Kate's Mountain loop hike in Greenbrier State Forest, West Virginia. 8.9 miles.
The first day's hike began in the otherwise-empty state forest camping and parking area with a climb of about 1,000 feet up Kate's Mountain. At the ridge line, the trail becomes wide, level and non-rocky as it makes its way along an old forest road. Here, in winter, are good views in both directions off the ridge, especially to the east for perhaps half a mile, where all the trees were taken out – in 2006 – after a pervasive gypsy moth infestation. The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All, without being aware of it, took advantage of the easy walking to step up her pace on a coolish day, and get us to the high point of Kate's Mountain, at 3,200 feet, well ahead of my expected time. The day was cooler than predicted – about 40 at lunch time – and so we moved off the true peak and its shadows and into a meadow where we could take full advantage of the sun.
From that high point, the trail plummets in what Leonard Adkins describes in his book "50 Hikes In West Virginia" as "one of the longest and most unrelenting steep descents in the state." Indeed, the trail eschews switchbacks in favor of an angle of walk that has you using tree limbs, when available, for braking. We agreed that Leonard's recommendation for the direction of this loop was entirely correct. Think of those two short, steep spots in the Andy Layne Trail and multiply that by, what, 10? It'd be all but impossible to go up. The Day Hiker admitted to no ill effects at the end of the descent, while I was pleased that the reaction in my legs was in the thighs rather than the knees.
The rest of the walk – back into the more-used area of the state forest – is again gentle and easy. And toward the end, near the superintendent's cabin, we did find people, in the form of a person in the gift shop. Gail told her about what she'd seen near the high point of Kate's Mountain, where there is an overlook down onto I-64: two dead dogs, wrapped in a sheet, just down the hill from the forest road.
"Oh, we get a lot of that," the young lady said, and went back to her book.
The warm and cozy General Lewis Inn features antiquey rooms so uniquely appointed that the doors are left open when they're unoccupied, so that guests can walk in and take a look. We enjoyed a pleasant dinner and carefully appointed breakfast (warm maple syrup for the hotcakes and a choice of apple butter or berry marmalade for the toast, for example) at the inn, as well as sitting by the fire in the evening and perusing the old Appalachian implements on display.