Old Hotel Trail
Well, fire doesn't photograph, right?
It was 18 degrees when we got out of the car at 1 pm, and so The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All was double-timin' it from the first step; and for a change, I was right behind her with no problem. It probably added to the hurr'up that the Old Hotel Trail begins downhill, paralleling a stream, and so it took an even faster pace to start to feel warm.
The sign at the start of this great loop says 3 miles to Cow Camp Gap Shelter, and 55 minutes later we were there, as fast a pace as we've probably ever done when not racing the darkness.
We had the shelter to ourselves, but debated whether to use its fire pit or not, since a big pine had put it into the shade and by this time we were warm enough to consider whether the sunlight would be warm enough during lunch or whether we needed a fire.
Even though it seemed fairly dry, there was still evidence of snow here and there, and the little twigs we started with did some fairly audible hissing as we tried to get genuine flames established. Between lots of blowing and sticking with fairly small pieces of wood all the way, we did get some warmth out of the fire, and ate in a sort of dance: stand up, take a bite, go back and blow on the fire, wander around to look for wood; repeat.
The walk up from the shelter to the AT, along it with those good views to the west and then up onto the beautiful bald of Cold Mountain was undertaken a little more slowly than the first chunk, with those second three miles consuming more like our usual time – about 75 minutes. And of course this is the section of the walk with the climbs.
Still, as the road that takes you back to the parking lot came into view, Gail said: "Didn't this used to be a long hike?"
Well, maybe never quite "long," but this favorite loop did seem to be over too soon on this crisp winter day.
Hike, January 22, 2011
Old Hotel Trail, Appalachian Trail loop in Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area. About 6 miles.
How to get there: Exit 188 from I-81 toward Buena Vista. Along U.S. 60 through Buena Vista, up to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway, then left on Va. 634 to the right turn onto Va. 755, which becomes FR 48.