Sunday, February 16, 2014

AT Project in VA: Accidents Happen

Appalachian Trail Project in VA – 9/1/13 – Labor Day Weekend – VA 613 to VA 630 – 14.2 miles

Thick fog is the nemesis of a great hike or bike ride:  Will I get to see the view (hike) and will I be seen by motorists (bike)?  How long will it take to dissipate and is it worth the risk to even begin?

We woke up to a blank slate outside our hotel room window and a dismal weather forecast.  I certainly didn’t want Jim on a bike in those conditions and I didn’t particularly want to hike all day in rain and fog while he waited for me.  So we ate the free breakfast, dilly-dallied around…and does the sky seem a little lighter now?  Jim convinced me to shorten my hike so as not to lose the whole day, offering to drop me off at the start, drive to the end and hike in to meet me (no biking for him).  As we drove out, the fog seemed to be lifting and I ultimately decided to go with my original planned route.  It would mean a late drive back home, but hey, we’re already here…

The access point was on VA 613, gravel Mountain Lake Road, and the end point was where I started yesterday in Sinking Creek Valley, so hiking trail north.  This section is part of Mountain Lake Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in Jefferson National Forest.  Its main feature is Mountain Lake (formerly called Salt Pond), the only natural lake in western Virginia, fed by underground springs and known for its cyclical emptying and filling over years.  We drove by the lake, lately looking pretty empty, but it is said to be filling up again.  There is a lovely resort with a stone lodge and cabins that was used as one of the locations for the filming of the movie “Dirty Dancing.” 

On the drive we noted about a dozen well-worn pickup trucks at various pull-offs.  It’s not hunting season yet but perhaps some dogs are out for some practice?

Very close to the road crossing is Wind Rock, a nice view out over Stony Creek Valley (see, the fog did lift!), then I enjoyed a nice walk along Potts Mountain.  The AT blazes are important through wilderness areas as the trail crosses many old woods roads and other trails.  It seemed to me that the mileages on the trail signs didn’t match up with those listed in my AT guidebook, so I was mindful to check often to keep my bearings straight.  

Cameras set up by the Virginia Tech Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society to capture wildlife movements.

Ferns lining the way

My noisy presence flushed out several deer.  Two were about 30 yards off the trail, but one was a fawn with white spots that attempted to hide in the underbrush very near the trail, but got spooked when I passed within a few feet and bolted.  Didn’t see a mama anywhere. 

‘Tis the season for fungi

After the pleasant walk I endured a steep downhill to War Spur Shelter, time for an energy bar break because I see what’s coming next…

…a brutal climb for a mile up to Rocky Gap where the trail crosses gravel VA 601.  On the way I knocked down many spiderwebs, including one that enveloped my face like a shroud and caused me to dance a jig while trying to scrape it off.  Thickest spiderweb I’ve ever encountered.  YUCK.

At 601 I ran across several pickup trucks and their friendly owners standing around, and a little girl about 6 years old.  They were obviously waiting for something.  One fellow asked me in a casual-but-not-really voice:  "Seen any snakes or bears or dogs around?"  Answer:  "Nope."  As I had guessed earlier, they were (illegally) running their dogs with radio collars to practice for hunting season.

The ascent wasn’t finished yet.  I had another half-mile and 500 feet elevation gain, this time an old jeep road full of half-buried large rocks and small boulders.   Reminded me of the Spy Rock road approach to the AT. 

Cardinal flower

Erect goldenrod

A very nice bridge

Around this time, 8.5 miles in, I started anticipating Jim catching up to me.  I had told him that if a shelter or viewpoint was not within sight along the trail (i.e. I couldn't see the item of interest) that I wouldn't stop at it but would stay on the AT.  I passed the side trail to Kelly Knob, a major feature of this section.  As I continued on and still didn’t meet Jim, I began to second guess that maybe he had detoured there and we missed each other.  I stopped for another rest break.  Soon after, I met two hikers coming from the end where Jim would have started.  They asked if I was Sharon and told me that Jim had stopped to help an injured hiker and he would meet me at our designated ending point. 

Good to know!

I picked up my pace a little, kept churning out miles, passed the side trail to Laurel Creek Shelter without stopping.  Another couple met me with the same message and a few more details, that Jim was taking an injured hiker to the hospital.

Well, that could take a while.   By now it was raining and I wasn’t sure where Jim would be when I finished.  There was no cell phone coverage.  The surest plan was for me to wait where the car was supposed to be and eventually Jim would return.  I assumed the injured person was able to walk out with assistance so hopefully it wasn’t too serious.  (Turns out she was a woman in her 60’s hiking with her son in his 30’s on day one of a week-long backpack trip.  She slipped and fell at a low stream crossing and cut her hand.  I realized later I had slipped at the same crossing.)

The trail opened up from woods to pasture and I saw Jim walking in to meet me with a bottle of Diet Mountain Dew (aka nectar of the hiking gods).   As the trail wound through the pasture toward the next road crossing it became boggy and then just a small pond about ankle deep, no way to avoid wet feet.  Jim had parked at this road crossing, Hwy 42, to intercept me, and then I continued on the last mile to our original meeting place.  

Day's end - or not?

We drove back toward Blacksburg.  Once we returned to cell phone range, Jim called the injured hiker’s son for an update on her condition and learned that she had 18 stitches in her hand.  There was no way for her to continue their week-long trip that they had been planning for a year.  Also, they had been dropped off by a shuttle driver that morning and had no way of getting back to their car about 60 miles away in Daleville, so we completed our good deed by retrieving them at the hospital and driving them to their car.  I would want someone to do that for me. 

Hiking today was the right decision after all.

“I cannot do all the good that the world needs.  But the world needs all the good that I can do.”  ~Jana Stanfield

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