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Trip Report: 2020-10 Meneka Peak, VA

Meneka Peak is one of the peaks on Green Mountain, a synclinal ridge that separates Fort Valley and Little Fort Valley, frequently called a “valley within a valley” as the entire area lies within the region between the two arms of the Blue Ridge mountains in this part of the Shenandoah Valley. The peak itself is actually higher than the ridges on either side, offering complicated views depending on the time of year and your willingness to carefully step off the trail. While not even a two hour drive from Washington D.C., walk-in only access on difficult terrain offers a lot for those looking for a little seclusion.

Date(s)2020-10-24 to 25
TypeOvernight Trip
ActivitiesBackpacking, Hiking
Transport1.5 hours by Car (from DC Chinatown)
ConditionsCool and Cloudy, Wind, Rain
DoggoOff-Leash
GearCore Survival, Base Camp (oops)
Repeatability8/10
Overall7/10

I wasn’t going to go at all. I made myself get up and get going late Saturday morning, throwing everything in the back of the mud wagon and started driving. The George Washington National Forest is little more than an hour’s driving time from my home and provides an opportunity to let the mud doggo off her leash. It’s been a treasured secret of mine that I’ve shared with few and I may yet restrict this trip report from my blog – but we’ll see how this goes. The weather forecast for this trip showed a small chance of inclement weather, so I decided to use this as an opportunity to validate my lightweight backpacking loadout.

By the way, she almost never follows me like that, she just knew we were filming.

Unfortunately, due to rubbernecking drivers, my outbound trip significantly delayed my arrival. I ended up eating a fairly heavy meal and arriving at one of the many parking lots at the national forest well after 4 in the afternoon. I’ve been personally distracted lately and in my haste to make something of what little remained of the weekend, I committed a series of errors that makes this trip report a good place to introduce the concept of adventure resource management. What happened was that I did not assemble my pack at home – I did it in the trunk after I parked the mud wagon. Normally, I maintain two sets of gear – my ‘carry’ set on my person, and my ‘base camp’ set to be left behind. I put the base camp set in my pack and left the carry set in the trunk and immediately started off. In my carry set, I left behind the following:

  • headlamp
  • gloves
  • backup power
  • 1l water
  • trail maps
  • multi-tool
  • dog leash
  • most of my trail food

In exchange, I took on the following items:

  • a heavy, leather-bound journal
  • a pair of socks for the drive home
  • a long sleeve cotton t-shirt for the drive home
  • my llamas boxer briefs
  • an unusually large number of quart sized freezer ziploc bags
  • a heavy ceramic mug for a proper cup of tea
  • a towel
  • a pack of bug repellent wipes

I discovered this swap an hour into my hike, causing me to have to make a decision – turn around and go back for my intended equipment or proceed with my original overnight plan. It was already after sundown in the early twilight, but I still had my core set of equipment on me – the minimum resources I need to take care of myself. I reasoned that my smartphone served as a backup light source to my small flashlight and that I was planning on passing both another stream and a spring on my route to the summit. I concluded that although my ability to assist others in need had been significantly degraded, I could still take care of myself and render lifesaving assistance to others if needed.

This decision ended up being mistaken in a way – I based it on information that I both did not know to be true and ended up not being true. Both the spring and the stream I had passed several times in the last year were completely dry that night. Additionally, I had made the mistake of downloading detailed digital maps to my other smartphone and not the one I was carrying. Without any detailed maps on me, I couldn’t look up another source of water. To make matters worse, I was in a very strange mood. Like I said when I began this post – I’ve been distracted lately. Instead of being normal and making camp when it got dark, I got it in me that I wanted to keep hiking around.

I wanted to see the peak in the night and look down at the lights in the valleys below. The mud doggo was having absolutely no trouble with the rough terrain in the darkness so I didn’t see a good reason to stop. I clipped my mini flashlight to my poles and kept going. Even though I didn’t have maps on me, my trip planning included escape routes to vehicle accessible locations – one such escape route was a 1 mile, 500+ foot vertical detour off the Meneka Peak trail down toward the Strasburg Reservoir. It would add a full hour to my trip in the dark, but I could haul another two liters of water from the quarter liter I had left into camp. Feeling confident, we tackled the challenging detour down a boulder strewn trail that ended up being quite strenuous.

Arriving at the bottom, the trail crossed a shallow stream that was barely flowing. I wanted to proceed to the reservoir for water but a number of signs warned that the reservoir was technically private property – a detail that was not mentioned on the maps. Fortunately, that heavy ceramic mug I was carrying would be perfect to dip into the rotting leaf clogged stream to feed my water filter. The tannin content alone discouraged the thirsty mud doggo from drinking, but after running the water through my filter twice she drank. I packed up and hiked back up from Little Fort Valley onto Green Mountain and we made for Meneka Peak.

Not wanting to thrash about in the dark in search of unmarked overlooks, I took a few photos from the trail. You can see the greater Shenandoah valley through the trees. High on Green Mountain I got 4G service and found myself chatting with an old friend. I told her that from the peak I could hear the spirit of the valley as it came through the trees, and that it whispered to the brokenhearted: “aren’t you glad you climbed the mountain?” Another mile or so down the trail we were able to find a clearing in which to make camp. With the hammock and tarp set, I decided that we would set out in the dead of night to try to hit one more point of interest to get some unobstructed pictures of the valley at night.

Although we added another 1.6 miles of hiking, there was no overlook and we disturbed some hikers that were camped out directly on the trail. As it turned out, one of my detailed USDA maps that showed the overlook and trail was last updated in 1993 – something else I couldn’t confirm without the map in hand. It appeared that in the last 30 years a decision was made to not have a trail or an overlook. We returned to camp without any pretty pictures for you guys and settled in for the night. As I slept, the forecast changed quite dramatically – temperatures dropped an additional 10 degrees and a 30% chance of rain rose to 90%. The wind had picked up significantly as well. The site I picked was reasonable and we were able to stay dry under our tarp. I stayed in my sleeping bag for an additional two hours until the forecast had changed again to show no let-up in the rain or cold in a reasonable time frame. The mud doggo slept well but wasn’t going to be able to sleep for much longer and remain warm, so I packed up camp.

I sorely missed the gloves I had left in my carry set back at the car as I untied knots and folded my gear up. Fortunately, the wool blend socks from my base camp set served as a perfectly usable trail alternative on my hands – you just put your fingers where your toes would go and your thumb where your heel would be and have no need to untie paracord knots. The continual rain prevented much of the feelings of thirst and paused here and there to let us take a few more photos.

Also, the mud doggo is alarmingly fast on rocky trails – they don’t even slow her down.

Not even fair.

At the end of the day, we had a pretty good trip. The trails are incredibly rocky and tough, if you’d like to attempt a similar trip, sturdy hiking boots are an absolute must. I’d also like to share a few things I’ll be taking away from my trip:

  • swap the mud doggo’s bed for closed cell foam so it won’t take on so much water
  • don’t get weird and go for the summit in the middle of the night with half a liter of water and your carry gear in the trunk of your car
  • not leather bound journals ever
  • I should probably color code my carry and base camp gear bags

David

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