It seemed like a great idea at the time, back in early October with the warm days and cool nights of fall. “What do you say we do a backpacking trip?” my co-worker Chris said. “Sounds great! Let’s do it!” was my eager reply. We looked at our schedules and settled on November 6 and 7. Early November in Virginia, even in the mountains, is pretty pleasant more often than not. We spent a couple of weeks chatting now and then about potential routes we could do in two days, and eventually Chris suggested The Priest, which is a 4,000 foot peak in the Religious Range of George Washington National Forest. But the route he had looked at seemed too short, so I started doing a little research and came up with a modification. Day 1: starting from the Montebello Fish Hatchery, we hike up to Spy Rock, then head out on the Appalachian Trail and hike up The Priest. We spend the night at the shelter, which has a nice spring very close to it. Day 2: on Sunday, we hike off the mountain and descend along Crabtree Falls, the tallest series of cascades at 1,000 feet east of the Mississippi. We reach the road and hike about three miles back to the car. (Never mind that it was actually 4.5 miles, and nearly 100% of it uphill.) Here is the route, with the starting point to the left side of the map, with the Priest being the lower right corner of the map:
We agreed on the route, Chris said he would loan me a tent, and we planned our meals and who would bring what. On Monday, the weather forecast for the weekend said temperatures would drop into the 20’s for the weekend, so I decided I needed to spring for a warmer sleeping bag. I went out and bought a Marmot Trestles bag good to 15 degrees, and also a Sea to Summit bag liner that would help keep the bag clean and also add about a dozen more degrees to the temperature range. Given the weekend weather we ended up with, this proved to be the wisest $160 I think I have ever spent.
I haven’t been backpacking in years and needed to buy a few other things (including a good topo map of the area because you don't want to trust navigation solely to a GPS), dug out my pack, and tried to figure out how to cram it all in:
My pack ended up weighing about 36 pounds fully packed, including the little tent that Chris loaned me. That is about 6 pounds more than I really wanted to carry but I could not figure a way to save weight, other than carrying 2 liters of water instead of 3 would have cut about 2 pounds. My backpacking pack is not huge. I bought it for a 3 day trip three years ago in the White Mountains, and on that trip I did not carry a tent, sleeping bag, stove, or a lot of food because I was staying at AMC huts. So given the big sleeping bag and other cold weather stuff I had, I had to get pretty creative to fit everything in, but it happened. Saturday arrived, I finished packing, and headed over to Chris’s home in Midlothian.
It was obviously going to be a very cold weekend, but cold or not, the trip was on. The forecast for towns near the area was for highs around 40 and lows near 20, but those towns were not at 4,000 feet. A female friend asked me with some alarm the day before “You’re not going through with this, are you? You might freeze up there!” “Of course I am going through with this! We’re men!” was my feeble, but accurate reply.
To be continued...
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