DCUL’ers Vera, Dayna, Phil, Sean and Mark met up July 9-10, 2022 for a relaxing weekend of backpacking around the northern area of Massanutten, in the George Washington National Forest, near Fort Valley, Virginia. The wet forecast kept the number of participants low, but the gentle showers were more comfortable than intense July heat would have been.
Our route started at the Signal Knob parking area and headed southwest and then northeast on the Tuscarora Trail, climbing to the Meneka Peak Trail, where we turned northeast along the ridge to the peak and then north on the Massanutten Trail toward Signal Knob. Rain blocked the sweeping views one usually earns climbing this route, but the mists offered their own beauty. Luckily, there was no lightning, but we skipped going to Signal Knob anyway, since it was shrouded in cloud. We turned southwest for the easy descent down the Massanutten Loop Trail and took on drinking water at Little Passage Creek. We then climbed the Tuscarora Trail along Doll Ridge, continuing southwest. Progress along the ridge was slow, in part because the rocky route sees little traffic or trail maintenance and can be a little challenging to follow. Our pace was slowed even more, however, by our need to consume blueberries, huckleberries, blackberries, raspberries, and wineberries running riot among the wildflowers. We even carried berries to camp with us, generating the suggestive new slang term: “pocket berries.” We saw evidence that bears had been feasting too, but never saw the creatures. We dropped down to the western valley on the Massanutten Trail then turned northeast for the short walk up FS-66 to the meadow and woods at Mudhole Gap for a total of about 12 miles. (The site has an excellent water source from a piped spring.) Not surprisingly, given the soggy weather, we had the popular area to ourselves. Luckily, it hadn’t rained enough to turn Mudhole Gap into a swamp, but the area was infested with ticks, as one of our number who was wearing shorts learned. By the time we made camp the rain had abated, so we ate our dinners and told tales of past and planned backpacking trips and nerded out about gear without having to huddle in our shelters. We didn’t try to get a campfire going, though.
Sunday dawned clear and cool, making our easy six-mile walk back to the cars delightful. The many creek crossings were only slightly higher than usual, so some of us kept their feet dry by hopping from rock to rock, while others just splashed through. Vera stopped to pick edible mushrooms. We followed the Mudhole Gap trail southeast, then turned northeast on TR 564, connecting to the Tuscarora Trail to return to the parking area.
Four hungry backpackers stopped at Spelunker’s in Front Royal on the way home for second breakfast, while one of us who had a very long drive begged off. We gorged on burgers and fries, instantly restoring all the calories we had burned backpacking.
Most importantly, DCUL Applicants Vera, Dayna and Phil all got promoted to full Member, having shown that they’re ready for more challenging backpacking adventures!