About a month ago, my hiking buddy Hawkeye suggested a winter hike along the Appalachian Trail from Rockfish Gap south to the first shelter on the trail from that point, the incomparable Paul Wolfe Shelter. It would be five miles each way in the out and back hike, and we decided to go Sunday, March 2. Along the way, I asked my friend Doug if he wanted to hike with us. In the meantime, Hawkeye and I decided to do something a little different for a day hike and cook lunch at the shelter. Since I am preparing for a short backpacking trip later this month, I wanted to carry some extra weight and brought things I normally wouldn't bring on a day hike, such as my stove, cook kit, and some extra clothing. I got my total pack weight up to about 25 pounds. Hawkeye thought that cooking some steak and vegetable packets in the fire would be a great lunch and I agreed, although I made mine heavy on the veggies and light on the steak.
Rockfish Gap is where Interstate 64 crosses the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is the jumping off point to Shenandoah National Park via the Skyline Drive to the north, and the Blue Ridge Parkway to the south. It has some history behind it, as the sign below shows. At one point, this area would have been total wilderness.
So we got to the trail head around 9AM and started hiking. It was chilly at the time, and I started out with three layers, including a fleece. Within 20 minutes, I stripped the fleece off and continued in a short sleeve wool shirt and a long sleeve wool shirt. It was not long until I was in just the short sleeve shirt as the morning warmed rapidly. It felt great! And even lounging around the shelter, I only needed the one shirt for most of the time.
The photo below is typical of the woods we walked through - naked hardwoods. The trail is very well maintained by the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club, which I need to rejoin.
By around 1:30 it was getting cloudy, and by 2PM, we decided to pack up and leave. We drowned the campfire and stirred the cold ashes and hit the trail. At exactly that moment, it started to rain, and the rain increased in intensity for the entire hike out. The trail turned muddy and sloppy, the rain soaked through my jacket - yeah, definitely time to replace it - and the temperature began to drop. What had a been a beautiful spring-like sunny day with highs near 70 would, in less than a couple of hours be a steady rain, and about 17 hours after that back in Richmond would be temperatures in the 20's and a steady snowfall.
When we got back to the car, all fairly soaked, I had to admit that I was glad not to be camping out that night. Instead of crawling with wet skin into a sleeping bag in a tiny tent as the temperature dropped and the snow began, I would be able to get a hot shower and sleep in a warm bed. But the rain could not lessen the fun we all had on the hike to the Paul Wolfe Shelter!