Let’s start with a confession.  Two confessions actually.

The first: This post is on Humpback Rocks, a popular trail in Shenandoah.  And my confession?  I hiked this in the summer.  The summer!  We’re seasons past now which is why I decided this post will be told primarily through pictures because gosh darn it, it shouldn’t have taken me months to write!

Second confession: After Humpback Rocks, Andy and I hiked Ramsey’s Draft, which we knew would be tough based on how it was described.  However, for sheer joy of re-living pain and suffering, I’ll bullet for you these details:

  • The trail has stinging nettles, which people wrote about saying, “The nettles are brutal, and have overgrown a good portion of the trail.  A machete might be a good idea if you really want to get at the thorns and overgrowth . . . . the nettle sting is irritating.”  A machete, you say?  Maybe I should have said three confessions because this bad boy has been the top of my Gift List since I started hiking.  Just ask Andrew how obsessed I am.  I’m positive he’d tell you “obsessed” doesn’t cover it.
  • Overall, the hike is “tiring” due to “a long series of ascents and descents of six knobs.”  I took this as a challenge — They‘re gonna tell me what’s tiring?  Please!
  • One man brought his young children and wife with him and seemed pissed the hike wasn’t portrayed as more dangerous.  He wrote sentences such as this beauty: “From the onset I was frustrated with the lack of information” and continued saying, “Also note that some portions of the trails are hard to spot and not well marked.”  Again, this seemed to only feel someone was daring me further.

“It’s going to be hard, L,” Andrew said to me when I broached the topic.

“Yeah, yeah,” I told him offhandedly because my mind was made up.  “I know, we know.  It will be hard.”

And it was hard, really hard.  Hard as this is an almost twenty mile circuit rated a high Level Five of Five.  Hard as in the trail is not part of a state or national park so it is not maintained, which means it is massively overgrown so we were slogging shoulders deep in stinging nettles with ankles tangled in poison ivy.  It was also hard because once we had set off and hiked two miles, Andrew realized he left his cellphone in the car (which we consider a vital emergency tool due to GPS purposes alone) so we had to turn back, retrieve it, then continue to re-hike the two most hellish miles of the whole trail.  That’s because those two miles had the steepest hill — We’re talking so steep that I debated redoing it.  And that’s just the beginning.  We continued about four-point-five miles farther only for me to realize — in the middle of wilderness — that this is not where I wanted to be and that “fun” was defined as anything other than the woods.  Here’s the thing too: When I stopped Andrew to ask him how he felt about the hike, to determine if we were on the same page, he agreed, saying — definitively and confidently, “Yea, this is shit.”  Shocking is how I would describe this as Andrew never calls an end to a trail.  So we went back.  Cancelled our overnight hike and turned around.  I was miserable, Andrew was miserable, we wanted out to say the least.

Then, a couple days later, I left my cherished toted-on-every-hike-since-the-beginning camera in Andrew’s rental car where either Avis or the private company Avis hires out to clean the car — someone stole my expensive Canon EOS Rebel XS DSLR camera with a major upgraded lens. This means they stole my pictures from our Ramsey’s Draft hard hike.  Stole.  I filed reports, people claimed to look into them, but they didn’t.  In fact, more than one Avis person smirked and chuckled when I asked if lost items were returned.  Oh, and when I went back the same fucker in the booth where you return rental car keys, he seemed very surprised to see me.
“I lost my camera and I would like to look through the car we just returned,” I told him.
“That car isn’t here anymore,” he said.
Wait, how the hell did he know which car?  I went ballistic questioning him and each time he messed up his answers further.  However, despite speaking with other employees and managers, nothing was done so that in the end, here’s what I learned:

  • Avis “sometimes doesn’t have time to check all cars dropped off before re-renting.”  Sometimes being the keyword.  This means either Avis does sweep cars before re-renting so they have an opportunity to steal belongings or Avis doesn’t sweep cars before re-renting so the new renters have an opportunity to steal belongings.  Larger image: This all means no one is held accountable.
  • If Avis does not check the cars before re-rental, there are at least two problems here: One, they are not doing their job and because of this, two, that means when you pick up rentals, you could have slew of shit in the car.  Drugs, guns, condoms, blood, who the hell knows.  It’s a surprise guessing game.  And guess what?  No one gives a fuck.

In the end, do not rent from Avis.  Imagine losing your engagement or wedding ring.  Imagine losing your phone.  Imaging losing your expensive camera.  Then imagine how hard they will really search for items such as these.  I’ll end my rant there as this was a months long fight without customer satisfaction because, plain and simpe, Avis doesn’t give a shit about their customers.  I said I’ll end rant there.  Now I’ll end rant.

Anyway . . . after this infuriating incident, newbie-just-getting-into-hiking-me put almost 200 miles on my hiking boots in a mere eight months.  Then between the stinging nettles, poison ivy,  too-hard-of-a hike, and my treasured lost camera, I needed a major hiking break.  So major that it has taken a good half a year to even consider going hiking again, to find that passion for it again.  I say all of this to explain that after this hiking post, you’ll see no more trails until I tough it out and leave again.

So let’s go before his hard stinging-nettles-poison-ivy hike and hell-storm mess I just disclosed.  Let’s go back to the beginning when the Humpback Rocks trail was appearing before me.  Back to the beginning when hiking was still fun and destinations in the wilderness were exciting and it was amazing to get away in a forest.  Enter happy music . . .

Here is your breakdown of the hike we chose, the well-traveled Humpback Rocks:

  • This is a short four-mile circuit hike
  • 1,240 foot elevation
  • Rated a Level Four of Five difficulty

I’ve blogged about this particular trail before (in Hike Four: Dobie Mountain) because the first time I took to it was when I was in college.  That’s where I remember dropping into a pool of my own tears in the middle of the trail because the hike ascended too steeply.  The good news is the second time around, this Blue Ridge Mountain did not seem nearly as vertical as before.  Plus, it was a large amount of fun because I had the added benefit of having my friends in one spot: Nikki, Usua, and Andy were trekking up with me.

I mentioned earlier that this hike is popular.  That’s because it is super close to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  In fact, the trailhead starts at the parking lot and has an immediate ascend, which translates into an 800 feet gain in elevation within the first mile.

This is only one of two trails I’ve repeated so it was interesting to view it again years later.  What I found most interesting was how “built up” it was, which would put off many hikers.  At points, the trail is so wide that groups of people can walk side-by-side.  Also, the trail is always a visible, whether due to the width and maintenance around it or due to construction such as this, wooden steps, to make the hike a bit more easy.IMG_0070.jpg
Regardless, it was a tranquil one; when we went, it was cool and light with a little May breeze.
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Another fact: Because this hike is more built up, there’s a smaller chance you’ll see any large wildlife, be it a deer to a bear.  However, there are bobcats in the area and stories of how they have attacked hikers close to this trail.  (For example, here’s one a little more than a month after we completed this hike, though I do doubt some of the information the male hiker told officials.)  Anyway, my point is if you’re a hiker that enjoys getting lost and wants to get away or not hear vehicles and motorcycles zoom by or likes the challenge in searching for blazes and a trail, this is not the hike for you.

Still, one of the exciting aspects of it is that you pass the Appalachian Trail . . . or what was once the AT, as some people have said these are old signs since before the AT had been re-routed.
IMG_0083This makes me a little sad though because I would love to have crossed this area again if Andrew and I hiked the AT.  Whenever we go, I imagine us finally approaching a trail we have walked before and feeling this overwhelming sense of comfort at remembering it.
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Walking a bit more up, you are soon at incredible views before even realizing it.
IMG_0100.jpgIMG_0118.JPGIMG_0097Looking west, you can see the Shenandoah Valley and east, the Shenandoah National Park.
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That’s Usua — Isn’t she cute?  She has such a calm, free spirit and I love this picture because it captures that.

Once we reached the top, we sat on the cliff edge to eat lunch.IMG_0107.JPGThat’s when a massive fog slid over the mountain, turning everything a shade of grey.
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We stayed on the mountain top for awhile before turning back.  Instead of going down the same way, without a doubt I would suggest turning left on the AT.
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IMG_0151Here, an additional two-point-seven miles of beauty, not seen on the way up, seems to unfold.  Mountain laurel, spiderwort, rhododendrons, and more bloom with each step.

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Overall, I spent my first hiking year taking to the mountains about three weekends of the month on extremely hard trails, ones that were unmarked and ones that weren’t visible under the vegetation.  So true, this hike was easier — It was short and well-traveled but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.  Sometimes it is nice to stroll up a mountain and know what you’ll get, and this time I was able to walk away not only having seen another picture-perfect mountain view but have some of my most true friends by my side to enjoy it.

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