DCUL backpackers Liz, Jonathan, Kelly, Carolynn, Neil, Ryan, Andy and Mark enjoyed a leisurely overnight circuit of the northern Massanutten area. Bettina had hurt her knee, so she hiked part way on Saturday, drove to the camping area, and walked out on Sunday.
From the Bear Wallow-Signal Knob parking lot we climbed to Meneka Peak. The view was largely obscured by trees, but it felt good to get most of the elevation done before the day got unusually hot and humid for May. We continued to the Signal Knob Overlook for lunch, where Liz ran into a group of her hiking friends and we all enjoyed the conversation, breeze and view with our meals.
We descended on the western side of the valley where the Massanutten Trail follows Forest Road 66, stopping for drinking water from Little Passage Creek, which was running low, but adequate. We encountered a group of hot and tired looking Boy Scouts, one of whose scoutmasters was heard to say: “Where do they think they’re going? Don’t they know it’s rugged up there?” Sure enough, the rocky Tuscarora Trail along the high western ridge was poorly maintained and a little hard to follow in spots. Still, being in a relatively remote place was nice after the popular Signal Knob area. We even glimpsed a bear cub fleeing through the thickets, so we made extra noise to warn Mama (who we never saw) of our approach.
After descending to Mudhole Gap, the cold gush of water from the piped spring along Forest Road 66 was heavenly. A local resident said everyone in the area drinks the water without treating it, but most of our group treated the water anyway. Bettina, who had driven up the forest road, joined us and we camped in the trees on the edge of the roughly acre-sized meadow. We had plenty of time to enjoy our dinners, a campfire, and many stories about past and planned backpacking and other adventures. Unfortunately, the grass in the meadow hid a high concentration of ticks, but at least the mosquitos were not yet out in force, since Mudhole Gap was relatively dry. Overnight, we were treated to a lullaby by owls, whip-poor-wills, frogs, cicadas, gentle rain, (maybe coyotes?), rustling air mattresses and who knows what else.
Sunday, we awoke late and walked little – by DCUL standards. We loitered in camp until 8:20 and immediately missed our turn onto the Mudhole Gap Trail by a few hundred feet. (In my defense, the trail is sort of hidden behind a parking lot.) We covered the six easy miles crossing small creeks back to the cars quickly, with many stops to admire delicate flowers, cute toads, ethereal butterflies, alien-eyed cicadas, gnarled trees and other wonders.
It was a relaxing weekend, and five DCUL Applicants were promoted to Member, having shown they are ready for more demanding adventures. Yay!