Our trip this past weekend was to St. Mary's Wilderness, near Lexington, Virginia. We couldn't finalize our plans until we hit the trailhead because the paper maps (USGS 7.5' quads) were missing some trails, described elsewhere in books and web sites. Some of these maps were updated last year, and still don't show all the trails. Luckily, a local map on the trailhead sign did have all the trails, and we completed our plans.
The idea was to make it to the Green Pond, all the way to the right on the map, but due to a late start (as usual) and a couple of side trips, we only made it as far as the map indicates. The hike turned out, by the way, to be almost 14 miles; almost 15 for Mickey and myself as we took an extra trip to look for a better campsite (which we didn't use).
It was cold out, bitter cold at times. When we started out, it was near the mid-30s and snowing lightly. By the time we had made camp, it had dropped into the low 20s, and when I got up the next morning, it was in the single digits to low teens. Frost had accumulated in our bivies where breath condensed and froze.
The trail we took is more or less described here at this site. The trail description here is the one that isn't supported by the maps, and the books we have weren't very helpful either.
Mickey and Barf started off earlier that day and drove their Rovers around the woods near Harrisonburg, where Emily and I met them. We all took off down to a town near the trail and stayed at a cheap motel.
The next day we found the tourist office/ranger station closed, so we decided just to head for the trail. We left one car at the end (as a shuttle) and went to the other trailhead. It took a little bit, but we finally got going. Our first diversion was a small rock wall that Mick and Barf decided to freeclimb, and later, we took a side trail to St. Mary's falls. Holy frijoles, there are some fantastic swimming holes over there that must be tried in the summer! After some oohing and ahhing, we doubled back and joined up with the route we were supposed to take.
It didn't take long before it started darkening, and we decided it was time to make our camp. A good location near a stream and some abandoned mines was taken, so we moved to a comfortable distance away, but still close to the stream. Mickey and I, without our packs, went a half mile up the trail to another site near another creek but by the time we got back, Barf had started a fire and Emily said she was comfortable enough.
We had dinner, set up our sleeping arrangements, played cards and enjoyed our whisky before turning in close to midnight or so.
I awoke the next morning all toasty warm in my bag, but I knew I had to come out sometime and get the fire going, as it was already getting late (I got up at 7:30, but I know how slow we can all be, especially when we're nice and warm and don't want to face the cold!). I changed as much as I could inside my bag and eventually got out and started the fire going again. Barf got up next, then Emily, and of course Mickey last. He had to, because his bivy was so close to the fire and so Barf dragged him, in the bag, away!
After breakfast, we relaxed a bit and broke camp slowly. I don't remember what time
Time was running out on sunlight, so we pushed it a bit going along the ridgeline known as Big Levels and by the time we got to the top of Cellar Mountain, it was getting close to sunset. I pushed way ahead of everyone else (because I had the keys to the shuttle car which needs warming up for a while), but Mickey caught up with me by the time I had made it to the bottom of all the switchbacks. Barf wasn't far behind us and neither was Emily. She was pretty pooped but happy to have made it and said she'd do it again. I talked to her later, after she had a day to reflect, and she still wants to go! Whatta trooper for her first backpacking trip!
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