Monday, June 25, 2012

Shenandoah National Park: Thornton River Loop

I took a drive down to the closest National Park in our area, Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I randomly picked this loop and will break it down as best as possible in case anyone else wants to venture down that way.

Day #1: Mindy and I entered the park at the Thornton Gap Entrance and headed right on Skyline Drive. We parked at mile marker 25.4. We headed down the Thornton River Trail to the junction of Hull School Trail. We continued on Thornton River Trail where we found a nice camping spot by the North Fork Of The Thornton River. The first leg of the hike lasted 3.7 miles. Most of the trail was downhill until we got to the bottom where the stream was, from there it was easy level hiking. The stream itself was a puddle, I guess there are native brook trout but I looked around and didn't see any in a few juicy looking spots.

Day #2 The bulk of our hiking fell on this day. The weather was about 83 degrees and sunny, not the most comfortable conditions to be lugging 30 and 45 pound packs around. We retraced our steps to the junction of Hull School Trail. We hung a right and started climbing. The climbing never stopped. This part of the trail has a very generous uphill grade to it, a total of 3 miles. There was not much scenery in this stretch, just a bunch of hardwood forest and dense cover. We took Hull School to the junction of Keyser Run Fire Road. At the fork we went left and the climbing continued. This was a dirt road for the entire length. We hiked it 2.5 miles up and up until the "fourway junction." At this junction we took the Piney Branch Trail to the left and were planning on staying put for the night. After I crossed paths with a copperhead and we ate lunch, leaving 6.2 miles of hiking for the last day it didn't seem like a good plan. We were both spent from hiking uphill 6 miles but wanted the 3rd day to go a bit easier. So we looked at the map and decided to shoot for a campsite along Jeremey's Run 3.5 miles away. We threw the packs back on and headed 1.3 miles to the junction of the famous Appalachian Trail. From here we hiked south on it for 2.5 miles until we hit the junction of Jeremey's Run Trail. The map made it seem like the stream was close by........well it was 1 mile down a very steep hill. We jumped a bear on the way down and we both were ready to call it quits after a grueling 9 mile journey. We finally settled on a spot after crossing Jeremy Run. I fished the stream for 30 minutes to see what kind of trout it had. I caught a few VERY SMALL native brook trout, it was kind of disappointing to be honest. I would cross this loop hike off any angler's list looking for a good trout fishing/back-packing experience. While we were cooking dinner an adult black bear made their way close to camp. We shouting and banged on pots and pans but the bear didn't seem to care. The population of these creatures seems extremely high in the park so proper food storage is a must if you plan to camp in the back country.

Day #3 Aches and pains were numerous when we woke up for the final leg of our journey. We cooked some oatmeal for breakfast, fastened up the hiking boots and started the 1 mile hike uphill to the junction of the AT again. We continued south on the AT for 2.5 miles. The first 1.5 miles were uphill again, then the final stretch was relatively flat back to the truck. Overall the loop was 16.5 miles long. It was one of the hardest backpacking trips I have planned. The scenery was kind of disappointing, you get better views of the Shenandoah Valley from the road. The park itself is impressive, I just would consider doing a different hike that offered less climbing and more views next time, Skyline Drive itself goes on for 100 miles so I am sure there are plenty of other options out there. The opportunity to see wildlife was better then I expected, I can almost guarantee if you spend a few days in these woods you will encounter a black bear at some point.

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