I thought that a women’s only trip would be a great way to kick off DC UL’s month of LM-focused events so I set up a nice loop in southern SNP. Despite some minor mixups on the meeting time and location (due to mid-week changes on my part), our group of Linsey, Kate, Heather, Aileen, Ashley, Chris, Jamie and I assembled at Brown Mountain Overlook on Saturday morning. Before setting off, Linsey said she had heard this part of Shenandoah was tick-infested, was that true? “Ehhh, I don’t think so,” I replied. By the end of this trip, I would have a different answer.
Shortly after 9:30am, we set off down the Brown Mountain Trail. It felt different to start off the trip with a descent but we made our way down to the Rocky Mountain Run Trail. This trail was oddly gentle but allowed us to easily chat and walk while swatting away gnats. From there, we turned onto the also gentle but slightly uphill Big Run Portal Trail. I noted a number of nice campsites along this stretch.
We decided to break for lunch at the last water source for the day. The topics of discussion were insect focused: Can ticks jump? Can ticks fall out of trees? How bad were the cicadas in Greenbelt? We loaded up on water and started the sweaty climb up the Rockytop Trail. At the top, we regrouped and were thankful for the slight breeze as we walked along the ridge.
The group was game for the additional out-and-back to Lewis Peak which added about two miles to our day. Ashley was self-sacrificing and hung back to guard our packs. Despite the extra descending and climbing, I’d still say the view was worth it!
From here, we had about four miles left to camp. Shortly after Lewis Peak, the trail changed from shaded and green to rocky and shrubby. The late afternoon sun and lack of tree coverage really heated us up despite hiking downhill. We regrouped again towards the bottom of the descent and made our way over the bridge at Big Run. There we found a site that would accommodate us.
By this point, a few members of the group had seen several ticks while others had seen none. I quickly joined the tick-prone group while setting up my tent. Everyone set up camp and cooled off to varying degrees in the stream. We cooked dinner, sang “Happy Birthday” to Linsey, and continued to fend off ticks and gnats. A gnat-removal operation from Aileen’s eye required a two-person team.
The group dispersed to our tents a little while before dark and fell asleep to a whippoorwill-frog duet. The ticks continued their assault in the night; at least half our group found them in our tents. Ashley and Heather remained untouched.
I gave a wake up call at 6am (not by banging pots together and stealing Heather’s sleeping bags as she dreamed I did). By a little after 7am, we started up the Brown Mountain Trail. We quickly left the relative coolness of the valley behind as we steadily climbed. It was good to get this climb out of the way early before it got even warmer! After 2,000 ft of climbing, we made it back to the cars and enjoyed a post-hike meal at Miranda’s Restaurant.
Thanks all for the wonderful company and congrats to Jamie on joining the member ranks!