Shivering—But Smiling—In Shenandoah

 The house I grew up in had a wood burning furnace, something I often loathed as a kid. My friends could warm up their homes with the turn of a dial. I had to deal with a chilly house after school or first thing in the morning, when the dreaded walk from a warm bed to the basement caused me to hit the snooze button until the last. Possible. Minute. (Or, until Mom got up to make the fire). 

Today, I can look back with nostalgia and marvel at the grit it took for a house full of women to regularly haggle about the price of firewood, pack it in from outside, and work the furnace. And, it has resulted in me being pretty dang good at starting fires at the campsite. I used those skills in early November of this year at Shenandoah National Park, my 38th national park visited. But I still had flashbacks of those cold nights in my warm bed. 

 My husband and I have slept in sub-freezing temps in Utah and never shy away from chilly winter hikes, so I wasn’t too worried when I looked at the low-30s forecast. After all, I had plenty of layers and my North Face sleeping bag, which has a temperature rating of 20 degrees.

But even having camped countless times, I realized there’s still room to learn, especially when you have new camping gear! 

The rainy night may have upset our plans a little but added to the magnificence of the many waterfalls on the beautiful Whiteoak/Cedar Trail.

The rainy night may have upset our plans a little but added to the magnificence of the many waterfalls on the beautiful Whiteoak/Cedar Trail.

Since we were driving to Shenandoah from Indianapolis, we glamped it up and brought our big tent. There’s just something luxurious about being able to stand up in a tent. And, putting on pants is way less awkward. We also packed new cots we’d purchased after a recent camping trip that involved a sloping site and a slowly deflating air mattress, resulting in my husband and I sleep-sliding into a crumpled heap in the corner of our tent in the middle of the night. After it happened—and we were fully awake—we laughed harder than we had in quite awhile, but didn’t really want to repeat the scene.

 We arrived at the park, gave a hitching Appalachian Trail hiker a ride, and talked to a ranger at the visitor’s center before heading to the only open campground to get a site and set up our tent. We worked quickly, knowing rain was in the forecast, and had everything up except for the tent’s rain fly and—you guessed it—it started raining. We finished the job, but not before we were soaked and had a bit of waterfront property where we’d be laying our heads for the night. Later on that evening, the rain paused long enough to (sort of) dry off the floor of the tent and bring in our cots and sleeping bags. 

The main lesson I learned, both on the first rainy evening and the next night when temps dropped even more, is how much warmer it is when we use our smaller backpacking tent and sleep close to the ground, and how much having cold feet impacts your overall comfort. I’m used to having strange dreams while camping, like looking everywhere for a restroom that I just can’t find because I’m putting off the long walk to the campsite bathroom until the last. Possible. Minute. This time, I drifted in and out of a light slumber, dreaming about cozy Sherpa slippers, central heating, and other snuggly situations. The big tent and cots were comfortable in one way, but didn’t provide the benefit of body heat. Next time, I’ll be better prepared with even more layers. 

Relaxing at the top of Hawskbill Mountain. At 4,050 feet, it’s the highest point in Shenandoah National Park, yet with a moderate rating, the 2.9-mile Hawksbill Loop Hike is fairly easy and quick. Take the AT up and the Lower Hawksbill back for a change of scenery.

Relaxing at the top of Hawskbill Mountain. At 4,050 feet, it’s the highest point in Shenandoah National Park, yet with a moderate rating, the 2.9-mile Hawksbill Loop Hike is fairly easy and quick. Take the AT up and the Lower Hawksbill back for a change of scenery.

Our rainy first day gave way to sunny skies for the rest of their trip. Hooray!

Our rainy first day gave way to sunny skies for the rest of their trip. Hooray!

Other quick tips about keeping warm and staying at Shenandoah:

  • Love your layers. My faves are my fleece leggings and shirt. My husband calls me Dieter when I wear them (SNL ‘90s reference), but I don’t care. They do the job! The second evening, I crammed my second pair of leggings into my sleeping bag to warm up my feet, and after that, I slept like a baby. Fabric is important, but don’t feel like you have spend a ton on clothing, either—I think I got these at Walmart!

Pre-hike antics. “Now is the time on Sprockets where we dance.” – Dieter, Saturday Night Live.

Pre-hike antics. “Now is the time on Sprockets where we dance.” – Dieter, Saturday Night Live.

  • Consider earplugs. Tent walls are thin and noises carry. The first rainy evening, our tent was under a tall tree, which resulted in heavy raindrops tapping our tent all through the night. The earplugs we keep in our camping supplies came in quite handy.  

  • If you plan to camp in Shenandoah in the off-season, check to see what your options are, as not all of the campgrounds are open year-round. And note that the water fountains are turned off, but you can still get water at the comfort stations.

  • There are lodges, you just need to be more prepared than we typically are to reserve them. And camping is more fun, anyway… right? RIGHT? 

  • Shenandoah may be chillier in the fall, but the fall colors were amazing. Do it!

Shenandoah National Park in autumn… DO IT!

Shenandoah National Park in autumn… DO IT!

Have you been to this park or have a good fall camping story to share??
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Because Adventure Travel Feeds the Soul,
Holly B and The Hashtag 59 Team

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