Leading Ridge Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Virginia

They see me rollin
They hatin
they tryin to catch me ridin dirty
Tryin to catch me ridin dirty

The Shenandoah’s have never been my favorite mountain range.  Mind you, they are a perfectly good set of mountains, but I have real issues with that Skyline Drive at the top so I tend to bypass them and head towards the more secluded and laid-back West Virginia.  But rumors were spreading among my hiker friends about a trail that had 2000 feet of elevation change in 1.2 miles.  This had to be experienced.

I headed out toward Luray, VA on Friday, I had visited Luray back in November and was charmed so I decided to return to this little mountain town.  The economy has been kind to Luray and the place seems flush, they have built 2 massive parks for it residents, Lake Arrowhead Park and the Luray Recreational Area.  Luray touts itself as a town of family values.  You see signs proclaiming stores and businesses are for “families”, as in “Family Convenience Store”.  The Luray Wal-Mart Super center teaches children “family values", the public park is "family-friendly".   Needless to say, as a woman with no family and no values, Luray did me just fine.

I made copious use of all of Luray’s family resources.  I cooked all my meals at the 2 family parks, I used the family trash cans, I washed my dishes in the family lake,  I jumped on a local family’s internet connection to check my email and I slept in the parking lot of the family-oriented businesses.   Unfortunately for Luray, I put no money into the local economy, perhaps if the made this single woman feel more welcome I would have spread my money around a bit more.

Saturday morning I rose early and found the trail (more on that later).  I was able to complete the 2000 foot rise in an hour.  The Leading Ridge Trail starts at the base of Mary’s Rock near Thornton Gap in the mid Shenandoah’s; it is a wonderful unmaintained trail with few rocks.  I recommend it for hikers that like fast rises and are in good shape.  Once I got to the intersection of the AT I met a NoBo thruhiker from Dallas.  I mentioned that I thought he was passing through a bit late, he said he didn’t want to hike in the snow so he left in early April.  I hope he realizes that he is going to head straight into the black flies in Maine in September.  Snow is nothing compared to those vicious man-eating flies.  

Then I met some PATC trail manicurers.  I made the mistake of mentioning that I had hiked up the Leading Ridge Trail.  One of them demanded to know where I started on that trail.  You see, there is no public access at the base of the mountain for the Leading Ridge Trail, but that wasn’t going to stop me.  My guess is that years ago at the trails inception a land-owner didn’t mind hikers walking on his property to get into the park.  However, as property values have skyrocketed and land has changed hands, the most recent land-owners are adamant that no wayward hiker step his little toe on their precious property.  

But “No Trespassing” signs have never stopped Cham ever.  I explained to the PATC guy that I merely studied my PATC topo map, compared it to the topography of the area, made a guestimate of where the trail might be and bushwhacked my way in to the park on private property.   Mr. Trail overseer didn’t seem happy.   I am sure he had visions of putting a big chain-link fence to keep hikers like me from breaking the PATC rules.  Don’t worry folks, I own a bolt cutter.

The Appalachian Trail at the top of the Shenandoah’s is awful.  The PATC has over-maintained it.  The trail is without impediments, has been graded, has way too many signs and, worst of all, has little rule placards about where you can camp, removing your trash, leaving no trace, and various other little tidbits that are an insult to everyone.  The might as well pave it and provide electric golf carts for the hikers.    You spend more time reading the signage than enjoying the hike.  

I appreciated the view off of Mary’s Rock but the wind had picked up and I decided to cut my hike short.  
The mountain laurel is now in full bloom and is very plentiful at around the 2500 feet elevation.

Once I got down to the bottom I noticed the property owner was busy shooting cans in his yard.  Figuring the owner could easily shoot me as I trespassed (“Officer, I thought the hiker posed a threat to the safety of my family so I had no choice but to shoot her”. Never trust those gun-lovers.) I decided to bushwhack through another’s yard.

On Sunday I had plans to tube on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River but it was a little chilly so instead I took a ride on Skyline Drive since I still had the parks pass from the Grand Canyon trip.  The drive made me dizzy.  I would much rather hike to the top of a mountain than drive it.  Never again.

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