Apple Orchard Mountain
Left: Old man approximately practicing soccer throw-in atop a very tall mountain. Right: The beauty of Turk's cap lily helped ease the climb for The Day Hiker as we neared the summit.
On a surprisingly cool day, we set out for an even cooler spot, the top of 4,225-foot Apple Orchard Mountain, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail for 200 miles to the south (Grayson Highlands), and about 1,000 miles to the north (New Hampshire). Which makes it not too much of a surprise that the first half of this hike – beginning at the Apple Orchard/Cornelius Creek trailheads parking lot at the end of Forest Rd 59 – is a climb of some 2,800 feet.
This fact, which we'd never discussed in many ascents in the area, began to manifest itself with The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All once we hung a north onto the AT and started up the mountain proper. We'd left the maps in the car and neither of us could remember the distance from the intersection to the top; for some reason we guessed low – .6? 1.1?. Which of course made the constant-climb 1.4 seem all the longer, despite the deep healthy woods you're walking in before you come to the cleared top of the mountain. The great trail's trick of providing glimpses of peak-promising open skies also played itself out three or four times before we broke into the clear at the giant soccer ball in the middle of the field.
Of course the climb was worth it as always, as the summit was so cool that Gail put on a jacket as we ate and looked southeast to the Peaks of Otter and beyond. And behind us at the radar station, aliens neither landed nor took off.
To our surprise, the way down took exactly the same amount of time as the way up – yet another compliment to the hiking prowess of she who leads us through the woods week after week.
Apple Orchard Falls Trail to Appalachian Trail north to top of Apple Orchard Mountain and back. 9.4 miles
How to get there: Exit 168 from I-81, along Va. 614 to FR 59 to the parking lot at its end.