Old Hotel/Appalachian Trail loop. 5.7 miles.
One summer day two years back, we met an older man in the primary blackberry-bush area of this hike, about a mile in on the Old Hotel Trail. The crop was puny compared to previous summers' we'd seen, and the man, who said he lived nearby, asserted it was time for a burn – to let the bushes start anew.
On this late-May walk we found ourselves walking through the results of just such a thing – the controlled burn the forest service had conducted about a month earlier, having found itself with perfect conditions – including humidity and wind speed and direction – to do some burning. At the blackberry patch the ground was still blackened, but new, strong, green shoots were everywhere, in signal that the crop will likely be back strong.
This is one of the richest hikes in the region in any season. From full forest to the blackberry fields, from pine groves to huge oaks, from a good strong stream to a bald and more, there's always something new to see, and particularly so after the onset of the slow burn's goal: renewal of wildlife and vegetation, and the improvement of habitat. The wildflowers had certainly survived and were flourishing, and everywhere in the understory new life was bursting out of the ground, with squawroot appearing to be a particularly happy beneficiary.
Even during a time of many thru hikers passing through, Cow Camp Shelter was empty – as we hoped it might be due to the threatening skies, but no rain fell and we ate lunch by the stream that runs along in front of the shelter.
From there, the Old Hotel Trail climbs about a half a mile (perhaps another reason why there were no thru hikers at the shelter) to the AT, which then makes its way up Cole Mountain to the open area that is one of our favorite spots on the trail in Virginia. Word was passed as we crossed a hiker at the south crest that there was a rattlesnake sunning itself up on the bald; we crossed nearly a dozen more hikers as we traversed the open area and heard no further mention, a disappointment to The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All, who does enjoy the wildflowers, but went a little nuts-with-glee when we came across a rattler a year or two ago.
May 24, 2009