strasburg Reservoir are the typical stopping point for Saturday night. I opted to run the loop so that we’d do Mudhole Gap first, climb to Signal Knob, and then camp along the ridge at the campsite just past the intersection of Massanutten with Meneka Peak.
We started with a bit of trail hopping—Massanutten to Tuscarora to Bear Wallow Spur—before settling onto the steady climb of the Mudhole Gap Trail. We made our way along the trail, talking and avoiding mountain bikes, before enjoying a lunch break just before Mudhole Gap ducks into the woods. This stretch is a nice one as it crisscrosses Little Passage Creek—I suspect this is quite lovely when the leaves come in. For now, we were able to enjoy the creek as it burbled to our side.
Then, it was back to the fire road again, this time along the Massanutten. We tanked up at the intersection of the Massanutten with the Tuscarora and a few enjoyed the well-placed bench. From there it was all uphill to Signal Knob itself.
Lisa and I chatted for a while as we made our way up to Signal Knob, with Lisa asking what we do if people are already in the campsites we plan to use.
“That’s usually not a major problem for us. Plus, I’ve never seen anyone in those campsites,” I stated with confidence.
A Boy Scout group was already ensconced in the campsite—they were training for Philmont by tackling the Massanutten—but there was a second campsite just behind them that was equally large. A few went ahead to check out the other campsites further down the Massanutten but they were just a little small for our group. We opted for the campsite by the Boy Scout group and settled in.
Mai demonstrated her campfire skills by starting the fire with a flint and striker—no matches for us! Before long we had a merry fire crackling away. Karen added another festive element to the evening with her Luci that flickered through a rainbow of colors. We dug into our meals (Beks recommends Cajun mac and cheese for the win) before trickling into bed.
As anticipated, it started to rain in the early morning. With the other group nearby, I skipped the usual DC UL wake-up call but dropped off food bags by tents to make sure everyone was up. We all enjoyed breakfast in our respective shelters before the rain slowly died off just before 8 a.m. Perfect timing for us as we started down the trail.
The walk along the Meneka Peak Trail pulled in all that one enjoys from early morning hiking just after the rain. Wispy clouds below us, clear views across the valley, and the green leaves popping against the misty grey. From there, we made our way back down the Tuscarora to our cars. Our post-hike meal hopes were thwarted by the brewery not offering outdoor seating due to the wet deck outside. Most opted to head home, but Liz, Maddie, and I checked out the Down Home Comfort Bakery. Fresh pecan rolls just out of the oven? Yes, please. We enjoyed a coffee (a rather good one) and then made our way home, as well.
I’ve hiked various portions of this route but this was the first time (for me) doing the Mudhole Gap route. The first day was heavy on fire roads but it did give everyone a chance to talk and get to know each other. To be fair, I could have minimized the fire road by taking us up to the Tuscarora but I’m not a huge fan of that stretch of trail along Three Top Mountain. The campsite we used was nice and large—large enough for two separate groups to set up camp and not be on top of each other. I did see another campsite on Meneka Peak on Sunday morning that would have been a good back-up plan—filing that away for future reference.
All in all, it is a nice route made even better with an excellent group of backpackers. Welcome to our new members: Mai, Maddie, and Karen!
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