K9 Trailblazers Dog Hiking Club
What fun we had on our first official K9Trailblazers backpacking trip! Joanna and Jeff with April, Ken with Casper, Jennifer with Angel, and Pat with Mickey met at Front Royal, VA, at exactly 9 AM Saturday. Joanna was right on time even though she had arrived home from Europe at 3 PM the preceding day. No jet lag for this backpacking pro!
After collecting back-country camping permits, Tootsie rolls and Blue Dog biscuits, we formed a caravan and drove to our trailhead at Jenkins Gap. Although rain was predicted, we enjoyed partly cloudy skies during the day, moon and stars at night and just an occasional sprinkle that didn’t even necessitate rain gear. The dogs and people spent the first day hiking leisurely down the Appalachian Trail to Gravel Springs. Since it was hot and humid, we took frequent breaks. Jennifer served as trip photographer-- thanks, Jen! Everyone watered their dogs, Pat misted Mickey with a spray bottle and we all urged each other and our dogs to rest. After a few minutes the oldest dog, 10 year old Casper, and the youngest dog, 1 year old April, would look disdainfully at the rest of us sprawled in the shade, nod to each other and lunge to the end of their leashes to wrestle. Ken and Jeff would haul themselves to their feet and take the pair a ways own the trail until they (temporarily) tired of the game. Several hikers who had left their own dogs at home were cheered by ours. Most folks stopped to inquire about our group and pet our dogs, and several expressed disappointment that they lived too far away to hike with K9Trailblazers. A pair of A.T. through-hikers, accompanied by a dog they had found on the trail, and other dogs of all shapes and sizes did meet’n’greet with ours.
We stopped to admire macro-views across the Shenandoah Valley, and micro-views in streams. Joanna showed us Mayflies hatching underneath stream rocks, and explained how environmentalists gauge the water quality of mountain streams by looking at the number and variety of plants and insects living in and around them. We found galls on tree trunks and leaves, and cut one open to find out what kind of insect was in it. The galls do not permanently damage the tree, but they do come in an amazing variety of shapes, colors and sizes.
After a lengthy search, we set up camp in a "relatively flat place" where there was "less poison ivy and stinging nettles." Everyone in this group had something to contribute, and all turned out to be good sports. Ken hung bear ropes for everyone well away from our tents, and we nicknamed him "our Border collie" because he was always first to offer to do whatever task was at hand. We crouched in spaces between the knee-high nettles to eat dinner together. Hey, it was an improvement over some places where nettles were shoulder high! Pat shared a bar of "Swiss Army Survival Chocolate" which we agreed tasted a lot like Hershey’s Krackle bars but we did all survive…. April and Casper entertained the assembled dinner guests, Jennifer shared special Lindt chocolates, and Joanna remained perky! The dogs still had energy to spare so a group of us took a short hike in the evening looking for natural wonders (and being secretly glad we didn’t stumble across a better campsite.)
The following morning to the surprise of all Joanna awoke with the sun showing absolutely no signs of jet-lag. To nobody’s surprise Casper and April awoke ready to wrestle. We broke camp after breakfast and did our best to remove traces of our stealth campsite as well as the path into it. Then we set out on Bluff Trail. As we hiked, we saw deer, standing majestically in their natural surroundings unperturbed by a group of quiet hikers. Mountain laurel, both pink and white, as well as columbine and other flowers brightened our path. When we took a side trip to Big Devil Stairs we saw many varieties of butterflies but none of the hawks or buzzards were flying that morning. We did watch a man set up climbing ropes but didn’t have time to wait to see him go over the edge. Jennifer rewarded us with more Lindt chocolates, and we resumed hiking to the Mt. Marshall trail and back to our cars.
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