Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A.T. From Interstate 81 to Virginia Rt. 42, November 2, 2014

On Sunday, November 2nd, I took advantage of the time change from Daylight Savings to Eastern Standard Time, got up very early, and hit the road to meet up with a hiking group from the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. We all planned to hike my final 2014 "new miles" on the Appalachian Trail, this time just south of Burke's Garden and north of where the A.T. passes under Interstate 81. (Map). I had backpacked the Burke's Garden section over three days just a few weeks earlier (link).

The group met up at the Walmart parking lot in Dublin, Virginia.  Dublin is between Pulaski and Radford, just off of Interstate 81, and about a two and a half hour drive from Charlottesville. Here the group consolidated into three cars, and I gave my car to another hiker to drive to the end point of my hike on Rt 42. We drove that hiker's car to the beginning point of my hike, on U.S. 11 near Groseclose, Virginia, which was that hiker's end point. We planned to meet up in the middle and exchange keys. Not including the side trip to Walmart, the drive to the trailhead took three hours from Charlottesville, a distance of 200 miles.

Our hike did not start out without some difficulty. We chose to ask the store manager at a Sunoco gas station with a large parking lot on U.S. 11 if we could leave the vehicle for a few hours. He was not interested in helping us. This is pretty mysterious to me - why would someone with a business right on the A.T. want to alienate the hiking community? Word gets around. I was prepared to purchase items in the store, but put them back after hearing him bicker to our hike leader. I recommend that other hikers stay away from this business, despite abundant parking space.

We ended up paying $3 to the Relax Inn motel next door to leave the car.

After hiking up U.S. 11 and crossing under the interstate on Route 683 (Windsor Road), we started up the A.T. This is a pretty wet section, as can be seen by the raised walkways and bridges.

Stream crossing almost immediately after leaving the road under I-81.

Crossing a boardwalk.

The trail started out in pasture lands.
We passed into the Jefferson National Forest after 1 mile of walking, and shortly thereafter passed a side trail to the Davis Cemetery.  Davis was a name we would see a lot on this hike. At 1.3 miles we crossed the paved Davis Valley Road, with an actual hiker parking lot. And at 3 miles we came to the former site of the Davis Path Shelter.

The Davis Path Campsite, as it is now known, still has a picnic table, privy and the concrete pad from the shelter. Reportedly, the shelter was taken down because it was a party spot. This is a little strange, because the shelter is over a mile-and-a-half from any road. Usually, problem shelters seem to be much closer to civilization. The camp would be a great place to take a Scout Troop, as it requires some effort to get to, but is close enough for the youngest scouts to obtain. Having a privy doesn't hurt, either. The only downside is that there are no springs in the immediate area.
Photo of Davis Path Campsite shows table, privy, and former shelter site.
Over the next three miles we had one major climb (550 feet over one mile), walked along a ridge, then started to drop down to Reed Creek from Brushy Mountain. Be careful on the descent if hiking this section northbound, like we were. At about the 6 mile mark, we missed a switchback. The original trail alignment descended straight down the mountain, and we started following that route because none of us saw the switchback. When the original alignment started to get overgrown, we knew we were on the wrong path, and backtracked 50 yards to find the current trail.
View towards Mt. Rogers from the trail.
We descended a couple more switchbacks before coming to the other members of our group at 6.9 miles, nearly exactly half-way into our 14.2 mile hike. Both groups exchanged pleasantries, and more importantly exchanged car keys, and each went on their way. Our group dropped into the valley and had lunch.

The valley was a little bit of a mystery to me, and I would like to go back sometime. There was ths sign below stating the distance to the nearest road - not something I usually see in the middle of a remote area. And there was no sign indicating an intersection with the Walker Mountain Trail - the old A.T. alignment. I later figured out where this is and would like to go back and check it out.  
Road sign in valley.
After lunch we had the big climb for this hike - 940 feet over nearly 2 miles.  Much of the trail here uses an old road that predates the A.T. in this area.  The post-lunch hike uses a trail that was built in the 1970's to take the A.T. off of Walker Mountain.  We crossed Walker Mountain at Tilson Gap, and left the old roadbed to switchback down nearly 900 feet over the next 1.7 miles.
Green Tunnel as we climb to Tilson Gap.

Recent snows stuck to the tree branches.
At about the 10.4 mile mark we exited the woods and hiked through pasture, and would see an alternating landscape of woods and pastures for the rest of the hike.
Watch out for the cow pies!  The trail crosses the open field on the hill in back
then cuts into the woods.
This sign added some mystery to our hike, since the easement boundary was never obvious.

At 12.7 miles we descended next to the North Fork, Holston River, then crossed the river on a low highway bridge.  We entered the woods and paralleled the river for a while, with views of deteriorating Tilson Mill.
Trail descends to North Fork, Holston River.

Tilson's Mill doesn't have a lot of years left.
Hiking through pastures, with Walker Mountain in the background.
 We finished up the hike by crossing Rt. 42, then staying on the A.T. until it met up with the parking lot access trail I had used a few weeks earlier when hiking past Burke's Garden. There are several campsites just north of Rt. 42, and I remember thinking that they were strangely close to the road when starting out my backpacking trip in September.  Now I know why - the tight easements over the previous several miles heading north really restricts camping opportunities along the trail.  A flat spot near a stream in the National Forest probably is a welcome sight to a section hiker or thru-hiker heading north when reaching this road near the end of the day.

The end of the hike was not the end of the adventure, however!  

I planned to stay overnight in an inexpensive motel in Abingdon - 200 miles each way is too far to drive for a simple day hike, so I would stay overnight then get in a short hike the next morning before returning to Charlottesville. I ended up summitting Mount Rogers, reported here.

I drove south after the hike and realized after about 5 miles that I had little gas left in the car and I was in the middle of nowhere, at 5:30 PM on a Sunday. I would have to drive the remaining 17 miles to Marion on 10 miles worth of gas, because there would be nothing between where I was and Marion, which is on the Interstate. I had to hope that the engineers at Toyota had designed some reserve into the Prius.  

I was down to "0" on the gauge before I had to climb a big mountain - Walker Mountain, gaining 1400 feet over 3.3 miles. I had hiked over Walker Mountain earlier that day, but this is such a large mountain that construction of Interstate 77 a few miles north took 5 years to build a tunnel through the mountain rather than send traffic over the mountain.  

There was no space on the side of the road if the car gave out. The climb took forever and took a major push by the engine, complete with false summits and major anxiety.  But once I crossed the crest, I stayed off of the accelerator for the next 6 miles, using the electric engine as much as possible. I switchbacked down the mountain and cruised through the 35 mph zone in Hungry Mother State Park at 50. I had to stop at one traffic light, cursing its existence because I could see no need for it in the rural countryside.

But I made it into Marion and coasted into the gas station where I pumped as much fuel as I could into the car.  It took 9.6 gallons. So I look up the capacity of my 2010 Prius and what do I find out?  It has an 11.9 mile tank!  I could have continued on to Abingdon on Zero, 40 miles away! All that stress for nothing. Now I know that 0 miles left in the tank still means over 50 miles left - though I hope I don't ever have to test that again.
Hike and Drive Elevation Profile

Hike details.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 369.5
Total Distance: 14.2 miles 
Total Time: 7 hours, 21 minutes (6:04 moving time).

Starting Elevation: 2418 ft.
Low Point: 2415 ft.
Highest Point: 3580 ft.
Difference: 1443 ft.

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