I organized a Meetup group to go to a PATC cabin near Syria VA for this weekend. As is typical the flux and flow of members varied day to day leading up to the event, so it was difficult to get a firm head count beforehand - which was why I was denying no one entrance, even though the cabin only had room for 12 people in bunks.
Sixteen people showed up, between the 2 that went straight to the cabin and the few that came on Saturday or Sunday.
Friday March 4th
I wanted to beat the traffic, so I went to Tania's place to meet her new dog, Nyla. She is a very cute puppy! After hanging out for a few minutes, I left and made it to the Centreville Park and Ride a couple minutes early. Everyone else showed up within 10 or 15 - so no one was late! And that's a miracle in a group this size.
Since I was staying an additional day beyond everyone else, I drove solo and the four vehicles caravanned down, stopping in Warrenton for a bite to eat. We, then, followed 211 toward Sperryville and onto 522 and then onto 231 toward Old Rag - the cabin we stayed at was a few miles down the ridgeline from Old Rag. After a couple turn-arounds, we made it to the cabin with no issues - I unlocked the gate to the very small parking area and we started packing stuff the .2 of a mile down a stream filled road to the cabin. I unlocked the cabin and moved in for the weekend. Jim Newman, in typical fashion, had his car loaded to the gills with anything we could want. The amount of food and equipment required several trips from the car.
Everyone introduced to the few early comers that were tenting and hammocking outside, we settled in, several more of the group setup tents outside, which is just as well, though there was room in the cabin, it would've been a bit close. Most of the women setup in the bunks upstairs, while a bit drafty, the upstairs was very spacious.
Gary and I stayed up after everyone else had gone to sleep, sipping on scotch and talking. Finally crawled into my bunk at 1am. It was very comfortable.
Woke up with the sun, after hearing some voices in the main room, and hearing them stock the fire. I got up and dressed for a day of hiking. Everyone else began stirring shortly after. I made a few batches of coffee on Newman's large perkalator over my car-camping propane stove.
Dave began making from scratch wheat pancakes, and Newman cooked up half the bacon that I brought. The pancakes were fantastic, Dave really knew what he was doing! After breakfast was eaten and Kirstin and Tabitha and Patricia cleaned up, we all got suited up to head out. It wasn't very cold out, but the sky was socked in with clouds that looked like it could rain at any time. The peak of Double Top, our destination, only occasionally and briefly visible. We started with our rain gear on.
All of us left for the hike at about 10:30am, only Paul, the hammock-hanger, staying behind.
The hike begins beyond the entrance of the cabin road, we took a right and followed a fire road, looking for a trail for Double Top on the left. I was walking mid group and had to shout to get the front-runners to come back to the trail. The trail got much steeper and had a few switchbacks, but you could tell these were old wagon or logging roads in the dim though not too distant past. We could see Old Rag to the north before the fog moved in and covered the view. After the couple switchbacks the trail turned up the mountain, disregarding either switchbacks or contour lines. There was a short reprieve as the trail hit a shoulder on the mountain, but after it got only steeper. I hung back with the slowest people knowing that we couldn't let them get too far behind, as the trail in places was nearly nonexistent and finding the next blue blaze in the heavy fog was challenging at times. Everyone made it to the top with no complaints, and Tabitha and I went out on to Monkey Head overlook to peer into the fog, watching it whip away in the gusty wind, the krumholtz looking trees bending in the breeze.
On the next rocky outcropping, after descending and ascending, the group stopped and started eating, we were sheltered from the wind, and there was plenty of seating for everyone. We passed around cheese and bread and some wurst that Gary and Newman had brought - everyone eating their fill of the broken bread and bars and fruit toted up the mountain.
After this brief stop we continued on the ridge of Double Top through stunning laurel forests, next coming to a very steep incline up next to some lichen covered rocks, this trail does not see much use, between the tough climb and the hard to find trail, the size of the lichen were a testament to this untrod area. Newman and I chatted through this area, stopping to take lots of pictures. On the steep area Newman was taking pictures of Kirsten and others climbing the steep section, I was taking the sweeper position. As Newman took off his lens cap it got away from him and rolled down hill - I sat down and slide after it to catch it, my REI rain pants got a rip in the butt and this the first time I used them - I will be taking them back for an exchange.
We followed the ridge for awhile longer until the trail we were looking for came in from the right - this trail was orange blazed, and very recently blazed. The sun began peaking through and the fog lifted to higher clouds. This trail was an old wagon road, many stones had been laid as a retention wall on the downward side - this trail involved a lot of historic work. We made our way down to the Rapidan River and a fire road that lay on it's shore. We passed some cabins, the Rapidan Family Co-Op cabins on our way. Soon we passed into the national park and continued on the fireroad, now winding up a hillside. A set of powerlines cut the switchbacks and I ran up one of these ahead of Gary and Dan. Then, being a ways behind those in the lead, I cut through the woods to come out ahead of them and made it to the side cut-off trail for Upper Dark Hollow Falls trail first.
As we sat and waited for everyone to catch up Erick Brandon and Ron headed out down the trail first, I called out, "look for a right turn to get you to the cabin!" as they walked away. They didn't hear me.
About 10 minutes later the rest of the group set a leisurely pace and started down the trail, also an old wagon road.
After chatting and strolling we came to the loop trail that went around the cabin, we sauntered back into camp. Jim Lantry was there and waiting. Apparently he decided to come up Saturday, rather than Sunday as he had originally told me. He had arrived at 11am, just after we left, and didn't know which trail we took. We began preparation for cooking, all of us hungry after a 10 mile hike. Newman mentioned that Erick, Brandon (his son), and Ron weren't back yet, thought they were well ahead of us. I went in the opposite direction around the loop around the cabin property thinking they may have taken the long way back. I jogged up a very large hill looking for them. About the time I got to the intersection where Upper Dark Hollow joins the cabin loop I could see the three of them coming up the trail. Somehow they took a turn and ended up by the Rose River, in the next hollow over. Some trout fisherman had redirected them and they had to climb back up a very steep hill, adding a couple miles to their days hike.
Paul and Jim had started a fire in the outside firepit, some of us popped tops and sat around that fire drinking and talking, others stayed inside and did the same, reading and talking. Paul brought out sushi and we devoured it very quickly. Newman put on the chicken and rib BBQ in the dutch-oven to simmer for 3 or 4 hours.
I went inside and laid down for a nap for an hour or so. I love naps!
I woke to Jim and Gary heckling me through a window. I got up and went back to the outside fire, passing the flask around and talking with the guys out there. Dinner eventually was done and served. The array of side dishes and main courses in the spread fulfilled all huger pangs in short order. After clean up we went sat long around the fire telling stories and drinking from the flasks there. People began dropping off to bed, until only Gary, myself, and Jim were up. The rain began falling a bit and we moved the party to the cabin's front porch. We sat and talked for awhile longer until finally retiring to or respective bunks and tents.
Before light, Christian, the guy sleeping in the bunk above me, packed up and headed out. Woke to the sound of heavy rain on the tin roof.some time later. Everyone got up at generally the same time and began packing up. I didn't yet have to do any packing! Patricia made french toast for everyone. Jim and Gary washed dishes. We helped carry some things to people's cars int he rain. About the time everyone was heading out Tania arrived. Jim and I went down to the store while Tania carried her stuff to the cabin with Nyla in tow.
Sunday was a very restful day, we sat and chatted and fed the fire, we kept hoping the rain would slack off, but it continued to be a steady rain. I made grilled cheese sandwiches for us in the mountain pie maker, and toward evening Jim put the stew on to simmer for a few hours. We read and napped and Tania worked on her laptop throughout the day.
After dark the wind was howling outside, but it sounded like the rain had stopped. Jim went on the front porch to grab a soda and noticed it was snowing and an inch had already fallen! After dinner we suited up in warm clothing and charged outside, throwing snowballs and playing with Nyla, making tiny snowmen, and lighting some Roman Candles. After getting cold we went in and got ready for bed.
Nyla slept through the night and woke up late - she immediately left Tania's bunk and went and jumped on Jim's face. We rose and went outside to a beautiful morning! Sun shining, kinda warm, snow sparkling. After getting a few good pictures I went in to make coffee. Tania made breakfast omelet. After breakfast we washed the dishes, packed our stuff and cleaned the cabin. We carried our stuff to the cars and finally locked the cabin up.
We got ready for a day hike up to the top of Double Top again. Tania wanted to keep the hike short and Jim wanted strenuous, going to that peak fulfilled both. As we head toward the trail head we met with the cabin care-taker. The high winds had knocked over a tree in front of his drive-way and he was clearing it, we told him of the tree that nearly fell on Jim's car and we stood chatting for a bit before heading out on the hike.
The snow was fairly deep in places on the way up the hill-side, the snow gave the woods a totally different look and feel. The valley's and mountains in the distance were clearly visible as well. Up on the hill-side the wind was biting, and in places the incline slippery, generally though the snow made for an easier climb than before, allowing some traction. Tania's asthma started bothering her, and once on the top Jim got the inhaler to work to help her out. We ate a quick lunch of sausage and bars before heading out to Monkey's Head overlook and then back down the mountain. Much of it we slide on our butts, Nyla pulling Tania down the hill. We cut off some of the lower switch backs, since we were very used to going down the steep portions of the hill at that point.
Back at the cars we changed shoes and headed out, locking the gate behind us. Tania said Nyla passed out as soon as the car started moving, but she never tired while we were hiking. The three of us caravanned to an Outback steak house in Warrenton before we headed our separate ways.
It was a very good weekend, I liked the mix of a large group, relaxation, and a small group - also the rain, fog, snow, and sun all added different aspects to the same stay.
*Thanks Erick, Jim L, Gary for the pictures