Wednesday, December 31, 2014

AT Project in VA: Grand Finale at Dragon's Tooth

AT Project in Virginia – Dragon’s Tooth Grand Finale – 11/7/14 – 14.1 Miles

Cathy and Becky joined me on my final hike on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.  I saved this section for last because Dragon’s Tooth is an iconic feature of the AT.  Our shuttle Driver, Joe, took us to our starting point at the parking area on VA 620 where my car battery died on mybirthday and we headed northbound. 

The weatherman was wrong again and not in our favor, as a light misty rain followed us for the first couple of hours.  We stayed chilly all day in long pants and gloves.

Side trail to Pickle Branch Shelter.  Apparently thru hikers don’t have a high opinion of it.

Walking through Miller’s Cove, I love the starkness of bare tree trunks and fallen leaves

I was surprised to see this rock wall as the trail ascended Cove Mountain

A little leaf color still hanging around

First view today

st leaves were off the trees and piled high on the trail, which looks benign at first but is deceptively dangerous.  We couldn’t see rocks and roots and holes and it was difficult to gauge the depth.  White blazes became essential to follow because we seldom could see the bare trail.  Leaves are also very slippery even when they aren’t wet.  Over the course of the day Cathy and I each fell twice, Becky three times, serious slippin’, slidin’, hurtin’ falls with bruises and small cuts.

Becky:  it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt

On Cove Mountain, perhaps the strangest bent tree I’ve ever seen

We hiked three miles with no landmarks approaching the top of Cove Mountain, hard to judge our distance.   I could feel myself tanking and we all needed to stop to fuel up.  The wind was brisk and we looked for a protected place out of the wind and hunkered down to eat a late lunch.  Ten minutes later we saw this gorgeous view (but it would have been too windy to eat here anyway).
Looking at North Mountain

Then the highlight of this section:  Dragon’s Tooth, a Silurian sandstone monolith (for you rock people) in a rock outcropping with a broad view of Catawba Valley.  Just a couple of other people there, unlike the crowds on a weekend, but we got our photo taken.  We were lucky to have the place to ourselves for a little while. 

At Dragon’s Tooth

Climbing up (or down?)

Becky was the bravest as she made it to the top…but crawling back down wasn’t easy.  Cathy and I wimped out at that last bit of scrambling.

Cathy, Becky and me at Dragon's Tooth

The AT northbound descending from Dragon’s Tooth was technical in some places, a couple of ladders and some iron handholds driven into the rocks.  This was slow going and again I was glad that there were no other people to work around. 

At Lost Spectacles Gap we passed the side trail to the parking lot access for Dragon's Tooth day trippers.

At Viewpoint Rock

We crossed VA 624 and walked through a series of open pastures and stiles

And wooden bridges over streams

A mile-and-a-half later we crossed VA 785 and faced a crazy steep climb through open pasture and into woods to the top of Catawba Mountain, where we stopped to rest and regroup.  At this point we admitted that distance and time were not in our favor and we would run out of daylight before the end of our hike.  Now the question was:  how long would we hike in the dark?  We all had headlamps…

Along the rocky ridge top locally known as Sawtooth Ridge we followed ups and downs, taking care looking for blazes and picking our way through more deep leaves.  Cathy took another fall and this time it hurt.  As the sun sunk far down below the mountains, the sky glowed a beautiful pink-orange – and then it was dark. 

We didn’t have a good idea of how far we were from the end but hoped it was only a short distance.  Not so.  Becky’s headlamp didn’t work consistently, flashing on and off like a lightning bug, and we all slowed our paces significantly.  Over an hour later, we emerged at our parking lot on VA 311.  No photos, no cheers for the end of my AT project in Virginia.  But I didn’t feel disappointment as much as I felt relief to be out of the woods.

Overall, though, it was a grand day, hiking with good friends, and Dragon’s Tooth is a very special place.  Any day in the woods is a gift.

What next?

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” ~John Muir.

“When the wind blows, you know that somewhere in the mountains it has found the answers you were looking for.  The pull of the horizon overcomes the inertia of reason…and you just have to go.”  ~Vikram Oberoi


Chris said...

Congratulations on your accomplishment! What's next???

I had the same experience that you did in hiking up to Dragon's Tooth from the south, of thinking that it was a lot farther than the distance advertised on directional signs due to the lack of any landmarks or progress check points on the Cove Mountain ridge.

Danny Bernstein said...

So what is next?