Nina Baxley: AT Thru-Hiker

O Shenandoah!

October 19, 2000

The worn, rounded mountains were just as I remembered them—brooding like great shaggy beasts, motionless and hunched over with weariness and age. The setting sun cast its low rays over the ridges, giving the range a rippled look, like a warm, rumpled wool blanket. Much of that last mile of my 22-mile day was spent walking into the sunset, amazed by the effects of the setting sun on my surroundings. I was hurting and tired, but I was happier than ever, too. It was good to be back home again.

Shenandoah is not quite how I remember it. The ravages of disease, weather, and insects (particularly the gypsy moth) have taken their toll on the park in the last ten years. Many trees have fallen, and many of those still standing are already dead.

The park is still beautiful, though—it will take a lot more to destroy Shenandoah's spirit. I walked past flaming red maples; bright yellow sassafras and moose maple; and yellow, orange, and brown oaks. The trail seemed decorated with huge splashes of paint where the leaves had fallen. Underneath a bare maple tree was a huge splash of red, and underneath the tulip tree was a huge splash of yellow. Sometimes, I would focus on the ground as I hiked, waiting for the splashes to come into focus. Sometimes it was like watching a fireworks display, and I walked along, oohing and aahing at the spectacular effects of fallen leaves on the Appalachian Trail.

I really enjoyed hiking through Shenandoah National Park. The AT is impeccably maintained in the park by the Potomac AT Club (PATC). There are uphills and downhills (there are ALWAYS uphills and downhills!), but in Shenandoah, the trail is so gently graded that hiking was sheer pleasure. For the first time of my thru-hike, I was able to hike 22 miles with a full pack (even though it left me exhausted!).

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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