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For my crew of lightweight and ultra-light backpackers at D.C. UL Backpacking, this 67.4-mile loop along the ridges of Massanutten Mountain, Virginia, occupies a special place in the lore we pass along around the campfire. Five years ago, when many of us were going light, Evan McCarthy, who founded our group, first dreamt it up as a long weekend trip. At the time, 67.4 miles in a weekend seemed almost a superhuman accomplishment! Now, our yearly walk-around has become a springtime ritual, a rite of passage to new backpackers, a way to fend off our mortality, a demonstration that we've not gotten too sluggish over the winter, and a fine test of our backpacking skills. It never ceases to astonish me that a loop of this quality is about an hour away from the crowded suburbs of the D.C. Metropolitan area.

Over the years, the mountain has thrown practically everything our way. One hot Memorial Day weekend, the long dry ridges took their toll, and several backpackers bowed out near Edinburgh Gap. Another year, a day-long deluge resulted in a catastrophic kilt failure. A year ago, we somehow convinced ourselves that a hang-gliding spot would make a great campground. We ended up cowboy-camped on the rocky footpath, staring up a preternaturally full moon. Recently, winter hung around for our springtime ritual. It was 10 degrees Fahrenheit on the first night in Veach Gap, then it blew snow on the treacherous descent off Signal Knob. We joked that it looked like we were on the Matterhorn. That was March 30th!

One of the reasons men and woman cherish mountains is because of the tales they tell about their adventures on them. For me, Massanutten Mountain is especially rich in these tales. It's a place that I can't help but be excited about, that I can't help but dream of doing again.

I am very happy to share this route with the Backpacking Light community.  My hope is that next time I am out following the orange blazes of the Massanutten Trail, I'll meet a few backpackers who have been inspired to walk these ridges with me.

And if you would like to hit the trails with us, check out our Meetup group.


  • A note from the Author
  • Trip 5: I Like Big Ridges and I Cannot Lie
  • Author Bio

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