All 2015 Reports
- Dave MacLuskie, Kaylee MacLuskie
We had to hike 10 miles instead of 9 miles on the second day because the stream was dry. So we had to go down the other side of the mountain once we got to the top (it wasn't the top of Duncan Knob but below it [ed. the saddle] we had to go do down a 1/2 mile to get water and a 1/2 mile back up! It took an extra hour.
When we were sleeping on top of Duncan Knob in the middle of the night a mouse or chipmunk stole my dad's gaiters and one of my blue socks!.
When we were climbing up to Strickler Knob there was a literal rock wall and we had to drop my pack to climb up it. Then once we got to the top of it there was an amazing view of the 360 degree look out point. There were also really big rocks.
Climbing to the top of Duncan Knob was harder so about 1/4 of the way up my backpack taken off and my dad and I traded carrying it up to the top where we camped! We actually set up the tent in a small space. WE had a small fire while playing "Love Letters". I discovered how I could see the top of the tent: there is an overhanging rock that from the top of a main area where you can get to the Duncan Knob overlook. I can just carefully climb down to the overhang and that's as that!
The sunset was beautiful and my dad set his orange camera out in a crevice and so it wouldn't fall down we put a rock near it. We went to be early, changed and got to watch the sunset and played cribbage.
We saw some blueberries and blackberries but they didn't have berries just yet.
We saw a green and black garter snake [ed. upon looking it up, probably a Eastern ribbon snake]. It was really cute, small, and when my dad and I tried to take the camers out to take a picture it speedily slithered away. I almost stepped on him! I didn't.
Kaylee and I put together a short-notice backpacking trip for part of Memorial Day weekend and lucked into remarkably good weather and minimal crowds. Kaylee has backpacked on the Massanutten Trail out to Duncan Knob before (April 2014) but this time we planned a larger loop that would pick up Strickler Knob as well. The trail itself has some interesting history and ties to George Washington and Yorktown.
We hit the road after work on Friday and pulled into the small parking lot near the trail head at about 8:30pm. With headlamps ablaze we hiked south-bound on the orange-blazed Massanutten trail. This was Kaylee's first night hike and she took to it like a champ. Our intended campsite was about a mile from the car and just past a creek crossing. Last year in May the water was knee deep but it has been drier in 2015 and we were able to rock hop across without getting wet. We setup camp and were soon asleep.
After breakfast we packed up and hit the trail again, continuing south on the Massanutten trail. The path runs along Little Passage Creek for a while, crossing a few times. We passed the blue-blazed Gap Cree Trail that leads up Middle Mountain to the saddle below Duncan Knob. That's where we headed last year. This year we kept going south and after a couple miles of gentle ascent, and a little less-gentle ascent, we climbed up to the ridge of Middle Mountain. Along this whole stretch there were occasional thorny blackberry bushes full of blossoms that arced over the trail and attempted to grab onto us. There were numerous blueberry bushes as well teeming with blossoms. In another month there should be a lot of berries available.
At the top of the climb is not-well-marked spur trail to Strickler Knob. If I hadn't known it was there it would be easy to miss. I've only hiked out the along this intermittently pink-blazed spur trail once. I recalled that it can be tricky to follow sometimes but we had no real difficulties. We looked a little out of place carrying our packs. The trail is popular with day hikers and we saw a handful coming and going. It took a good 30 minutes or so to reach the "tricky" part of the trail. We stashed our trekking poles and Kaylee's backpack and continued up over the 10 foot "rock wall" and onto the more rock-scrambly final section. Soon we were at the overlook and soaked in the 360 degree views and had a well deserved snack.
After some time we collected our gear and retraced our steps back to the Massanutten trail. We continued south (and downhill!) to a 4-way intersection and took the first right along the yellow-blazed Scothorn Gap trail. This trail heads back north on the west side of Middle Mountain. On a previous trip with the DC UL meetup in mid-May 2014 the creek along Scothorn Gap trail was running well and I planned to top off our water and tank up for the night. Unfortunately this year the creek was dry (well, muddy, but definitely not wet enough to fill up on drinkable water).
We continued north and established our new plan. We ascended the Gap Run Trail up to the saddle below Duncan Knob, stashed Kaylee's pack, hiked back down the other side to Little Passage Creek (the intersection we'd passed in the morning), tanked up on water, and climbed back up to the saddle. This added a good mile or so our trip putting us close to 10 miles for the day (a new record for Kaylee!).
I admit I was feeling it on the climb back to the saddle. Kaylee carried 2 liters of water and I lugged my pack and 3.5 additional liters. Even with my light weight gear I was now at about 30 pounds. My body was reminding me that I haven't been exercising vigorously in the last 2 months due cracking that bone in my foot. I'm pleased to report that my foot seems to have healed fine and didn't cause any problems.
We got back to the saddle a little past 4pm, collected Kaylee's pack and headed along the ridge to the base of Duncan Knob and began the climb up the huge jumbled pile of rocks. A group of 4 guys were descending and we chatted a bit. They were impressed that Kaylee was attempting the climb and that we were planning to camp at the top.
I didn't recall exactly how much clear, flat space there was at the top and had warned Kaylee that if we couldn't find a spot for the tent that we could enjoy the views but we'd have to return to the saddle to setup camp.
Fortunately we found a spot that we could squeeze our tent into with some creative stake placement. I ended up atop a good sized root but managed to pad it out with spare clothing and the help of my inflatable sleeping pad. After some exploration and photo opportunities at the rocky overlook we sat down for dinner. We enjoyed a small fire and a few hands of "Love Letters" before heading back to the overlook to watch the sunset. The wind picked up and we got a bit chilly despite wearing our fleece jackets.
After the sun dropped below the horizon (or at least the west-most mountain in view) we crawled into the tent and played a few hands of cribbage before it got too dark to see the cards in the dark. The wind howled but our tent was on the leeward side of a large rocky outcrop.
When I went to put my shoes on in the morning I was disturbed to see that my gaiters were missing. I had carefully stuffed them into my shoes so I'd remember to put them on before putting on my shoes. The shoes were placed outside the main tent but still under the vestibule. The gaiters were gone. One of Kaylee's blue socks, also stuffed into her shoes, was missing as well. I looked around to see if they had blown away. I'm fairly certain they were stolen by a mouse or chipmunk or some fuzzy little critter. Fortunately the shows remained!
Kaylee and I packed up and began the slow descent down the rock pile. Kaylee took the lead and I followed wearing my pack and carrying hers. I think going down was even harder than going up. My legs felt like jelly by the time we got to the bottom. It took us 30 minutes to cover about a tenth of a mile. Our pace picked up quite a bit once we got back to actual earthy ground. We were soon back down by the creek and heading north to the car. Kaylee spotted a garter snake on the edge of the trail (or more probably an Eastern ribbon snake) but it was quick to slither off and neither of us got a photo.
We stopped at the campsite where we'd spent Friday night for a little breakfast, the babbling creek, and to just enjoy a few more moments on the trail. We crossed Little Passage Creek for the last time and trekked the final mile to the car.
Our overall splits were something along the ones of 1/10/5. Kaylee gets credit for her "9 miles at age 9" goal with ease (part of our hike-your-age-in-miles challenge). Even with some difficult terrain we covered the ground with ample sunlight at the end of the day. With her new experience in night hiking, we've opened up a few more trip possibilities.
One of my proudest moments was when we got back to the car and Kaylee handed me a bunch of trash (old bottle caps and the like) that she's collected from Duncan Knob, leaving the site better than we found it.
dave.macluskie AT gmail.com