Friday, November 1, 2013

AT Project in VA - Wild (Night) Life

Appalachian Trail Project in VA – 8/3/13 – Thunder Ridge Overlook at BRP 74.7 Southbound to Jennings Creek – 15.4 Miles

Now back to our regularly scheduled hiking program – the Appalachian Trail in Virginia

The drive to central Virginia is 4+ hours, too far for a dayhike.  Maximizing short weekend hours is important, especially if you want to avoid time off from the day job.  Cathy suggested a one-night plan for the 28-mile stretch between Jennings Creek and the James River, a tough section with a shelter at the midpoint, which is also the highest point. 

Hey, wait a minute….looking at the map, the Blue Ridge Parkway intersects the AT at about the same point.  Could we just park a shuttle car there and hike up without loaded backpacks and then drive to some nice campsite?  And then set up a shuttle from there the next day to finish the section?

And hey, wait another minute…if we use paid shuttle drivers, we can save ourselves a lot of time each day.  AND…we can start at that high point EACH DAY, hiking southbound on Day 1 and northbound on Day 2, downhills both days.  Yes!  Without backpacks! 

And hey, wait one more minute…we can camp at that sweet little hidden spot beside Jennings Creek that we discovered last month – free – if we get there early enough to claim it.  What a fantastic way to end the day with a dip in the creek (as Cathy, Becky and I well knew) and then walk to our campsite and enjoy supper.  We are geniuses.

Six people joined in the trip:  Andy (new to me), Becky, Tamara (new to all of us), Cathy, me and Chris.  [Disclosure:  Tamara signed up for the original backpack scenario, then attempted to bail out when it became “car camping with a potluck supper,” then joined back in when we assured her that the hiking part would not be easy.  I think we were proven right.]

With a very early start from Charlotte on a Saturday morning, we arrived at Jennings Creek and found our dream campsite empty, so we set up our tents.  Our good friend Homer met us to shuttle to the midpoint.  We were itching to get going, a 15-mile hike in front of us and starting at almost noon. 

Pretty summer flowers from the start

Cow parsnip



Only a mile-and-a-half into the hike we came to Thunder Hill Shelter sitting directly by the trail – a good stop for lunch. 

Walking under a precarious-looking boulder called the Guillotine.  Imaginative trail builders probably had a good laugh routing the trail to pass under this.

Passing the FAA tower on Apple Orchard Mountain.  This is the highest point on the AT between Clingman's Dome in NC (600 miles south) and the White Mountains in NH (1000 miles north).   It was a hot and hazy day.  In looking over the photos after a hike, I am often surprised to see ominous clouds.  I don’t notice them when we’re hiking.  

Andy on the trail – lush vegetation everywhere


Stunning view from Black Rock Overlook

Tree fungus bigger than twice the size of my head

Cathy and Becky pulled ahead while the rest of us kept pace together.  At the turnoff to Cornelius Creek Shelter, Chris, Andy and Tamara went to see if Cathy and Becky had taken a break there like we did for lunch.  I kept going because I knew Cathy wouldn’t stop at a shelter if it was out of sight.  I hiked alone the rest of the day, really enjoyed it, practicing my downhill technique and pushing my pace because I wanted to sit in the cool creek before it got dark.

Black cohosh

Barbed wire from a long-gone fence embedded in a tree

Do you want to try the water?

Fork Mountain was the last uphill of the day, a tough 800-foot gain in one mile.  Just put your head down and keep marching at a slow, sustainable pace.  And then just as far and steep downhill, of course.  Altogether the elevation loss for the day was about 5,000 feet.  That’s a lot of pounding on knees, quads and feet.  My legs and feet felt fatigued but no joint pain.  And it was a lot faster than going 5,000 feet up – with a  loaded backpack.

I finished at 6:15 p.m., found Cathy and Becky already soaking in the creek.  Becky fetched me a cup of wine and life was very good.  Everyone was accounted for by 7:30 p.m. and we enjoyed a potluck supper of various delicacies and even strawberries and pound cake with Cool Whip for dessert. 

Around 10:30 p.m., all snug in our tents, we heard cars and loud voices.  “Where is everyone?”  Becky replied, “In our tents trying to sleep.”  Locals were disappointed to find their hangout occupied.  They went away, but not too far, because we could hear them hooting and hollering far into the night.  Ear plugs.

“It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is best from the top.”  ~Arnold Bennett

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