Jim, Sue, Cody, and Tater at Springer Mtn., start of the Appalachian Trail Adventure Run


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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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Start: Rockfish Gap/I-64/VA 250                           
End:  Loft Mtn. Campground/Shenandoah NP
Today's Miles:                      27.8
Cumulative Miles:             877.5
"The highlight of this section is Blackrock, a tumbled mass of large, lichen-covered blocks of stone, interesting in itself but also a spot for splendid views."
- AT Guide to Shenandoah National Park

Jim on top of Blackrock Mountain, pointing to AT blaze       6-21-05

View past some of the black rocks below the trail

One hundred and one miles of the Appalachian Trail wind through Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains between Front Royal and Waynesboro, Virginia.

According to the AT guide the park is world-renowned for scenic views from  Skyline Drive and for the flora and fauna characteristic of the Appalachian Mountains.

Much of the park is wild, with crystal clear streams, waterfalls, and various types of forest environments. Elevations range from 600 feet beside the Shenandoah River near Front Royal to 4,050 feet at the summit of Hawksbill Mountain. There are more than fifty peaks over 3,000 feet and an extensive network of side trails in addition to the AT.

Congress authorized the park in 1926, and soon after that the Potomac AT Club (PATC) was organized to scout for trail routes. PATC built the Trail from 1928 to 1930. The park officially opened in 1936. Skyline Drive was built on the original Appalachian Trail, so the AT had to be re-routed between 1933 and 1937. Much of the work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The same thing happened at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway - the road was built where the Trail was originally routed, and the AT had to be re-routed.

The AT intersects Skyline Drive numerous times but in the twenty-eight miles I've seen it isn't a problem. Most of the time today I felt like I was in the wilderness, not next to a road. I rarely saw the road or heard traffic on it. I had to wait for a vehicle only one time in about ten when I crossed Skyline Drive today. Weekends might be busier, as this park is a very popular weekend destination for folks living in densely-populated areas like Washington, DC.

The advantage to runners and hikers of having the Trail close to Skyline Drive is access. If the rest of the AT in Shenandoah NP is as runnable as the section I ran today (in less than a 19-minute pace, including stops), it's a good place for training runs. It's a dream to crew, or folks could use car relays. I think it would be a great place for a long adventure run with a few friends or training over a long weekend for a 100-miler.

There are fewer views (so far, at least) on the AT than on Skyline Drive. After Jim dropped me off at Rockfish Gap this morning, he drove on up the road with the camper to the first campground at Loft Mountain. He loved all the great views east and west, although there was plenty of haze. I only got a few good views on the Trail, mainly from the bare summit on Bear Den Mountain and on Blackrock Mountain.


My main source of amusement today was about eight tractor seats, shown above, firmly cemented into the ground on Bear Den Mountain. I'd been running through the grassy area about 1/4 mile past several towers (some or all of it a police radio installation). They weren't particularly attractive. In fact, they were ugly and I was surprised to see them so close to a famous trail in a national park.

These seats were placed at the last installation. I think they were put there to distract the hikers! Anyway, I'd read about them in hikers' journals so I knew to expect them. They aren't mentioned in the AT guide.


One of the highlights of my day was getting to share the unusual rocks on Blackrock Mountain with Jim. He surprised me by coming out about nine miles on the Trail. I thought he was going to take a rest day from running! He saw me walking up a hill and stood over to the side, silently. I don't have the best peripheral vision with my glasses so it was a bit of a shock to suddenly see someone standing there. Then I realized it was him, and started laughing.

We enjoyed the huge rock pile that is the summit of Blackrock Mountain. A cliff fractured at some point many years ago and the rocks just tumbled down the side of the mountain. It looks like a lava flow, except it's blocky and not smooth.

Fortunately, most of the rocks were removed from the Trail through this area. I had to walk through some areas like that two days ago when I had the slow day due to all the rocks.

There was another unusual rocky area before this called the Riprap Trail. I had to walk carefully through those two spots, but most of the Trail today was so runnable that it was a real treat. I even ran up some gradual hills today but by the end it was hard to run even downhill.

On one of the more runnable descents around eight miles, I tripped on a rock and fell against a log. My right side took the brunt of it again (why is that??), re-opening old wounds on my arm, leg, and knee. I lost some skin, blood, momentum, and time (about 15 minutes) to do damage control.

That's #11.


I talked with only two hikers today; most of the folks I saw were doing short day hikes from parking lots along Skyline Drive. The only thru-hiker I met was "Slap Happy," a young lady whose entries I've seen in Trail registers. I saw her about a mile before I got to Jim.

Just in front of Slap Happy was a section-hiker named Mike, who has no trail name (he doesn't like his old one, which he failed to disclose). He was so interesting that I walked with him about a half mile before running on. Mike is an elementary school teacher from West Chester, PA, who relieves the stress from teaching first graders by hiking all summer. He's done all but 800 miles of the AT and hopes to finish in another couple years.

Mike is a runner and said he envied me running the whole AT. The longest he's run is a half marathon but he wants to increase the distance. I encouraged him to start doing trail runs to enhance his enjoyment of the sport. He was interested in hearing about my way of doing the AT and asked questions about ultra runs.

Mike and Slap Happy saw five bears just before I caught up to them. I was so envious to hear this! First was a mama bear with three cubs (that's unusual), who scurried up into a tree. Then they saw a large bear just walking north on the Trail, not in any hurry to move. Mike and Slap Happy just quietly followed until the bear moved off into the woods. Of all the days to be without his camera, Mike lamented.

Soon after I told Jim about the bears, we saw a mother bear and her cub on the trail ahead!! We were both excited! Jim's never seen one so close, and I haven't seen a bear since the day after I got out of the Smokies. We had our camera but the bears moved into the woods too soon. About a mile later we saw the back end of a cub on the Trail but he, too, moved on before we could get close enough to take a photo.

The bears seem more used to hikers and campers in Shenandoah than in the Smokies. And the deer - my gosh, they'll come right up to you! I saw several today that barely moved when I came up on them. When Jim was running out to meet me, he heard something in the leaves, stopped to look, and a deer came within ten feet of him on the Trail.

And in our campground we observed a woman walking past our camper with her Beagle pup, a deer following them about ten feet away! Tater was going nuts. She loves to chase deer and antelope.  Fortunately, she was on her 20-foot cord and couldn't reach the road. Cody was interested but didn't bark. He only chases little critters. I'm not too worried about him on the Trail if he sees a bear or moose. He obeys my "leave it" command.

We can highly recommend this campground (Loft Mountain). The sites are spaced far apart, the cost is reasonable ($16 with no utilities), and it is cool here at 3,300 feet. We even have a grassy "back yard" surrounded by shrubs that give us privacy.

The AT makes a near-circle around this campground. We went to the far side, which is nearest to our campsite and also makes for a little less trail mileage for me tomorrow (very long day ahead - somewhere between 34 and 37 miles).

For the next three days Jim gets a big break: no driving me to and from trail heads! I figured out my mileage so I leave from, and arrive at, three campgrounds in the park. Jim has to move the camper every day but he doesn't have to unhook the truck to come get me. This sure saves him time.

We lucked out again with the weather. Although it was hotter today and there was no breeze on the Trail, it's cool at the campground and we didn't get any rain. We could hear thunder in the distance.

We can't get on-line at the campground. Jim will try to upload this entry tomorrow when we move up the road to Big Meadows Campground. Our entries from within the park may all be delayed until we get to Front Royal.

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil