After months of planning I finally got up the nerve to take my first steps along the Appalachian Trail. The plan was to tackle the trail northbound starting at Thornton Gap and ending at the Dickie Ridge Visitor Center hiking the roughly 27.4 miles in three days/two days. Monday morning I caravanned to Shenandoah National Park with my brother and sister-in-law. I left my Jeep at the visitor center and then hitched a ride with my brother down to the Panaroma comfort station at Thornton Gap.
The First Steps are the Hardest…
I admit being a bit nervous as I took my first steps onto the AT. Prior to to starting out I had never hiked more than 8 miles in one day much less attempted a long of night hike. As I started out I had a little silly thoughts like whether or not I was going the right way and whether or not I was going to make it back to my Jeep 27.4 miles away.
Starting at any place with Gap in its name should clue you into the fact that a climb was in my near future. Start at 2,307 feet the two mile climb to the summit of pass mountain takes you to 3,052 feet. It was pretty cold Monday morning but 10 minutes into the hike I had to strip off my jacket.
Making Good Time
The first two hours of my hike were blissfully quiet and I didn’t run into another human until Beahms Gap Overlook (3.4 miles into the hike) where the trail crosses over Skyline Drive before heading back into the woods. Not far beyond that I ran into my first spring on the trail (see picture above). At 12:30 I reached the intersection of the Thornton River trail 5.8 miles into my hike (that’s 5.8 miles in 2 hours and 40 minutes of hiking, much faster than I had figured on doing). At this stage of my hike I was feeling very positive about my progress and was really enjoying the hike.
Eating at the Wallow
The next major milestone on my itinerary was the Elkwallow Wayside 8.5 miles down the trail where I planned on getting a cheeseburger and french fries at the grill. The 2.7 mile hike to Elkwallow was mostly pleasant up until the last half mile or so climbing up to the Wayside. After 8 miles on the trail my legs were starting to get a little tired, my stomach was starting to rumble, and a cool drizzle began to fall.
Walking into the wayside was a bit of a shock after being almost completely alone on the trail. The wayside was pretty chock full of people buying lunch, souvenirs, and generally getting out of the rain. After getting my cheeseburger, french fries, and soda, I found a spot out of the rain where I could sit and eat in relative comfort (as comfortable as sitting on concrete on the ground can be). There were a couple of through hikers sitting near me who shared some trail stories while we waited out the rain.
Finishing off the Day
After hanging out for about 50 minutes it was pretty clear that the rain might keep going indefinitely and I had to hike at least one or two more miles on to reach a suitable place to camp for the night so it was time to head out again. Unfortunately, as it turns out, the first two miles or so were a steady climb up to Sugarloaf and Hogback (a gain of about a 1000 feet in elevation although it seemed worse at the time).
After a good 11 miles or more on the trail I was getting pretty tired but some little piece of my brain nagged me to keep going on since it was relatively early in the day and I was bound to find the perfect place to hang my hammock just around the bend…
I finally pulled up for the night after roughly 13.1 miles on the trail between the intersection of the Keyser Run Fire Road (13 miles) and Skyline Drive (13.2 miles) and ventured off trail to make camp.
Read about day two here: Hiking the Appalachian Trail – Day 2