Kurt's Hikes: Aug. 31, 2013
Looking out over Abbott Lake onto Sharp Top from inside the Peaks of Otter Lodge Restaurant.
Our usual hiking pattern is to go up a mountainside, open the packs, get out the lunch and dine with a view. On this day, we broke the walking in a different way in order to visit the it’s-new-again restaurant at the Peaks of Otter along the Virginia section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
As you likely know, the lodge and restaurant at Milepost 86 closed down in November of last year after continuous year-round operation since 1977, leaving a gaping hole not only along the parkway, but also in many people’s occasional-destination plans for lunch, dinner or brunch – if not for a stay at the lodge.
The arrival of Delaware North Companies to re-open the lodge and restaurant for the coming 10 years was a welcomed event, even if the season would run only till the end of November.
Our earning-lunch hike was the trail up Sharp Top, on this day well-populated with couples, families and singles-with-dogs. And at the end of the rocky, occasionally steep 1.5-mile climb, the breeze was as delightful as the views in every direction from what, as several hikers were pointing out to each other as we arrived, was once thought to be the highest mountain at Virginia. (It is, at just under 4,000 feet, not even in the top 50, but it does provide a wonderful feel of elevation.)
On this Saturday afternoon and back down the mountainside, the restaurant offered an extensive salad/entrees/desserts buffet and a limited burgers menu.
From our window table – not just a great view of the breeze rippling Abbott Lake, but also of the mountain we had just climbed – we both opted for the buffet, and a hike-earned Virginia viognier to accompany it.
The buffet is long on comfort and country, with the gravied turkey, the mashed potatoes and the macaroni and cheese leading the way for me for the main course-side of things. The salad offerings and desserts were equally inviting, though The Day Hiker’s wondering aloud at how I could take the sweetness of banana cream pie did keep me from heading back for a second piece.
The problem with dining at the low-elevation point of the day’s walking is, pretty simply, that you’ve got to get up from it and hike . . . up again.
But the Harkening Hill Trail – across the parkway from the lodge and restaurant – is a far gentler walk than climbing either Sharp Top or Flat Top, winding and switchbacking its way through the forest toward a peak that is, surprisingly, only about 600 feet shy of Sharp Top’s elevation.
But alas, on this day, we were not to experience that wooded summit; a little more than a mile up, the distant thunder became louder, the nice breeze cooler and more precise, the lightning closer in time to the thunder. And within a few moments of the first light drops, we were under a full-bore thunderstorm.
Yes, we’d brought along the umbrellas and yes, they do some very real good in the woods, recalling the story that our hiking columnist likes to tell: Leonard Adkins and his wife Laurie have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail several times, and for many of those miles, Leonard carried and donned the very best in waterproof gear when conditions dictated. But he noticed that he always came into camp drenched – from both sweat and the inevitable leaks – while Laurie, having walked under her umbrella, came in pretty-much dry. We’ve carried the umbrellas since.
And while we didn’t return to the car fully dry, we did do so with a good sense of accomplishment, of ingestion and of fairly dry upper bodies.
Sharp Top Mountain ascent and descent; Harkening Hill partial ascent and descent. About 5 miles
How to get there: Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 86.