Sunburns, Handguns, and Hypothermia: 32 Miles through the Massanuttens

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“Don’t be intimidated by my gun, I always carry it. I gotta concealed weapons permit fer it, as well.”

“Uhh, okay,” I responded, not even realizing at that point that my fellow shelter companion had a handgun strapped to his waist. 

My friend Chris and I had just arrived at the Little Crease Shelter in the Massanutten’s not more than five minutes earlier. We had covered 16 rocky miles along the eastern ridge of the range, the rain had been falling intermittently for the last few miles and the thunder and lightning were starting to threaten overhead.

My feet were getting sore and the wooden shelter and already burning fire was too appealing to pass up, particularly when the alternative was pushing out a few more miles only to end up cowering under our respective shelters and an early bedtime due to rain.

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So here we were, Chris and me (a liberal, Seattlite, working for a Democratic politician) and a gun-totin’, tobacco chewin’, country boy from Virginia along with his high school-age son (who he regularly referred to as boy) sharing a small three-sided shelter in the woods.

Now, it’s not as though I’m particularly intimidated by guns (I did live in Yemen for a while, where some towns literally every adult male carried an AK-47), but I’ve certainly never been enamored or even interested in them the way some people are.

And in any case, this wasn’t my usual crowd, the 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, weekend warrior types that I normally shared camp with. It was only about 5 pm, what were we going to talk about for the next three or four hours? Are gun-wielding, Wild Turkey drinking hunters what one should expect when staying in one of these shelters (I had never stayed in one before)?

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We probably wouldn’t have connected too well politically, but despite my preconceived notions and stereotypes, Andy turned out to be a really good-natured, personable, nature-loving outdoorsman, who brought his son out that night for his first real backcountry overnighter.

Turns out he’s been stomping through these very hills for the last 30 years and had many interesting stories to tell about some of the local history and development that’s taken place during that time throughout the Massanutten Valley. We both discussed at length modern man’s disconnect from the natural world and also about their disconnect from the meat they eat (myself included).

Andy is, as you may expect, an avid hunter. But one thing I found fascinating was that he didn’t actually begin hunting until his early 20s, and didn’t really have anyone to show him the ropes, which is pretty remarkable as most hunters learn how to do so because it was passed down to them from their father or other relatives.

I was reminded of this great article in the NY Times from a few years back that chronicled a movement of young urbanites getting back into hunting.

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It was really great talking to Andy and his son that night and truly realizing that while we may have come to our love of nature through different means, that we both valued it equally and sought out the time away in the woods as a way to recharge and reconnect.

It was also really, really cool of him to share his venison burger and sausage with me and Chris. It was an unexpectedly awesome treat on the trail, and mighty delicious. The freeze-dried Mountain House meal remained uncooked on this trip. The rain finally stopped and we moved out of the shelter and closer to the fire.

It’s also worth noting that just beyond our shelter was some sort of major crossroads for a wacky adventure race, with folks zooming by on mountain bikes and scrambling up through the bushes. It was an all-night sort of affair, with folks yelling back and forth to one another as they passed. I was once again thankful that earplugs have made it into my regular gear kit.

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The next morning we awoke to a pretty consistent downpour, unfortunately (but also expectedly). We got in a quick coffee and breakfast and thanked Andy again for the amazing food before saying goodbye. We were doing an out and back hike, so off we set, backtracking on the same trail to cover another 16 miles.

The day was chilly, probably in the 40s, and very wet. Perfect hypothermia weather. After not too long I settled on hiking in my wool t-shirt, light fleece hoody, and wind shirt. There’s no way I wasn’t going to get soaked, so it was really just a matter of trying to manage your body heat hiking up and down the rolling ridgeline and ensuring that you don’t get too chilled.

We stopped very little, just for a quick bite and a sip of water. After about 5 or 6 miles, we actually ran into our buddies, Evan, Max, and Mark, who were wrapping up their epic 72-mile hike of the entire Massanutten ridgeline over the course of a little over two days. I don’t know how they do it, but they were still going strong! We chatted briefly but soon continued on our respective ways.

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Mostly the strategy was to just keep moving. Wet, cold, and windy, was the theme of the day. We ended up covering the 16 miles about an hour faster than we had hiked it the day before, fresh; probably just because there were no views to gawk at and no desire whatsoever to linger, lest the cold take hold.

So we went from 70 degrees and sunburns on Saturday to wet, 40-degree, hypothermia weather on Sunday. It was the sort of conditions that provide a truly valuable backpacking experience, and really helps you better understand how your body reacts and what you need to do to keep you in the right place to avoid hypothermia or more serious consequences.

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Gear Used


Major items:

Read Next: Trekking Packing List

 Trail Details

  • Two days, 32-miles round trip. Out and back along the east ridge of the Massanutten’s from Camp Roosevelt to Veach Gap. Map at
  • No water available on the ridge, carry enough for the 16 miles.

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Sunburns, Handguns, and Hypothermia: 32 Miles through the Massanuttens trip-reports, outdoors, backpacking


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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