The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All pretends she is going to have a hard time climbing Highcock Knob, here still a mile or so into the distance on the return walk.
The tangle of pretty trails through the James River Face Wilderness has confused us a bit over the years, and continued to do so this day, though The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All – in a uncharacteristically cartographic mood – had 'em all nailed by the end of this pretty and satisfying walk.
Part of the problem is that shrinky-dink parking area at the base of the Belfast Trail along Va. 679, and the accompanying reputation of the area residents to display troublesome intolerance for cars parked anywhere except in that six-car space. And with it full, and several cars strung along the roadside where, when we've left the car there for a hike I get to worry the whole hike, we decided to drive on. We stopped briefly at the base of (what is not labeled as) the Sulphur Springs Trail and, unsure of what we'd be starting on, continued on along Petit's Gap Road to just shy of its intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway, and set out northward on the AT, anticipating a loop including the AT, Belfast and Glenwood Horse trails.
That seemed like a good plan at the start, but the farther along our 770-foot climb toward the summit of Highcock Knob, the more I kept thinking about the loop taking us all the way down the the low point of the whole circuit before we walked back up the the ridge line and the parkway.
This walk, once that initial ascent is made, is easy and pleasant and, with no leaves on the trees, affords rare view of where you've been and where you're going on the trail.
"This is my kind of hiking," said The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All on at least two of rare occasions when I was within earshot, as on the long gentle straightaways of this section, she pulled away severely.
At the trail intersection to head to the Devil's Marbleyard, beginning the deep descent which would in turn engender the double-that-size ascent, I proposed.
And The Day Hiker, while she is a relentless and efficient hiker, is neither a dummy nor a glutton for punishment, and accepted immediately: We headed on north on the trail another half mile to a viewpoint out over the James (which had been her preference over mine to look out over the Marbleyard), both relishing in our decision to head back the way we came.
Lunch and the views were good, though we agreed that from that far above the James, you can see that the ripples are painted on . . .
Part of all those views-ahead on this section was that we got to watch as Highcock Knob drew closer and closer, and got to dread the 770 back up. As usual, the amount of dread seems to be inversely proportional to the actual pain . . . not so bad after all.
Appalachian Trail from Petit's Gap at Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 71 north to James River overlook .5 mile beyond junction with the Belfast Trail and back. 10.0 miles.
How to get there: It's far easier to just use the parkway to get to milepost 71 than the way we got there: I-81 to Exit 175; U.S 11 to Va. 130 to Va. 759 and then Va. 781 to small parking area at Belfast Trail and then on to the parkway.