Twice I have tried to climb Signal Knob in the Massanutten Mountains which are in Virginia. Twice I failed, mainly due to the people with whom I hiked. The first was a friend who was too fat to make it to the top; the second was with a boyfriend who was never able to get out of bed before noon so we didn’t have enough time. This time I set out by myself to increase the odds of getting to the top.
Signal Knob is a peak that is written up in every single hiking book in the Mid-Atlantic region because of its proximity to Baltimore and DC, a 2 hour drive. It rises about 1600 feet, with easy switchbacks and gentle elevation. It also boasts a large, easy to get to, parking lot. For this reason, expect a crowd.
I wanted to explore Strasburg, VA which seems to be a small town which still has some industry but also has a downtown area. The town seems lost between being a forlorn place that used to cater to the industry and farmers, and a new booming bedroom community. I slept peacefully Friday night in the vacant lot behind the Valley Milk Products Dairy, which claims to be the only butter manufacturer in VA. I think I have seen their products in the stores, I’d like to taste that butter, it sounds delicious. I woke early and cooked my breakfast in the Strasburg Town Park which is located directly beneath Signal Knob.
I arrived at the trailhead and noticed the air was hot and miserable. I was sure it was going to be in the 90s, so I took along 3 liters of water. I immediately started to sweat profusely and since I didn’t have far to go I took more than a few breaks. I leaned up against a rock after about a mile and took off my pack. A group of 4 young 20-somethings came barreling past me giving me the what-the-heck-is-this-dowdy-middleaged-woman-doing-alone-with-a-pack look and whizzed by me wearing cotton tank tops and cotton shorts. The one carrying the purse mentioned she had already drunk most of her water. They probably couldn’t figure out my choice of long pants on this sweltering day. They were about to find out.
After they moved 20 feet up the trail I heard a huge commotion from them, the ladies were sending out little yelps. I moved ahead to see what the problem was and they pointed out this rattle snake sunning himself on the trail. I thought he was very cute and took out my camera to snap a pic. I’m not a snake expert so I took their word it was a rattler. If anyone of my fine readers chooses to tell me otherwise I would be most appreciative. I mentioned to the group that I had a snake-bite kit with me so if they got bit I was prepared.
Then I figured that the snake was 4 ft. long so I walked a six foot semicircle around the snake. I had my poles with me so if he lunged I could deflect him. The snake gave me a bored look and I went on my way, leaving the 4 screaming like little piglets behind me on the trail.
The Massanutten Trail in this area is covered with scree which is another word for loose stone, although the scree seemed much looser in previous years. This trail has seen a lot of use and much of the loose stone is now embedded in the mountain by trail shoes. Here is a pic of the trail, don’t expect to move fast on this stuff.
I decided to set camp up at Meneka Peak, the highest point in the area and then continue on to see Signal Knob. The Signal Knob tower was some very grand radio device which came with a large station house that had big noisy fans. The fans were the only thing that provided a breeze on this weekend. The city of Strasburg, its warehouses, rail line, housing developments and Interstate 81 proved to be not so picturesque from the overlook. I returned to my campsite covered with a gooey sweat, took off all my clothes and retreated to my tent to read magazines.
A few months ago someone sent me an email about the bear that covers the Signal Knob territory. The bear attacked a dog, the dog’s owner had to extricate his dog from the bear and then the bear had the nerve to chase both of them down the trail. The local bear has no fear of people. This made me more than a little nervous because there weren’t any other backpackers; I was going to be the only camper on the mountain. I put every single food item and my toothpaste in my bear-bag, and then spent 20 minutes choosing a very high branch and getting the bear-line set as far as it could go.
I didn’t put the cover on my tent and went to sleep praying for a breeze. There was no breeze forthcoming. I fell asleep and was awoken in the night by a noise. I managed to get back to sleep and in the morning retrieved my bag. My bag was still there but underneath the bag was a pile of fresh bear turds. Mr. Fuzzy left his calling card.
After waking, I dismantled the tent and descended on the Tuscarora Trail which had less scree than the Massanutten. I was going to go tubing but it was just too darned hot.