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Rip & Go: Rockytop Loop – Shenandoah National Park, VA

Escape Skyline Drive to discover secret summits and hidden valleys.

Key Skill: Packing For Stability
Day one goes down; day two goes up. Tailor your pack’s load distribution to increase the efficiency of each step.

Day 1 Steep descents and tricky footing call for a low center of gravity. Pack heavy items (food, water, liquid
fuel, and tent) in the middle of your pack and near your back. Keep midweight items (self-inflating pad, cook set, canister fuel, water filter) near the top, and cram light stuff where it’ll fit. This prevents sway and reduces leverage. Tighten load-lifter straps to clamp the pack to your body.

Day 2 Repack with midweight items in the center of your pack, heavier items toward the top, and lightweight gear at the bottom. This strategy lets you get under the weight and transfers more of the load to your hips, which are more suitable for bearing poundage comfortably. Loosen load-lifters on ascents to assist with the distribution of weight downward.

See This: Timber Rattlesnake
You’ll probably hear the timber (aka canebrake) rattler before you see it. Found both on this hike’s open, rocky ridges and in the dark, forested valleys, the timber rattlesnake has a flattened, diamond-shaped head and either dark bands on a tan background (yellow phase) or black ones on a dark brown background (black phase). In the morning, rattlers can be found sunning themselves when the air temperature is around 75°F. Midday, be especially cautious around rocks and logs—step onto these obstacles, never over them—since rattlers seek shade to keep from overheating. If the air temperature is in the low 80s (optimal temperature for digestion), rattlers will even hunt at night.

Locals Know
“Aqua-Blazing” is the Appalachian Trail thru-hiker’s term for paddling through the 100-mile park on the north-flowing Shenandoah River. Why do it? Because the mostly calm river provides lazy and quiet passage through a park known for ridgewalks in the baking sun, big summer crowds, and notoriously long distances between shelters (with camping prohibited anywhere else). Rent a canoe in Waynesboro and put in at the park’s southern entrance. Camp on islands and national forest land on the way to Front Royal, or do a shorter shuttle-paddle. Refresh often with a banzai jump into the river; rope swings of varying length,
height, and risk level hang over the river throughout. But don’t forget to look up: Bald eagles soar overhead on routine fishing trips. Contact: Shenandoah River Outfitters (800-622-6632,

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