Kurt and Gail (plus 2) on Dragon's Tooth
Dragon's Tooth Trail to AT to Dragon's Tooth and back. 5 miles.
Another stupendous hiking day around Roanoke, as witness the parking lot on 311 at Catawba Mountain being so full that cars spilled down toward Salem along the roadside as we drove by. The Dragon's Tooth Trail lot was only about half full when we arrived at about noon, but was also packed full when we got back down three hours later. The walk itself was wonderful if short (we need to keep in mind that it can be extended by a pretty mile by taking the scout trail around to the AT instead of ascending directly to Lost Spectacles Gap). And from the top of Cove Mountain, the view from just above 3,000 feet was as pretty as we've ever seen it, with a crystal-clear day showing off peak color to the east on Brushy Mountain and down into the Catawba Valley. We had white-dog Fluff along for a rare walk, and his pretty coat and gentle demeanor drew more "beautiful dog" compliments than ever.
November 1, 2008
Sprouts Run Trail to the top of Wilson Mountain and back. 8 miles.
What a great treat to find a walk we hadn't done, and only a half hour from Roanoke. This trail, just past Arcadia off of Exit 168 of I-81, begins in a small valley at a pretty place called Solitude (not on the state highway map, but shows up on the Virginia Gazeteer), with a little three-car lot and a nice sign to start you out, over a style and into the woods. The trail is gentle as it follows Sprouts Run up the mountainside for 3.4 miles to the meeting of two forest roads. As we'd read about the walk, we had understood it to be a loop, and indeed near the start was a sign offering the Wilson Mountain Trail as an option to the left and, apparently, a more direct walk up the mountain. With the blue blazes ending at the roads, we walked each way on both – and more than half a mile on what seemed the most likely direction – and were unable to find hoped-for Wilson Trail back down. The good parts of the non-find: Next time we'll go up the Wilson Trail first, to try to figure things out; and as an out-and-back, this was a fun hike... lots of stream crossings, some good views near the top and a gentle path all the way up and back down.
November 9, 2008
Appalachian Trail from Va. 311 to McAfee Knob and back. 7.6 miles.
The uncertain weather of the weekend had us trying to go southwest through the rain toward clearer skies, but the lateness of getting under way sent us to an old favorite. As we got out of the car we felt just the slightest and only momentary mist, and began the walk into still, humid, cloudy, short-sleeve weather. Clouds came and went as we ascended, and by the time we reached the top, you could feel the front about to come through. The sky was still mixed, but the wind had picked up and carried the first wave of the much cooler weather predicted for Sunday. On top for lunch, from a part of the outcropping that offers views of the Catawba and Roanoke valleys, we put on most of the layers we had, with The Day Hiker busting out the gloves. The walk back down was in long sleeves and legs zipped onto the shorts, and at its start we crossed the last set of climbers for the day – still in short sleeves. Walking back down the mountain, with the leaves gone, the western sky was often visible; the soft gray of the early afternoon was gone, and in its place was the distinctive purple-and-orange of a nearly winter late day sky. A classic walk timed luckily perfectly to miss the rain and experience the dynamic of weather moving across the land.
November 15, 2008
Fallingwater Cascades loop and Flat Top Trail to peak and back. 6.8 miles.
These walks, undertaken from milepost 83 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, provided, on this cold November day, forays into two seasons. Down the hill on the Fallingwater Cascades Trail, it was a nice, if nippy fall day. The flow was not great at the falls, but the first hint of the season to come was evident in the ice formations at the edges of the stream. The start up the Flat Top Trail was also fully fall in context, with the path covered with fallen leaves and the day still and pleasant if nippy. But by the point where the trail switches to working its way up the northeast face of the mountain – after maybe half the 1,300-or-so-foot climb – the occasional patches of snow gave way to walking through about two inches of fallen snow as the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. The walk into winter culminated with our perch on the western side of the summit, where the power of the breeze overcame the power of the sun to make for a cold lunch, and The Day Hiker busting out every layer she brought and then covering it all with the wind-break effect of the rain jacket. We'd likely have eaten on the eastern rocks had they not been occupied as we came up, and a visit to them as we started back down confirmed that they'd have made for a more comfortable lunch. We stopped on the way down to take a photo or two of the thick band of icicles that we've never seen so early in the year.
November 23, 2008
The Andy Layne Trail to the Appalachian Trail to Tinker Cliffs and back. 7.2 miles.
The two older of our grandsons, who both turned six earlier in the fall, had gone with us on a six-miler up and back the AT from US 220 to the first viewpoint of Carvins Cove; and on the slightly shorter but harder climb to Dragon's tooth via the Tooth Trail and the AT. So they seemed ready for the hard climb of the Andy Layne and on up to Tinker Cliffs. And indeed, with minor pauses for water and snacks, they were both fully up to the task, though the walk took about half an hour longer than usual. Up top, Aden and Matthew were mildly impressed with the views into West Virginia and up and down the Catawba Valley, and waaay impressed with the size of the rocks and the giant drop-off to nowhere of the cliffs. Owing the the cool temps, the strong breeze from the west and that precipice, we retreated to the east side of the ridge for lunch, on a rock looking to the southeast toward Roanoke. Then The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All pulled out the knife, the bread, the mayo, the lettuce, the salt and pepper and the leftover turkey to create some exquisite mountaintop sandwiches. The fellas, given the chance to pick out whatever they'd like to drink for lunch, enjoyed their neon green Bug Juice immensely, but not nearly as much as they relished in the first mile or so back down the mountain – picking rocks to trip over and leaf accumulations to slide into, all in a glorious competition to see who could fall/slide/wreck/roll the best. The next mile was spent finding the coolest (flattest, smoothest, sharpest) rocks they could; and the last mile working to remember where each of the big-hit styles and bridges was as we approached the car. The affirming lesson to the oldsters who've done the walk a dozen times at least: The woods are full of magic... geology and geography for some, wildflowers and mushrooms for others, and every part of every single turn in the trail for a cherished few.
November 28, 2008