Cover Photo Credit: Alexander
Early on in the week I was looking for a quick trip with decent mileage so I decided to rerun a trip that Whiskey Fairy had posted last year. It’s atypical in that it starts on Friday evening and finishes up on Saturday. Two intrepid backpackers (Alexander and Chandler) joined me on this jaunt.
We met up at the Bucktail parking lot and set off shortly before 7pm. The temperature was definitely cooler than D.C. so it didn’t feel too bad as we hiked despite going uphill. It was enjoyable to be out at this time of day as the sun was starting to go down. Apparently, rattlesnakes agree. Alexander nearly stepped on a curled up rattler on the trail. Luckily, the snake decided to slither away rather than strike, rattling non-stop until we made our way around and were out of sight.
At the top of the climb, Alexander opted to do the out-and-back to Halfmoon Lookout to catch the sunset. Chandler and I decided to take in the sunset view at camp so we hiked on. We made it to camp about half a mile later and started setting up our shelters before abandoning that task to make sure we didn’t miss the sunset. There was one other backpacker already there for the show. Chandler pulled out a chocolate feast to enjoy with the view.
After sunset, we made our way back to our tents as the fireflies started to light up the area. Alexander arrived shortly after we retired for bed. He had startled a large animal of some kind near the campsite. All in all, it was a pretty eventful evening for a just few miles!
The three of us woke up at 5:30am to take advantage of the cooler morning hours and we were on the trail at 6am. Alexander was able to get water from the source next to camp but it was not flowing too well. Chandler and I continued ahead along the Tuscarora Tail so Alexander was surprised when we came up behind him a mile or so later on the Mill Mountain trail. That’s not the first time that Tuscarora/unmarked trail junction has thrown someone off and it likely won’t be the last!
We enjoyed the hike along Mill Mountain and passed a few other backpackers and hikers on the way. We made it to Big Schloss at 8am and had it all to ourselves. Chandler pulled out another bar of chocolate and chocolate covered garbanzo beans (sensing a theme here?). Alexander got to enjoy his impromptu chocolate tasting with a nice view too!
After the chocolate tasting, we got back to business. As we hiked, Alexander told us about some regional folklore, including the local legend of Bunnyman. (This is actually the second trip in the past month on which Bunnyman has been a topic of discussion!) We passed a group of backpackers and several groups of day hikers as we descended down to Wolf Gap, which I found to be unusually quiet for a nice weekend.
We crossed the road and started climbing up Tibbet Knob. This is the most significant climb on the circuit and we felt it but soon enough we were basking in the breeze at the top. As we took another break, we chatted with some day hikers and tried to figure out what was causing the incessant barking from the valley.
A mile or so later, we hit the road. The road walk passed quickly as we chatted and spotted some interesting moths. We rejoined the trail behind a group of three mountain bikers who had passed us on the road. We continued on and stopped at the first week water we saw for a lunch break. (I forgot [as I often do] that there is a strong source less than a mile from there). We made it work though and also helped steer a group of day hikers back the way they came from.
After that, it was only a handful of miles back to the cars. This section passed smoothly and by 2:20pm, we had completed the circuit! It felt strange to be done with a backpacking trip by mid-afternoon on a Saturday but there we were. Thanks to Chandler and Alexander for joining me on this trip!