Stats: 10 miles, southbound along the Roller Coaster section of the AT in Northern Virginia. That's it for my stats.... I don't have elevation changes in numbers, but this hiker reports over 5,000 feet of climbing, one way. My subjective take is an effort of 8 out of 10.
In case you're wondering how far to wherever..... here are signs at the Bear's Den Hostel, which, by the way, offers thru-hikers a very sweet deal of bunk, shower, pizza, ice cream (B&J), and other perks (laundry, internet) for $25. You can also buy a few short-term supplies there, as well as AT souvenirs (patches etc.) You can get water you don't have to disinfect or filter, and you can just rest and hang out until you're ready to move on.
A kind day-hiker offered to take my picture before I started out from Bear's Den Rocks.
I set out on this 20-mile round-trip to test out my backpack after its surgery, which reduced it from its original 6# (which I'd modified down to 4.5) finally to 3.2 pounds. It worked for me!
The footing on this stretch is a combination of easy, smooth path and rocky, treacherous, White-Mountainesque boulder fields:
Many creek-crossings, all of them fairly easy with rock walk/hops across. Be a little careful though.... some of the rocks "rockle."
Long green tunnel.... is it any wonder I love this Trail???
This is the way: walk ye therein.
In general the AT is well-marked with those familiar white blazes. If you can't see the next one from where you are, look behind you to see if you see any going the other direction, and if not, go another couple minutes or so, and if you still don't see any, go back to the last one you saw and re-navigate.
I offer this because there is a spot on this Bear's Den to Rod Hollow hike where I lost the trail, and you could, too, if you are southbound, if you aren't paying attention. Me, I can get lost rolling over in bed, and it was a pretty easy feat for me to lose the trail here.
Maybe 7 miles south from Bear's Den towards Rod Hollow Shelter (sorry I can't be more specific) you come to this beautiful bridge:
After two more looong uphills and downhills, be on the lookout for these two closely-spaced creek-crossings:
Followed immediately by a blazed left turn. After this, the blazes.... well, they need to be more frequent. I followed what seemed to be an old logging road or something, thinking this wasn't typical AT trail, and where were the white blazes, but there seemed nowhere else the trail could have gone. I backtracked and soon saw a northbound blaze and thought, I was right after all, and turned around again on the logging road. No blazes. I followed it till I came to a "Private Property No Trespassing" sign. Hmmm... Back down the hill. Look carefully. AHAAAAA! Here's a sign (backwards to me. I missed it going out b/c it's NOT white-blazed, it wasn't what I was looking for):
Seems so obvious, but it wasn't what I was looking for, and it was way above my head, and I just plain missed it. Just so you know, on my return trip I counted strides and it's 160 of "my" strides past the blazed left turn after the two creek crossings. I'm small, so it may be fewer than 160 of yours. Be on the lookout. You will turn right off of what seems to be that logging road.
A few more loooong ascents and descents, and you realize you've lost track of how many (there are 10 in 13.5 miles) and finally you come to a sign warning northbounders what they're getting into, followed a half-mile or so later by this sign, finally!!!
The AT Thru-Hiker's Companion detailed the capacity of the Rod Hollow Shelter, but not whether there were tentsites. I asked a few people along the way, and they said they'd stayed there and there were. I prefer to tent rather than sleep in shelters.... I don't like fellow sleepers snoring, and then there are the mice, and the hardness of wood flooring compared to ground.
Ahhh! There ARE tentsites!! Four of them. My 3 X 8 foot tent was too long, so I pitched it diagonally, staking it just outside the platform. Sorry, no picture :-(
Critter-baffle in the shelter. Although bears don't do big-time business in this area, there are still mice in the shelter and 'coons, skunks, and 'possums in the woods. Best to hang your food bag and defy any mouse to scamper from the roof past the little can down the cord to your food.
The water source at Rod Hollow. Turns out there's another one, a couple hundred feet to the left, labeled "Trail Shower" -- it looks cleaner, plus it's higher above the spring, better for filling a Platypus or Camelbak bladder (which I use for an in-camp waterbag/dispenser.)
There were half a dozen hikers in various stages of thru- and section-hiking, including another woman solo-hiker, rather unusual. Most of the women you see are with at least one man.
Let's see, who was there? Old Buzzard; Long Portage; Shamrock; Strange Habit (the girl, who, if she stays inside the shelter, pitches her tent in there for critter protection and privacy;) Sam (no trail name); Tim (had a trail name but I didn't catch it.)
Strange Habit and the young guys Sam and Long Portage stayed up late, 9 p.m.; Trail hikers are early to bed and early to rise.
A few more trail impressions:Some kind of fungus/lichen/? I've never seen before.
Another one. I found both of these on stops I thought were ill-fated (one while I was trying to re-find the trail, another one for hot-spots/blisters.) No cloud without a silver lining.
Saving the best for last:
Is it any wonder I love this trail?