At the beginning of June 2011 we headed eastward to the Shenandoah National Park near Harrisonburg, Virginia. We were planning to hike the trails around and up Furnace Mountain and Trayfoot Mountain. This was exciting as this would be our first hiking and camping trip east of Indiana. The last two trips were in the Buffalo River region of Arkansas and the Ozarks in southeast Missouri, both of which I plan to write about in the near future.
There were a total of six guys on this trip and the plan was for two of us to arrive early and set up camp before the other four arrived later in the day. Kfed and I arrived at the Loft Mountain Campground in the National Park about seven or eight hours earlier than the rest of the guys.
We chose this particular campground because it was a short drive to our beginning point at Jones Run parking lot (where we would leave our vehicles) and the Appalachian Trail (AT). After promptly spraying ourselves against the attack of the mosquitos, we set up both tents and started a fire. Being that we were on top of Loft Mountain the wind was quite strong all night long. It didn’t pose a problem and we actually enjoyed it. The rest of the guys arrived about 1:30 am and immediately ducked into their tent for an early morning start.
Our plan was to hit the AT near Jones Run parking lot and head northeast toward Austin Mountain Trail via Big Run Loop Trail and Rockytop Trail and end our first day of hiking streamside near Madison Run Fire Road.
The weather could not have been better. It was a cool, crisp morning. The wind had significantly died down and the sun was awaking over the horizon. It was going to be ideal hiking conditions (but what isn’t right?). After enjoying some brewed coffee and trail mix we loaded up and headed out.
We geared up, took some pics, and then headed northeast on the AT. If you have done much hiking, you will appreciate how well maintained these trails are. In fact, there are not many parts of the Furnace Mountain/Trayfoot Mountain trails that require long pants. You could easily get by with shorts, but I conservatively chose to wear my Paramount pants (The North Face) that could easily zip off into shorts. After getting 17 ticks the previous year in Arkansas and having severe reactions to poison ivy, I always try to play it safe.
The first day we covered about 6.5 miles and descended from about 2800 feet to about 1300 feet. I am always leery of starting a multi-day hike going down rather than up. I usually have the most energy and excitement at the beginning and would be better off taking the big stuff early.
There were not many opportunities on this first leg for great views because of the overgrowth. We stopped for a snack and water break a couple of times when it opened up a bit to see Austin Mountain and the Shenandoah Valley. We crossed some areas with thousands of broken granite rocks each the size of a tissue box. These areas were hard to walk on but we passed through quickly.
The final descent drops about 500 feet in less than a half-mile and leads directly to the stream near Madison Run Fire Road. Everything we read spoke of several camping spots in this area. Unfortunately, much of it was posted off-limits due to over usage. We eventually settled on an area downstream and set up camp. Our plan was to set up camp, pump water, and rest a bit before taking a hike without our gear to the summit of Furnace Mountain. We did just that- we set up camp, pumped several gallons of water from the stream, cooled our feet off in the cold water, brewed some coffee, chilled out a bit, and then began our late afternoon ascent.
I will write about Furnace Mountain in my next post…but let me say one thing before I get to that: Furnace Mountain earns it’s name rightly as you feel as if you are in a furnace climbing in the early afternoon with the sun scorching your back.
upward over the mountain by iron and wine