Appalachian Trail in VA Project – 2/23/14 – VA 623 to US 11 – 17.3 Miles
Jim’s bike tire sustained some damage yesterday during his ride so he opted to hike with me today. (Maintaining a road bike is a lot of work, not to mention expensive. He didn’t bring a spare tire and didn’t want to risk riding on the damaged one.) We started out early to face 17.3 miles with three mountains to climb up and down. After the long slow drive up twisty, windy, narrow, gravel VA 623 (aka Sharon Springs Road), Jim dropped me off and drove right back down twisty, windy, narrow, gravel VA 623 to park at the other end of the hike so he could meet me en route. The man is a saint.
Starting high on Garden Mountain, I was a wee bit tired from the previous day, but the sun was shining and the air was crisp. Garden Mountain is a long stretch of sandstone ridges that have sloping southeast sides and abrupt cliffs on the northeast sides. I strolled along the many small ups and downs just below the ridge line, and Burke’s Garden was hidden from view to the west unless I scrambled to the top to get a peek through the winter trees. Other interesting things along the ridge:
What is this? It looks like concrete droppings.
Frequent survey markers – saw at least five of these
Deep snow drifts along the narrow ridge
Barbed wire fence way up here
Just before Walker Gap I took a snack break at a robust creek that perhaps is dry in summer months. It’s a good water source for southbound backpackers planning to stay at Chestnut Knob Shelter because there is no water at the shelter.
The tough climb up to Chestnut Knob got my attention, about 900 feet in 1.3 miles, harder than yesterday’s climb and the first of three today. Not many switchbacks, just slow and steady, including a short stretch on an old road bed.
Worth every step because my effort got me to the wide open space of Chestnut Knob, elevation 4,409 feet. (The next highest point on the AT northbound is Mt. Moosilauke in New Hampshire.) The shelter sits in an open meadow with spectacular views in all directions, including a wide commanding view of all of Burke’s Garden to the northwest. On this February day the valley looked tan with dry winter grasses, but imagine the lush green crops of summertime. It was very windy up there today; I can appreciate why the shuttle driver discouraged me from coming here alone a few weeks ago in extreme cold and windy conditions.
Chestnut Knob Shelter was formerly a fire warden’s cabin, rehabbed in 1994, fully enclosed, with bunks for 6 and a big picnic table inside, a nice refuge on a cold night. And think of the stars on a clear night! Just lie down on the ground, get out your star chart and marvel at creation.
Continuing southbound past the shelter, I enjoyed a two-mile walk along Chestnut Ridge through open meadow that is kept clear by mowing, following jeep tracks, wishing I could identify everything that I was seeing (Mount Rogers was in there somewhere). The temperature was warm but not hot, perfect, and goosebumps ran up and down my arms with that “hills are alive” feeling.
Important side note if you’re going: This small pond is the closest reliable water source hiking northbound to the shelter. Hhmmm.
At the end of the clearing, the trail took a sharp left turn and I found myself making a quick descent back into the woods. About a half-mile later, Jim met me coming up, almost exactly at the halfway point of the hike. He was moving fast to meet me there considering that he also drove to the end point. Those strong biking legs and lungs, I guess.
Together we descended to the foot of Garden Mountain, called Poor Valley because of its acidic soil in contrast to Rich Valley, just a couple of mountains over. The difference is due to the underlying rock (black shale equals poor and limestone equals rich). For the remainder of the hike we encountered many small creek crossings, lots of water, a change from the dry ridge. Many of these were not in my guidebook so probably they disappear during summer months.
Big footbridge over Lick Creek
My second significant climb of the day (and Jim had already been over it once), 750 feet in 1.2 miles up Lynn Camp Mountain. Jim and I have different hiking paces and philosophies. I am a steady plodder, rarely stopping on an ascent or descent, just adjusting my pace. Jim is faster than me on the uphills and would wait for me at certain points. I am a little faster than him on downhills with my new method of lowering center of gravity and taking short quick steps on the balls of my feet. Always checking in with my knees, which were feeling very good today, a small twinge in my right but nothing I would consider out of the ordinary after so many miles.
After the steep descent of Lynn Camp Mountain we crossed Lynn Camp Creek on another footbridge, a nice- looking campsite nearby, then we began the third and last ascent for the day. This one was not as rigorous, another Brushy Mountain (how many Brushy Mountains are there in southwest Virginia?) About halfway up is Knot Maul Shelter, sitting right on the trail, a nice place to take a rest. Past the shelter the climb got steeper and wound three-quarters of the way around the mountain on its way to the top. Out ahead of me again, Jim waited at the top of the first “bump.” Then we discovered that the trail winds still more to the higher “bump.”
At 16+ miles now, we were ready for the big finish, 700 feet down in .9 mile to VA 42 and our parking spot. This part of the trail was thick with rhododendrons that will be lovely in June.
Jim’s legs are strong but his feet suffer from hiking long miles with less conditioning, so he will lose another toenail after today. The things that man does for me! After a half-hour in the car, my leg muscles stiffened up so that I could barely walk. At a convenience store stop we hobbled inside like wounded warriors. Time to go home, James.
"If you don't get outside every day, even for a minute, you have not appreciated what God has done. It makes you grateful for your surroundings and it starts your day differently." ~Johnny Cash