Monday, July 21, 2014

July 4th Weekend - Appalachian Trail in Southern Virginia

With the rest of the family in New England and a neighbor kindly watching one of my dogs, I took off with another dog to check off some miles on the A.T. never before hiked.  I am trying to complete all of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, and it is a slow process for the portions of the trail south of the New River.

At either end of the southern Virginia portion of the A.T. - near the New River and down near Damascus - I can pull off solo hikes by employing local hostels or outfitters to provide me a shuttle. One of these helped me complete my hike over the 4th.

Gracie the Fabulous Hiking Dog and I took off early on Saturday and drove to the Woods Hole Hostel near Pearisburg.  My plan was to get shuttled south to where the A.T. crosses Interstate 77, backpack 2 days back to the hostel, stay overnight, then obtain another shuttle and climb from the New River to the hostel from the other direction.  It took a little over 3 hours to drive to the hostel from Charlottesville, and another hour plus to get shuttled to the trailhead, slowed down in part because the vehicle was also shuttling other hikers who stopped at Trent's Grocery near Dismal Creek to pick up packages.  I was on the trail just before noon on the 4th.
Wood's Hole Hostel

Crossing Kimberling Creek, beginning Day 2

Gracie was sporting her own pack, replete with two bowls, several bottles of water, and a generous allotment of doggie kibble.  I was carrying Gracie's bed, a two person tent, and the rest of the gear - weighing in around 25 pounds - including food and water.

Green Tunnel on the A.T.
We started from the point where the A.T. crosses U.S. 52, between Bland and Bluefield, Virginia.  The first mile is on roads - crossing Interstate 77 on a road bridge, then via a local road down to a trailhead parking lot.  Almost immediately the A.T. gets confusing, as it circles a small campsite but another trail heads straight from the camp.  I had to backtrack to get on the right trail.  The next mile climbs 600 feet to a ridgetop.  For the next 7 miles, trail elevation varies only by about 300 feet, and there are no views.  I passed the trail for the Helvey's Mill Shelter, but did bother to stop at the shelter - too many miles to cover!
Some really old signs in this part of the forest.

Shortly after our first shelter, Gracie and I came across a trio of hikers taking a break.  The trio was thru-hiking from Georgia, but planned to boat the Shenandoah River starting in Waynesboro to Harper's Ferry.  They were the most memorable people I met that weekend - a mother and twin four-year olds that were later featured in the Roanoke newspaper.  Link.

We hiked until 8 before camping under some trees.  Gracie the Fabulous Hiking Dog and I camped beside the trail, and were glad to make it to Dismal Creek on the second day because we saw no water the entire first 20 miles of the hike.

The trail was prettier the second day, as we walked through the thick cover next to the creek before climbing to another ridge top and getting our one really great view of the weekend.

The newer Wapiti Shelter
Before the big climb we visited the Wapiti Shelter, and I wondered why it was in a different place than the location shown on the USGS topo map.  I remember thinking that the area seemed a long way from civilization - more remote than areas I hike through in Northern Virginia.  When I returned to town I discovered that there had been murders here which caused the authorities to move the shelter.  Some of the investigation centered around Trent's Grocery, where we had stopped the day before.  And though the murderer was convicted, he was eventually paroled and returned to the A.T. to attempt to kill more people.  It is a very creepy story - set in a remote and dark area.  Washington Post account.  You really should read this account of the story - it is gripping.  The Post called the area "lonely, dark and deep."  It fits the region precisely.

Gracie and I made it to Woods Hole Hostel at about 3 PM on the second day.  The proprietor Neville greeted us like old friends!  I was happy to pay extra to get my shower in before driving back home. Although I originally planned to hike a third day, I decided to cut the trip short as I wasn't sure how my body would handle another day on the trail.  I'll be back on the A.T. again in August to connect my hike to the New River and finally complete the 120 trail miles maintained by the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, which will qualify me to join the 113 Mile Club.
View of Pearis Mountain and the New River Valley from the best viewpoint in two days of hiking
The Hostel is what made this hike possible.  I could not imagine hiking out the A.T. then hiking back to my car - that would have taken 4 days.  There are parts of the trail where hiring a shuttle is not possible, but I plan to utilize a shuttle again down near Damascus.  I need to get out again soon!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome Jeff and Gracie. Hope you got my email about Oct. 10-12. I could shuttle you down when I run the race on the New River Trail. Let me know!


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