Leaf Peeping at Shenandoah: A Pictorial (Part 2 of 2) 1
Author thumbnail By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor

By now, it was getting quite cold, and my fingers became numb as I fiddled with the camera. It was time for the return hike to the trailhead. I realized that I had dropped a remote adapter for my camera (while taking a picture of the “Trail Closed” sign early in the hike), and made the hike back quickly, hoping to see the adapter lying on the ground. No luck. However, when I returned to my car (now the only car in the parking lot), the adapter was sitting on my hood - special thanks to the other hikers who found it and returned it. Losing the adapter wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but I was relieved to see it.

By now, the sun had dipped below the horizon, and I drove to the Big Meadows Campground. The campground was perhaps 1/3 full, mostly by campers with motor homes. A friendly ranger checked me in, and chided me for not having gloves on - the temperature now was in the low 30’s with a gusty wind.

The gusty wind made it very difficult to start a fire, but as a former Boy Scout, I managed to get a roaring fire going pretty quickly. This provided heat to warm my hands, and light to pitch my tent. The tent started to fly away in the wind before I had a chance to pin it down, but after a short chase I caught it.

The sky was mostly overcast, so I was only able to see pockets of stars briefly peeping out. After enjoying the fire, reading the latest issues of Time and Newsweek, and munching on a dinner consisting of carrots and a PBJ sandwich, I doused the fire with a bottle of Sprite (having run out of water) and retired to the cold, cold tent.

Cold was the theme of the night. Both my tent and sleeping bag are rated as “three season,”, and I was venturing into the uncharted territory of that “fourth season.” Temperatures dipped into the 20’s, and sleet occasionally pelted the top of the tent. I wrapped myself with coats, emergency blankets from my car, and put on a hat, and managed to get comfortable. Then, just as I warmed up, all of the Sprite I had drunk earlier began to call (why does that always happen on the coldest nights?). Thus, a frigid venture to the bathroom ensued after much procrastination. I found that the hand dryer worked great at warming up frigid hands.

Throughout the night, I was awakened by the cold and the sound of my tent flapping wildly as wind brushed against it. (Not, as I momentarily assumed in my just-awakened state, by a mischievous bear drawn by the sweet smell of burning Sprite.) A few deer mulled about my tent, too. (How do they stay so warm?) Not the most restful night of sleeping, but it’s always nice to commune with Mother Nature, and throughout the night I reminded myself that I love the cold - I’m a skier, after all.

A lot of deer grazed along Skyline Drive at dawn, oblivious or indifferent to me as I carefully drove by. I decided I was too tired and cold for a morning hike, and so settled on taking photographs from along Skyline Drive. (I also decided that the heated leather seat option in my car was definitely a win.) In the shot below, you can see the sleet/snow combination that covered much of the higher elevations of the park.

Now is a great time of the year to visit Shenandoah National Park. By all means, try to go midweek, when there will be far fewer people. Campgrounds remain open but be prepared for chilly temperatures. The lodges, such as Big Meadow Lodge and Skyland Lodge, are completely booked on both weekends and weekdays.

Did you miss Part 1? Click here to read Part 1.
Photos by M. Scott Smith.
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About M. Scott Smith

M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.

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Reader Comments

October 24, 2003

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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