Preparing for the Trip
Choosing a Time & Hike
Pat and I wanted to go on a backpacking trip, so I told him to take a day off of work for a long weekend, tell me when it would be, and I would make it work. He decided to take off May 3rd, so I tried to plan a hike we could do for May 3rd-5th. I decided that we would hike out of Rockfish Gap due to its ease of access, and I wrote up a couple different hike options in which the 2nd car would be parked in different places:
- Rockfish Gap north on the Appalachian Trail (hereafter ‘AT’) until we turn off west onto Riprap Trail going counter-clockwise and then head back south once it meets back up with the AT until we reach car 2 at Jarman Gap
- Rockfish Gap north on the AT until we turn off east onto North Fork Moorman’s River Trail and follow it down to car 2 at the Charlottesville Reservoir
We decided on option #1! This hike came out to an estimated total of 31.2 miles with a gross elevation gain of 7035′ and 6666′ of downhill. It includes a conservative 7 summits, 2 of which we climb back over.
Getting Food Ready
The normal estimate for hiking food is ~2lbs per person per day. I decided we would be doing a hot dinner and all other food would be eaten on the move. I did some googling and some shopping and here’s what I came up with:
Breakfast: Cereal! I made a breakdown of some of the nutrition information, recipe, and price. The calories, nutrients, price, taste, convenience, and portability of this meal made it a home run. We packed two apiece for this adventure.
Snacks: The preassembled snacks I decided on were coconut clusters & Kirkland turkey jerky, both of which I got from Costco, and both of which I split evenly two ways. The snack that I made was trail-friendly peanut butter, honey, banana sandwiches! Check out that link for price and calorie breakdown as well as the recipe. I used Mission brand, burrito size tortillas, store brand peanut butter, local honey, and dried banana chips from the bulk foods aisle. Coming in at just over a dollar, this snack/meal takes up very little space, keeps well on the trail, tastes good, and has some texture to it! I ended up making four total so we got two each.
Dinner: I love having something hot to end the day when I’m out on the trail. I decided on some fancy ramen for that purpose. Tasty, easy, and a good way to get calories and electrolytes back in the system after a long day of working hard and sweating. A staggering four packs of ramen each was how I rounded out our needs!
This food came in at exactly 4lbs each, providing 7200 calories. It ended up being the perfect amount of food for me, but Pat had a little left at the end of the hike.
Day 1 – Friday, May 3rd – 15.5 miles
We dropped off one car at the top of Jarman Gap Road, which it turned out was directly on an AT detour due to power line repairs. Then we got drove the other car out to park at Rockfish Gap and finally got on the trail just after 9am, heading north. The hike started and I could hardly keep up with Pat, who was very excited and wasn’t quite pacing himself (I hoped) for the hike we had planned. If he was able to sustain that, I would’ve been toast. We quickly and uneventfully bagged the first couple summits, Scott Mountain and Bears Den Mountain, before taking our first break at the tractor seats by the radio towers at the top of Bears Den. It was a quick one to catch my breath and cool down a bit before we were back on the move. Just past Bears Den Mountain are the beautiful fields at Beagles Gap, which were very cool to hike through. Next we got up Little Calf Mountain which has wonderful meadows and views at the top, quickly followed by its big brother, Calf Mountain, where we added our rocks to the cairn that has accumulated at its peak. On our way down the backside of Calf Mountain we met a trail worker right outside the shelter who had a couple recommendations when we told him our plans and mileage weren’t set in stone. He suggested we do a quick out-and-back detour when we reached the turn for the South Fork Moorman’s River Trail to go for a swim at a swimming hole known locally as Blue Hole. Just past him there was a brief detour due to power line repairs in the area that took us right past the car parked on Jarman Gap Road! It made me wish we had left our overnight gear there and daypacked to that point. Now I know for next time! Shortly beyond this was our first water refill stop and more sincere break from hiking at a spring. Pat fell asleep almost instantly while I filtered water, drank a lot of it, and ate the entirety of my jerky.
This great recharge and refresh left us knowing we could get a lot more miles in before we had to call it a day. And right around the next corner, we saw the trail split that we had heard about from the trail worker and we decided to do some exploration for Blue Hole! We added on an extra 4.3mi and 800′ of elevation gain and loss after getting back to our starting point without a single regret nor a single glimpse of Blue Hole. After having just done some retroactive research while writing this up and looking at the gpx file of our trip, we got to within about 500′ horizontally of the swimming hole. Oops! So after this detour we continued north on the Appalachian Trail and the sun started to get low in the sky. The forecast had called for clear skies at night, so we were looking for a campsite that was near a break in the trees to do some stargazing later. The stars have an entirely different look to them when you’re in the mountains. After being unable to find a campsite that met that criteria, and getting near dark, we camped at the very next campsite we found. We got the tents and sleeping gear set up and, within 10 minutes, it started to rain! That kind of luck stayed with us for the rest of the trip. We got our ramen cooked and eaten, keeping the stove dry and passing the single pot back and forth under my umbrella (one of my new favorite pieces of camping equipment). We ate up, settled down to sleep, and sometime in the night the rain let up.
Day 2 – Star Wars Day – 15.6 miles
We broke camp and got on the trail just after 7 am, using the last of our water for breakfast and drinking. This was right in the middle of the 12 mile stretch of the AT without water that we’d heard about people running dry on, and it looked like we were going to get thirsty before we got any water. But not dangerously so! Our first adventure for the day was a packless jaunt out to get the peak of Turk Mountain under our belts, which was a one mile hike each way. Near the peak there are great places to get incredible views back south where we could see each of the mountains we’d climbed the day before, and that’s something I’ve always loved. There are also north facing views where we were able to try to work out where we had left to go. I think if I were to make a recommendation to somebody trying to do this hike, I’d say you should do this out and back after hiking the sections both north and south of Turk Mountain so that you can see where you’ve been and know what you’ve conquered. It always looks like so much more to me after I’ve done it.
After getting back to our backpacks and the AT, we got a lucky break! Right where the AT crosses Skyline Drive near the Crimora Lake Overlook, we encountered some trail magic! Mechanicsville Scout Troop 555 had run out of water on this stretch previously, so they were set up for the weekend helping improve the experience for other hikers. Shortly after this, we passed the southern turnoff down to Riprap Hollow, where we would later be getting back to the AT. We then passed a few hikers who had seen a rattlesnake right on the trail, and although we were very cautious and attentive after the warning, we didn’t see or hear a trace.
The hike was uneventful through the rest of the northbound AT, which came to an end when we turned off west toward Riprap trail. This trail takes you past two very picturesque landmarks with great north- and west-facing views: Chimney Rocks and Calvary Rocks. The trail also goes just north of the summit of Rocks Mountain, which is distinctive and clearly visible to your left as you hike past. I wish I had dropped my pack and darted offtrail to get to the top of that one! As the trail continues, it drops down gradually to the valley floor and meets up with a stream which you see sporadically in the areas where it runs above ground. At this point, we had hiked about 10mi straight and I was ready to shrug off my pack and break out the snacks. I saw a nice little side trail to the stream and we went down it and our luck struck again! We were right at Riprap’s biggest hit: its swimming hole. I saw a snake swimming around, but he looked friendly enough so I wasn’t worried about it. First thing I wanted to do before cooling down was to jump in that refreshing water! Afterwards I filled my water back up, waited to dry off, and made some quick ramen. We had the place to ourselves when we showed up, which I think is pretty unusual. It was nice to get to rinse off a couple days of dirt and smell, and I got to meet some very cute dogs!
We weren’t sure how much more distance we were going to be able to put behind us for the day, seeing as the climb out of the hollow along Wildcat Ridge is pretty serious and we aren’t used to getting that kind of mileage in a day. We ended up doing another 3 miles after the swimming hole and gaining 1300′ in elevation before setting up camp for the night! It was a hell of a climb and we absolutely blitzed it. We found a nice spot to camp for the night just after getting going southbound again on the AT. I spotted a gap in the trees off to our left and it turned out to be an old, overgrown road. Just like the first night, within 10 minutes of getting camp set up, the rain began. We cooked, ate and fell asleep with the sounds of rain and thunder up on the ridge.
Day 3 – Cinco de Mayo – 4.4 miles
We got started at a similar time the following morning, hitting the trail around 730am. We passed back by sights from the last couple days without anything of particular interest happening. We didn’t have as much to do this day as I expected! I underestimated our ability on the trail, and as always, when we got back to the car I wasn’t ready to leave!
We could have gotten more and better pics, but I get so caught up just enjoying the hiking!
Many of the markers I placed on the embedded caltopo map above are self-explanatory. The marker for a detour is where there’s an official detour due to infrastructure repairs. The blue line is where we went exploring looking for Blue Hole that we’d heard about from locals. I made a label call ‘add Riprap’ at the northernmost point of the pink line that represents our trail because the trail isn’t on caltopo’s platform. I was able to find it on Hiking Project and embedded it below, where you can see routing and terrain information.
In the image above, you can see where some of the markers are placed. The one labeled ‘No-Pack Peak’ begins at that point and ends two miles later when we got back to our packs. The high point we hiked to packless was Turk Mountain. The label ‘Night 1 Campsite’ is unfortunately place at the second time we pass that location. It should be located at the 10.3 mile mark.
If you’d like to see the elevation profile, click on the embedded map above. Keep in mind we hiked in the direction opposite to that listed!
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