Our hope this day was to do the Apple Orchard/Cornelius Creek loop, to see what the flooding (some nine inches atop Apple Orchard Mountain one night in early May) had done to the trails and the forest. But the forest road off of 614 had a new barricade, giving clear message that at least access to the trails was still closed. (A call to the Forest Service yields the information that the trails themselves are open, but only via access from the Blue Ridge Parkway; Forest Road 59, washed out in several places in the flooding, may be closed for "months and months.")
That hope dashed, we proceeded on along Va. 614 to where the Appalachian Trail crosses the roadway, debated briefly about which way to walk, and chose northbound. Just before we began, we saw three big-packed guys walking along the road away from the trail, and wondered if they'd missed to turn of the trail back off the road and into the woods; we considered asking them, but they looked resolute enough for us to decide they knew what they were doing.
This section – up Fork Mountain, down its other side, through low woodlands – is not one of The Day Hiker's favorites, as aside from the brief and partial view from the high point on Fork Mountain, there is not much of a focal point, though lunch by the creek was pleasant.
On our way back, toward the end of the walk, we crossed the three big-packed guys, making their way up the mountain. As we paused, I couldn't help but ask: Hey, didn't we see you guys earlier, along the road?
"No," the guy in the lead said, maybe a little bluntly, "wasn't us."
Appalachian Trail from Va. 614 at Jennings Creek to Happs Creek and back. 7 miles.
How to get there: Exit 168 from I-81 onto 614 to the small parking area where the trail crosses the roadway.