Appalachian Trail Project in VA – 10/7/13 – VA 615 Southbound to VA 623 Garden Mountain – 8.8 miles
Zipped up cozy in our little tent, we soon heard little raindrops begin pitter-pattering, then big drops pounding louder and louder. Thunder and lightning and moderate to hard rain all night long, alternately lulling us to sleep and then jolting us awake. We eventually woke for good at first (feeble) light. What to do today? Looking at the weather radar (how did we manage before smart phones?) we were surprised to see that the rain should clear out by 9:00 a.m. That means…
Breakfast! We packed up a very wet tent and some wet clothes that we had left laying on the picnic table and drove into the little intersection of Rural Retreat for some grits and biscuits and gravy. Jim loves local restaurants and this was as local as it gets. A great way to start his birthday!
Sure enough, the clouds were dissipating, blue sky was peeking through, but we had lost a little time so I chose to shorten my hike to about 9 miles. As we drove to the trailhead, the wet autumn leaves were bursting with color. Going to be a very good day.
Picking up where I left off yesterday, the bridge over Laurel Creek – always nice to have the trail direction confirmed
Laurel Creek looking good after the overnight rain
I never realized that there are so many different wilderness areas in Virginia. Note the shotgun shells on top of this sign for Hunting Camp Creek Wilderness. And here is a fantastic website and map of all the wilderness areas in the United States.
Passed by the Jenkins Shelter
Shelters are usually located near a water source, which means at or near a low point, which means it doesn’t matter which direction you are hiking – you will now be going UP. From Jenkins Shelter the trail ascended 1,800 feet in about 2.5 miles, but what got my attention even more was the roughness of the terrain.
A little rocky
But covered in pretty leaves
The last mile-and-a-half leveled out to begin the long walk along the ridge of Garden Mountain. I passed through broad open forest paralleling an unending wall of bare rock on my left-hand side, the real top of the ridge. On my right side I caught occasional glimpses of the valley called Burke’s Garden, the highest valley in Virginia, about 8.5 miles long and 4 miles wide. It is named for James Burke, a member of the party that first surveyed it in 1748. Jim discovered this paradise and rode his bike there all day yesterday. We can thank the 19th century local farmers for being unwilling to sell their land to representatives of the wealthy Vanderbilt family, causing good old George Vanderbilt to build his Biltmore Estate near Asheville, NC instead. (Double thanks because much of George’s land eventually became part of Pisgah National Forest.) This website gives a good description and an amazing aerial photograph of Burke’s Garden, which is completely ringed by one mountain (Clinch Mountain).
A lovely view down into of Burke’s Garden. Here I barely missed stepping on a very large garter snake relaxing in the grass.
Gravel Road VA 623, my stopping point for the day, leads two miles down into Burke’s Garden, so Jim and I took the scenic route, driving up and down the small paved roads and stopping at the little country store. There are several Amish families in the valley and a mix of farm trucks and horse-and-buggy rigs. There is not a single stop light or fast food restaurant anywhere. So peaceful and idyllic.
I was as tired after 8 miles today as I was after 16 miles yesterday. A good thing we were heading home.
“It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is best from the top”. ~Arnold Bennett