This day was marked by two things with positive implications for future hikes: The movement forward in congress of the bill that would create nearly 40,000 new acres of wilderness in Southwest Virginia; and the taking-to-the-babysitter (son Adam) of three-month-old Cookie the lab-mix puppy, new to the household and too small to hike but already learning the rudiments of walking along without too much going-nuts-and-all-over-the-place. Well, sufficient preliminary pre-rudiments to at least indicate there's hope.
The day itself – cold, breezy and cloudy – was nonetheless apparently a popular one for hiking, as the little parking lot at Troutville had three cars in it when we arrived; and another pulled in as we were packing up to go. Its occupant said he was picking away at little sections toward walking all of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, and decried the hardest section he's done so far – the climb from the south to Dragon's Tooth, with its multiple "false teeth" until the true tooth is at last attained. We seconded his views on that long climb.
Not too far up the climb on this day, we crossed a group we saw last summer near Mount Rogers, on the day of our completion of the Virginia AT. They were on their way down, and were dressed in hats, jackets and gloves, providing the usual evidence of the difference in winter garb of those climbing – I was in two layers, no hat, no gloves – and those descending.
At Fullhardt Knob Shelter, pure-bred boxer Annie bounded toward us and then stopped dead just short, as if remembering her manners just in time. Once greeted and petted, she again lost them, bounding onto the picnic table and presenting herself fully for a body rub. Her master, who had come up the unknown-to-us trail directly down the east face of the mountain, apologized for the dog's energy. He and I also exchanged notes on the wives: His won't walk; mine walks too fast.
Given company at the shelter and the hiker behind us, we didn't attempt a fire, and Gail's new Zippo hand warmer didn't function on its first time out. As a result, we experienced our first shivery lunch of the season, with Gail suffering from whitened fingers and various fidgety/jumpy responses to the cold. We walked back down as fully dressed as those we'd seen on the way up, and didn't feel fully warm until about halfway back along the trail.
The one sure-to-warm factor on the return walk is the climb of a meadowed hill less than half a mile from the parking lot. Approaching it, just prior to the crossing of Mountain Pass Road, we exchanged demands on who should go get the car, come back and save the other the climb. Just before we started up, Gail provided prospective: "Just remember, it's harder than it looks."