Trip Report: A Tale of Two Ridges (Massanutten Trail Loop, Virginia) (March 30 to April 2, 2023) (72 Miles)

“It was the best of hikes, it was the worst of hikes, it was the age of endurance, it was the age of blisters, it was the epoch of purpose, it was the epoch of meaninglessness, it was the season of blue skies, it was the season of rain, and it was a time of run-on sentences mocking legs that would no longer run-on.” — (With apologies, Charles Dickens).

For the 20th time since 2010, DCUL re-ran the classic trek around the Massanutten Mountain valley. This is a tale of two trips over two ridges—because while most DCULers this year did the classic loop in the mountains around Fort Valley from Thursday evening to Sunday morning, two enterprising DCULers attempted the same trek within a mere 48 hours.

The Massanutten loop is a 72-mile trail in the mountains just west of the northern Shenandoah National Park. The Massanutten mountains are a chain that closes in on itself creating its own valley, resembling a volcano. The trail circumnavigates the “volcano” by capping the rim with occasional dips into the valley. It is not a spectacular trail, but it has some very nice views. If one likes rocks and endless short, pointless elevation gains and elevation losses, this is the trail to try. DCUL calls the thru-hike, the “Death March.” It is not easy. Our daily mileage was 9 miles, 25 miles, 28 miles, and 8 miles. (There was an extra 2 miles somewhere in the daily fractions). 

I started the trip this year alone, being unable to get off work early on Thursday. Therefore, I arrived at the Signal Knob trailhead well after dark. By headlamp I hiked with only my thoughts the nine miles up to Veach Gap, the camping location for that night. I arrived around midnight to see Kyle (Water Dog) extinguishing the fire in front of the shelter. He welcomed me to the shelter, but helpfully pointed me to a good tent spot should that be my preference. It was. He gave me one last chance to sign on to his alternate version of the hike—the 48-hour version with him and Jonathan (Shenanigans). They wanted to do something more than a “Death March.” I had been considering it but could not get Water Dog to commit to a prestigious nickname for his version of the hike—something to give me bragging rights. I suggested, “Sufferfest,” but he said it was taken. I suggested “Death March XL,” but he thought that just sounded bigger while the challenge was technically only faster. Exasperated, I threw out “Death March Ultra?” No. “Death March Anguishfest?” No. Uggh! When he threw out “Dumass-annutten,” I decided this was not for me.

I woke Friday morning to see most of the crew. Chandler (Willy Wonka) announced he was not feeling well and hiked out to extract himself from the trip. As his trail name suggests, Willy always brings gourmet chocolate to give out on DCUL trips. It was disappointing to lose Willy; it was devastating to lose his chocolate. I was going to ask if he wanted me to take his chocolate to distribute for him but felt that would be bad form. Mike was making an elaborate breakfast; Holly was still sleeping. So, in addition to them, Mark V, David U (Baseball), Logan, and Karan steeled ourselves for the remaining 69 miles of the trip. Water Dog and Shenanigans hiked back to their car to grab breakfast before returning to Signal Knob to begin their 48-hour odyssey.    

The trip down the eastern ridge of the loop is my favorite. After a climb out of Veitch Gap, the ridge is relatively stable and smooth, with nice views of the Shenandoah Valley. As it happened, I mostly hiked alone that day. At one point Mike passed me. He was going so fast he did not even recognize me—even though I’m unforgettable in my Spider-Man shirt. I’m not a slow hiker; that guy is fast! He was like a mountain wind gust, something felt more than seen. 

After a day of hiking, I tanked up with water for the dry camp at the top of Waterfall Mountain, the most difficult part of the trip because it is a very steep climb, made more difficult after having hiked 25 miles and the need to carry water. At the top, Chris T was there to greet us with beer! We all toasted ourselves just before it started raining. We made our dinners in the gentle rain and soon retreated to our tents.

We woke up to dry weather, relieved that the rain for the trip was both finished and mostly conducted while we slept. We cheered our good fortune. We started walking the western side of the loop. This is not my favorite side. One can hear the faint din of Interstate I-81 in the distance, which diminishes my preference for silence. And, as one continues to the northwest, ATVers make the place sound like a construction site.

I lost myself in my thoughts until I felt something wet. I assumed it was just some drops of moisture falling from the trees after the rainfall the prior evening. Then, I felt some undeniable drizzle—likely the last gasp of the previous rain. Then I saw how dark the skies looked behind me. Hey! This wasn’t in the forecast. I put on my rain kilt, just in case. Soon, the skies opened up and let loose an ongoing, drenching shower. Up went my TRDD (Tactical Rain Deflection Device) and squish, squish went my waterlogged feet. The rain did not stop until late that afternoon. However, I felt comfortable. 

We descended off the mountain into Edinburg Gap to have Shane (Dad Joke) greet us with folding chairs and snacks. He had intended to join us on the Death March, but said he had not done his “homework,” meaning he had not trained sufficiently to hike the 72 miles in good form. I was sorry to miss him on the trail—as his name suggests, he is very funny. However, his “trail magic” really brightened our mood!

Usually, we camp at Little Fort Campground in Massanutten’s valley, but the ATVers and party crowd have long ago claimed it—and are not shy. It is noisy with the all-night rumble of gas-powered electric generators and intoxicated voices. I’ve never slept through the night there. Happily, this year Karan (BA) suggested we hike six miles past Little Fort and camp in Mud Hole Gap. We did and it was delightfully quiet. Dad Joke met us there with donuts! We reluctantly left two donuts for our friends who would arrive later that night as part of their Dumass-anutten.

I had already eaten and gone to bed when Water Dog and Shenanigans arrived at the campsite, hollow shells of their former selves. They were too tired to even eat the donuts we saved for them! (Had I known this at the time, my breakfast the next day would have been better . . .) They told me they did little else then just go to bed.

We woke Sunday for the easy eight miles back to our cars and were in the Front Royal Cracker Barrel in time for breakfast. We proudly watched as BA chiseled our names into the DCUL Hall of Fame for having completed the Death March and, for two of us, the Dumass-annutten. 

— David O (Spider-Man)

One thought on “Trip Report: A Tale of Two Ridges (Massanutten Trail Loop, Virginia) (March 30 to April 2, 2023) (72 Miles)

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

A Website.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: