An Expedition That Never Ends

A chilly hike in quiet, barren woods was a enticing closure to 2016. We started up the Scothorn Gap Trail in the Massanutten Range, a steady and occasionally steep climb that quickly throws out a web of shimmering options as it connects to other trails. On our last visit here, in autumn, the leaves were still so full on the trees that we never saw a small pond located alongside the trail. On this winter day it was more easily seen, though still a demure presence behind a dense stand of trees. A neglected path led to the pond, half frozen in the thin December light:


Eventually the Scothorn Gap Trail intersects with the Massanutten Trail. We turned northward, and soon the first mountain views bobbed at the horizon:


We walked through the valley a bit before pushing steeply back up the mountain toward Duncan Knob, accessible on a short out and back from the Gap Creek Trail. The ascent to Duncan Knob is a moderate scramble up a large rock slide; at nearly a 45-degree angle climb in certain sections, it requires some arm muscle.


At the top, endless views are to be had of the Massanutten Range and the Shenandoah Valley:


As we descended the sky became overcast and the wind grew fierce; on this blustery day there was plenty of solitude on the trail. These woods are well-loved, however, and plenty of seekers had been there before us (though there were very few traces of them, even in the campsites–great job, people!) Many will follow after us as well, and as we walked I imagined us as apparitions in that horde of unknown, unseen fellows who also sought the essence of the mountain for a day or two. It seems an expedition of such multitudes could never end, and yet it will. Crystallized somewhere in our wonder is the knowledge of the journey’s end. No paths left to walk, nor anyone to walk them. To walk the mountain is to know that in your core, and to be fully at peace with it: because what we know and what we think are often very different things.

“It is sweet to think I was a companion in an expedition that never ends.” ~ Czeslaw Milosz



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