After several weeks of preparation, we were finally on our way and at around 5:30PM (an hour-and-a-half later than anticipated) on Wednesday, September 4th, we got dropped off at Thornton Gap and got started on the first leg of our journey through the Shenandoah Mountains.
To say the 4 mile hike up was difficult would be an understatement. At 55, judging my ability to maintain a decent pace based on experience from my youth, even if I had been hiking alone, was definitely a miscalculation and by 8:00PM, still 3/4 of a mile away from our intended destination, it was clear the mountain was winning.
With nowhere to camp we had only one option: to get our flashlights before it got any darker and keep going. Amazingly, Soylamar, carrying a 30 pound backpack on a 1255 elevation climb for the first time in her life, never complained… even as she struggled in the dark to change batteries of the only lantern we could find. She simply smiled, uttered a couple of well chosen words (like “oh shit” as she looked up to the endless path of rocks) and kept going.
By the time we got to the top, exhausted and with little energy left to go on, missing the hut was my incredible hiking partner’s only concern. Luckily the hut was hard to miss and the place was completely empty. With very limited light, we leveraged the hut’s platform to setup our tent and by 10:00PM, we were ready to get some rest.
By 9:30AM, after hiking down to a spring to collect water and wash off, we were ready to tackle our next challenge: an 11 mile roller-coaster to our next site.