Trip Report: Central SNP Loop

In what has become a pattern, we threw this trip fairly last-minute on a Sunday evening. Without Monday off, I planned a quick jaunt in northern Shenandoah based on a trip Heavy D led last year. Over the week, we had a number of takers, especially after Michael’s trip was canceled due to weather. 

On Friday, we realized that we also needed to change plans and have a shorter Sunday so we could get out before the snow set in. Karan came up with an alternate route in Central Shenandoah. 

On Saturday morning, Heavy D, Willy Wonka, B.A., Liz, Cascade, and I met at Vienna. The Woo-Man was running behind so he would meet us on the trail. After both a bagel stop and a Sheetz stop, we arrived at the Hazel River Trailhead at 9:40am. We had been warned about the sparse parking in this area but luckily there was only one other car so we were able to fit our three. 

The temps were in the mid-20s as we started up the Hazel River Trail. Despite the cold, we quickly warmed up on the climb and had to stop to delayer. The trail wound back and forth over Hazel River. Luckily, the water levels were low enough that we could rock hop. We paused briefly for a view at White Rocks. Karan prepared himself to scare who he thought was Alexander but it turned out be Liz and Dan, so he held off.

Further on we took a detour down to Cave Falls. We were as impressed with the hanging ice as we were with the falls!

From there. we continued climbing although it remained fairly moderate until we crossed Skyline Drive. At the junction with the AT, Liz stayed en route to camp while the rest of us headed for an out-and-back to Mary’s Rock. We found some ice and snow along this section but nothing that required the microspikes some had brought.

At Mary’s Rock, we took a brief break. Although it wasn’t too windy, in those temperatures even a slight breeze will cool you off quickly. Luckily, Alexander showed up during our break, putting an end to speculation that maybe he hadn’t gotten the memo about the route change.

After our break, we backtracked on the AT and continued south. During a break at one junction, we had a philosophical discussion about where backpacking technology might be headed (ramen-bot anyone?). At the next junction, a trail runner passing by remarked that he “hoped he wouldn’t read about us in the paper” after he heard that we were spending the night out.

Once we hit the Corbin Cutoff Trail, we cruised right along and made it to camp before dark. We set up our shelters (except for Dan and Alexander who planned to cowboy camp). We gathered around Alexander’s Nalgene with a headlamp strapped to it. Someone labeled this contraption an “anti-fire” because we were literally watching water freeze in a bottle, rather than crackling flames. During dinner we watched Chandler eat using two stakes as chopsticks because he had forgotten his spoon. This prompted us to brainstorm some other potential ultralight gear combos such as a spoon with a stake on the end of it.

There was essentially no wind so even though it was in the low twenties, we were able to hang out a little longer than we otherwise would have, but eventually, everyone retired to their warm bags. The moon was so bright that Chandler woke up at 9pm thinking it was morning.

When morning actually arrived, we packed up and hit the trail around 7am with the mission of making it out before the storm started. I like having a climb first thing, especially when it’s so cold out. Everyone who had bundled up leaving camp had to stop during the climb to de-layer. 

We regrouped at the top and It did get chilly there. We later estimated it was probably in the high single digits. So once everyone made it up, some of us set off at a brisk pace to warm up. The trail was flat for a beat and then started to descend once we turned on the Sam’s Ridge Trail. Before we knew it, we were back at the cars. 

Between the last-minute route change, cold temperatures, potentially snowy trail, and the impending storm, I wasn’t really sure how this trip was going to go. Thanks, everyone, for a great time!

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