A Great Campout II
Trip Report from our Backpack Hiking, Camping and Fishing Expedition
October 17-19, 2008
Strasburg Reservoir Lake, Little Fort Valley, VA
 
This past weekend 13 eager Scouts along with 4 adults from Troop 1396 enjoyed a WONDERFUL weekend of backpack camping and hiking at one of our favorite camping spots, Strasburg Reservoir Lake.  This scenic lake is tucked away in the north end of what is known as "Little Fort Valley", on the Massanutten Ridge.  Formerly a water source for the town of Strasburg, the lake is now open to camping & fishing, but it's a bit off the beaten path and one of the George Washington National Forest area's best kept secrets.
 
After making good time through Fort Valley to the forest service road where our 2-mile hike in would start, a couple of stray dogs provided some amusement as they chased our vehicles and blocked the road.  Eventually they let us pass and we made it to the trailhead.  Night had fallen by then, so everyone strapped on their headlights along with their packs.  The air was starting to get chilly but we quickly warmed up as we hiked up the trail.  Before long we reached the little stream crossing that marks the halfway point; it's only a few inches deep, but balancing on the stepping stones with 30 or more pounds on your back can be tricky!  After a short break, we pushed on to the campsite where we caught a glimpse of the lake at trailside, then we set up our tents and bear-bags in the dark.  Most of the boys were tired by then and hit the sack early.
 
It was great sleeping weather as temperatures dipped into the 30's and all was quiet (except for Mr. Jones' well-rehearsed imitation of a chainsaw!).  At daybreak Saturday we enjoyed a backpack-style breakfast, the serenity of colorful falling leaves and Little Passage Creek, the stream running alongside our campsite that feeds the lake.  We treated water from the stream with iodine for drinking.  Then it was off to the lake to try our luck at fishing; with the sun finally peeking over the steep side of the valley and fighting off the clouds, we moved to the west side to warm up.  The fish weren't biting much (or perhaps the lake had been fished out over the summer), but the boys still had fun exploring the trail around the perimeter of the lake, including the log bridge someone had built across the stream.  We all eventually meandered back to the campsite and Ryan and Scott got a campfire going.  After lunch it was time for the Stickmen patrol to learn basic orienteering skills from Mr. Schwoppe.  They studied a map of the area and got their bearings with their compasses, then it was time to load up with water and snacks for a 5-mile hike. 
 
Off we went with favorable weather and just as the grade started to get a little steep, we arrived at the top of Signal Knob.  You are walled in by trees on the trail then all of a sudden, a grand view of the western Shenandoah Valley opens up below you.  A great place to take a break, loll about the boulders and take some pictures; we even watched what appeared to be a falcon gliding above us in the air currents.  Everyone was feeling great and well hydrated, so we decided to continue on and take the scenic route back to camp -- following the Signal Knob & Meneka Peak trails along the ridge that forms the north end of Little Fort Valley.  In spots these trails require more rock-hopping than trail hiking, which is a lot more interesting than hiking the service road.  As you crest Meneka Peak you are rewarded with a commanding view of the main Fort Valley area to the east, and you can see why George Washington kept this valley in his back pocket as a defensive position in the Revolutionary War.  At last, the Meneka Peak trail ended at Bear Wallow trail which traverses the ridge, coming from Elizabeth Furnace.  We didn't see any bears wallowing, but the trail makes a rapid descent back to Little Passage Creek, with a few switchbacks thrown in for fun.  All in all a great hike and a good challenge for our Scouts!
 
As we arrived back at the campsite everyone was famished -- luckily Mr. Schwoppe had planned a feast for everyone!  Thanks to Max and Brian a cooler full of provisions had arrived and the boys got busy cooking pots of BBQ beans and rice, and heating up mouthwatering rotisserie chickens over the campfire.  Now, I've had some great camping grub in my day, but this was a *fabulous* meal, and simple to put together.  After supper it was time to wash dishes before the sun went down, and get a good fire going since there was a freeze warning in the forecast.  We all sat around the fire toasting marshmallows, singing songs and telling spooky stories.  I have a feeling that at the next campout we might hear about "Return of the Goat-Man" from Ben!
 
On Sunday we awoke to another chilly morning but staved that off with hot chocolate and oatmeal.  We conducted a Scouts' Own Service to say a little prayer and give thanks for another safe and wonderful campout.  The Scoutmaster's Minute was about the crayfish catching minnows in the stream and their struggle for life, and not taking for granted everything we have in our own lives.  It was another beautiful day to be out in the woods, as the sun warmed us up and we packed out and hiked back down the trail to head home.  But not before I heard some boys remark that they wished they could stay another day or two out by that lake  :)