On July 23-24, 2002 11 DCUL backpackers hiked part of southern Massanutten Mountain, in the George Washington National Forest, near New Market, Virginia. The original idea was to hike in on Saturday, then swim in and camp beside a man-made, spring-fed, mountain-top pool known as Emerald Pond. Sunday was supposed to feature a long climb to the spectacular rock formations and views at Strickler Knob. Sauna-like hot and humid weather, a brief but violent thunderstorm, and unexpected crowds caused us to change those plans along the way. We nonetheless all enjoyed a nice walk in the woods, featuring plenty of cool mountain stream water and great company.
Unfortunately, David O., who had planned the trip, got sick the day before. So, fellow DCUL Assistant Organizer Mark R. stepped in to execute David’s plan – or so he thought. Things started slipping right from the start, with several participants arriving late due to bad traffic, to find the normally ample parking lot filled by contestants in a trail-running race. We got parked safely on the grass and started off on what was rapidly developing into the hottest day of the year so far. Wisely, David had mapped the route to follow Brown’s Run, Roaring Gap Run and Pitt Spring Run. (Question: Are streams called “runs” anywhere other than in Virginia?) So, we took frequent breaks to filter drinking water, soak our feet, or just dunk our heads. We periodically stepped aside to allow racers to pass, who were even sweatier than us. We modified the route slightly to pass Catherine Furnace, the interesting ruin of a Civil War-era pig iron forge, in part because the path was shady.
As we climbed a forest road in the sun toward Emerald Pond, so many AWD vehicles passed by that Mark said it looked like a Subaru ad. Many of those cars contained campers who Maya complained refused to share their popsicles with us, and we arrived at the pond to find every camping spot taken. While we considered what to do, several of our group swam, or just splashed around. Unfortunately, we had to take drinking water directly from the pond, despite the Dads yelling at their kids not to pee in it, since the spring was dry.
At this point storm clouds gathered rapidly, and when a gust of wind blew down a tree and heralded a coming cloudburst, we high-tailed it out of the area. Thankfully, Sean knew of a nearby meadow with a fringe of woods where we could camp – though he startled a rattlesnake in the tall grass. There was even a little pool covered in algae – “Jade Pond?”
At this point, we experienced how challenging it can be to set up your tent or tarp in cold rain driven by high winds numbing your fingers. By working together, everyone got safely into shelter and warmed up. By the time hiker midnight (9:00 PM) arrived, the storm had passed and we were treated to clear, starry skies. Plus, the forceful winds had blown much of the moisture off our shelters.
Sunday morning, we returned briefly to Emerald Pond to filter more water and take in the beauty. We hiked the five-ish miles back to the cars as quickly as the building heat and rough terrain would allow, taking breaks to admire sweeping views from high, rocky cliffs. Once at the cars, we faced a decision. A consensus quickly emerged to cancel the planned 10-mile out-and back climb to Strickler Knob. The atmospheric sauna was already fierce, and nobody relished frying in the direct sun on the rocks.
So, most of us rendezvoused at Spelunker’s burger joint in Front Royal to gorge on fried foods and ice cream. After all, we had to restore the weight we had sweated out. It was a good weekend, with all the minor challenges managed with teamwork, flexibility and good humor.