Day 64. Although the temperature was supposed to be higher today, I don’t think it ever got much hotter than 80 degrees. And there was a really nice cool breeze most of the day that made it very manageable. But I didn’t know that last night, so I planned an early start for today.
In hopes of getting miles under my feet before the afternoon heat set in, I woke up at sunrise and hit the trail just after 7am. That’s a darn early start for me normally, but it has two big advantages. Either a) you finish a normal day without too much time in the sun, or b) you have a couple extra hours of daylight to knock out a big mile day (if desired). I had a planned stop at Big Meadows Campground today, so the big miles weren’t needed … but the extra hours of daylight came in handy. More on that later.
One of the many great things about SNP is the multitude of campgrounds with camp stores and/or restaurants throughout. Today, for example, I passed 2 of these such places and was therefore able to have a decent lunch and dinner that didn’t come from my pack. Lewis Mountain Campground has a nice store (no restaurant) where I enjoyed a deli sandwich and ice cream for lunch. Then, Big Meadows has a huge store, resupply shop, and wayside restaurant that provided me dinner (and blackberry shake). The wayside restaurant is the same as yesterday’s at Loft Mountain, just bigger. And the shake was just as delicious!
During today’s hike, I passed some really spectacular views and landmarks also. This park is absolutely living up to its hype. The first was South River Picnic Area that was a good rest stop for a snack. It was mainly empty, but I imagine it’s very crowded on the weekend. This spot has bathrooms, tables, grills, water spigots, etc. for a nice friendly gathering.
Next was Pocosin Cabin. This is one of many enclosed cabins within the park that are apparently available by reservation only. They are stone buildings, slightly bigger than huts, with all the regular amenities (privy, picnic table, piped stream). It would be neat to stay here sometime in the future, but I only stopped to take a look, snap a pic, and guzzle some water for now.
After that, I continued on and came to a crossroads. At Bearfence Mountain, hikers can take the easy AT route, or they can take the insanely crazy Rock Scramble Overlook route to the top. The former is the “official” route … but the latter runs challenges you to climb your way up to a VERY rocky summit. It runs parallel to the AT, then spits you back out a half mile later. I could not resist a good rock climbing adventure, so blue blazed up to the summit.
Holy hell, was that hard. I was climbing on my hands and knees nearly the whole time, cautiously maneuvering each foot hold to the top. Smarter hikers would have left their pack at the bottom and gone back for it, but not me. I meandered my way slowly to the top and then shouted a war cry of triumph as I took in the 360 degree views around me. It was absolutely worth the strenuous climb and is hopefully one that other hikers check out. Plus, it’s just tons of fun. Here’s a photo showing part of the final climb, which obviously doesn’t do it justice.
The final 6 miles over Hazeltop Mountain and down to Big Meadows Wayside seemed to take all day, but I eventually strolled in around 3pm. A very early finish! Early starts definitely have their benefits. I had an early dinner, then found Spice in the Campground. Since this is a big fancy facility, campsites are $20 each, but can be used by up to 6 people. So we agreed to share the site and save some money.
With the rest of the afternoon, I caught up on some phone calls, and chatted with the Ranger to learn a bit about the facility. There is a Visitor’s Center, Lodge, Cabins, Amphitheater (which looks out over the mountains), Shower, Laundry, etc. It’s a very large campus and would make an awesome weekend getaway.
The one downside is that everything is pretty expensive. My resupply was twice what it normally costs per day of food. The wayside restaurant isn’t horrible, but will probably cost you $15-20 for a meal. It’s not unusual to see inflated prices at a Campground facility like this, but it’s still frustrating. $0.50 for one Ramen? $2.00 for a Honey Bun? Yikes.
After spending $50 on 3 days of food, I walked back up the hill. It’s also a bit frustrating how large the facility is, … for those in foot. It is a long 1 mile hike from the wayside/store to everything else up the mountain, something that 99% of the guests don’t have to worry about.
Back at the Campground, I had a hot shower and washed my sweaty clothes in the laundry room next door. Both are coin operated – the shower is $1.75 for 5 minutes, the laundry is the same to wash and dry. Compared to the store, spending $3.50 felt like a great deal to clean me and everything I own. After that, Spice and I chatted a bit at the picnic table while we organized our food bags for the next few days. Then we setup camp and called it a night. It sounds like we may only hike together another day or two, as we are both coordinating visits with family in the next few days.
I’m curious to see if anyone I’ve hiked with in the past will catch up to me after my Zero Day in Harpers Ferry. Remy? Ridge? Legs? Leap Frog? Happy Feet and Tarzan? They should all be within 2 or 3 days of me. We shall see, or I’ll trudge on alone again. I like hiking alone now, so no worries either way!
Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)
- Start Mile: 905.1
- Start Time: 07:15
- End Mile: 925.9
- End Time: 15:05
- Miles Hiked: 20.8
- Miles to Go: 1265.0
- Lodging: Big Meadow Campground