Trip Report: “Shenandoah National Park; Corbin Cabin; Robertson Mountain”; 30 Miles; Jan. 6-8, 2023

The final Corbin Cabin journal entry read:

1.8.23 — This cabin exceeded our expectations! From the Michelin star dining, to the butler turn-down service, to the surprise music appearance of the Eagles, we had no complaints! This was a true luxury camping experience compared to our usual ones—sleeping on the ground outside. —DCUL: Washington, D.C.’s best hiking club. We wake early, pack light, hike far! Weigh your options!

DCUL annually features a winter backpacking trip to a primitive, remote log cabin as a base camp. This year we chose Corbin Cabin. Some would find a stay in a dusty mouse and snake infested cabin with no water, electricity, or internet to be deprivation. However, for us backpackers it was luxury.

Taking advantage of the unusual base camp concept, and the mere 4.5 hike to the cabin from the trailhead, some of us brought backpacking luxuries not seen on our regular ultra-light trips. Consider a portion of our unusual pack-in list:

  • Two cases of beer.
  • One flask of whiskey.
  • Four raw potatoes. 
  • Two pairs of rain kilts.
  • Eight pairs of micro spikes.
  • Ten ibuprofen pills.

As Slim Pickens in the classic movie, Dr. Strangelove, would say: “Shoot! A feller could have a pretty good time in Vegas with all that stuff!”

We arrived late Friday night after work at the Old Rag parking area and hiked in the dark by headlamp up and across a bold creek up to Corbin Cabin. The moon was full and bright and the temperatures started their expected drop to the freezing level. After a gentle 1,200 foot climb over 4.5 miles we arrived at the cabin to inspect our new home.

It looked decidedly uninviting. Dark. Musty. Are those mouse droppings? Gosh! It is—its everywhere! Holley immediately raised her neck buff over her nose and mouth, mumbling “hantaviruses!” I looked around briefly before concluding my tent would be more comfortable. Jonathan (“Shenanigans”) had the same thought. He was already retreating back across the creek to a flat area to pitch his tent. I followed. Ultimately everyone except Mark V and Kyle (“Water Dog”) did, too. Cold, dark, and on the ground looked more comfortable than that cabin. 

We woke the next morning to start hiking at 7:30. Bryan (“Wolverine”) could not wait to start his hike, so he set off alone. We would not see him again until late that evening. The rest of us set off to climb Little Stony Man Mountain, one of the highest of the SNP at 4,000 feet. The weather was colder up there, of course, but the soaring views helped keep our spirits warm. 

We hiked along the Appalachian Trail over to the top of White Oak Canyon for a long descent back to the base of the mountains. Along the way, we saw the dramatic waterfalls of the canyon that were particularly impressive due to a heavy volume of water in the creek.

At one point we passed an older hiker who commented on my backpack, saying “nice umbrella,” mistakenly referring to my folded Tactical Rain Deflection Device (TRDD) therein. I murmured a “thanks” but complained to Logan, “it is NOT an umbrella it is a “turd” (TRDD)!” (See “Doing a Chicago” for a fuller explanation).

We completed the trip with a strenuous climb up the hard side of Robertson Mountain. At 3,300 feet, it is the toughest climb in the SNP with a sustained, ladder-like path. Exhausted, we enjoyed the view of the valley. We hiked down to the cabin from there—almost 20 miles in total with over 5,000 feet of elevation gain for the day.

Back at the cabin, Mark and Water Dog reported that their prior evening sojourn in the cabin was delightful. They had a roaring fire that really warmed the cabin, they swept away evidence of mice, and reported no snakes or animals of any kind. With the weather predicted to drop overnight to the mid 20s, and with the fire rekindled and warming, and with the beers being passed around, most of those who chose to sleep in tents the prior night relented. Several set up to sleep in bunks on the second floor, which looked to me like a Turkish prison. Some had designs on the floor of the main room and kitchen. Shenanigans thought the unheated annex attached to the cabin attractive for some reason. I was having none of it. I felt that another night in a tent would be quieter—and more sanitary.

Before bed, the evening in the cabin was quite an event. The beer poured; the conversation flowed; Mark played DJ with a speaker he brought. He has very good taste in music—he had Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album downloaded—but did not have the Eagles. Recognizing his deficiency, he turned the wheels of steel over to me and I had “The Long Run” soon pleasing our ears. It was fun, silly fellowship. We talked gear, of course—we are a backpacking club, after all! When the discussion turned to managing condensation, Shenanigans noted that our discussion sounded like a great name for a punk rock band: “Moisture Management.” Hit songs for our new band included “Wet Cloth Over the Face.” When Wolverine finally showed up, and in his quiet way politely asked the sewage level of the outhouse tank, another song was born: “What Level is Your Sh—?” In all the excitement, Mark developed hiccups. If “pre-teen girl” was the sound he was seeking, he had it nailed. Water Dog presented a cure. He assured everyone it was legit because—and this is a direct quote—“a bartender taught me this trick.” It involved Mark placing a handkerchief over a cup of water to drink through the fabric with his shirt off. (How could this not work?) He tried it. I’m not sold on the cloth over water bit; however, I learned that humiliation is a cure for hiccups.

Holley, thinking she mistakenly joined a backpacking club of 12-year-olds, retreated to the second floor to go to bed. However, she later admitted she listened to us in amusement until everyone else turned in, too.

Folks stepped up their culinary game. Water Dog and Mark each made gourmet backpacker meals that they long ago planned on spreadsheets. Karan (“BA”) peeled, cut, and fried raw potatoes on the stove and then open fire. He shared with everyone. They were delicious!

Eventually, I hefted my pack and returned alone to the cold outdoors, a task more difficult after having been warmed so long in the cabin. The evening was cold, but comfortable and quiet. The sound of the creek lured me to sleep. Overnight, my water bottle froze into a Slurpee-slush.

The next morning we arose later than usual—7:30 a.m.—but could not simply hike out as is our custom. I was ready to hike on but Kyle announced that we had chores to do. We had to saw up firewood to replace what we used, sweep up, empty ashes, and bolt down the shutters. I quickly learned why society evolved away from primitive log cabins—it features a lot of unpleasant work!

We hiked down the 4.5 miles back to the cars, looking forward to a second breakfast in Sperryville, when we finally learned what breed of dog “Water Dog” is—a retriever. Sadly, he announced that he left a bag with his car keys and wallet back at the cabin. Gallantly, he sent everyone else off to breakfast as he jogged back up to the cabin to retrieve his stuff, meeting his carpool back at the trailhead when they finished. 

On the drive home some of us discussed whether we liked the cabin camping or whether we should just stick to our usual backpacking in tents. I liked the fellowship in the cabin, but prefer the typical DCUL trip. My favorite part was the night hike to the cabin, which was Logan’s least favorite part. 

My second favorite part? Easy—the creative writing aspect of the trip. 

—Spider-Man (David O).

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