Matthew and Aden, Papa and Gigi at McAfee Knob, February 4, 2012, pre-rain.
It could've been a formula for disaster: a threatening winter day and two nine-year-olds starting up a mountain at 10:30 in the morning with the chances of rain inching up by the hour. And all the more portending of trouble when Matthew, after sprinting across 311, slides into the leaf-covered ditch beside the road, soaking his shoes and one pant leg.
The shoes, he decides, are fine. "Water shoes," he says. "Skeletoes are OK to get wet. They'll be fine."
A cold wet leg not so much.
So while The Greatest Day Hiker and the Very Fine Day Hikers Themselves start along the trail, I hop back in the car, burn down the mountain to the Salem Goodwill store, snag a pair of $2 pants and burn back up the mountain. And then, after the initial climb there, do a little trail running to try to catch up.
And when I do, the two younger hikers are way up on a rock formation, calling out about how they've climbed up and down a bunch of times and it is really cool. There does not seem to be any concern about wet pants at this point, though Matthew is polite enough to go ahead and change.
From there, aside from the occasional discouragement of whichever of the two is behind, we pretty much charge on up the mountain, with everyone warm and clicking along.
At the formation, we get some pictures, walk around a little, and decide to eat over on the Roanoke-view side, despite the fact that the city is fast disappearing under advancing clouds.
Which, pretty soon after we spread out lunch, begin to yield their dreaded product: mild drizzle picking up quickly to light, cold winter rain, the timing and intensity of which is just right to have me not tie up the little tarp and yet have us all get a little damp and cold and in a hurry to get back to walking before we fully finish lunch. We bust out the rain jackets, pack stuff up and start down, crossing two sets of people, near the summit, on the way up.
At the forest road crossing, we take it, talking to each other about fewer wet rocks, maybe a little shorter and definitely easier.
Not too far down it, Aden begins using his hiking stick as a paddle. "It's pretty wet out here," he explains, "so I'm paddling down the mountain while the rest of you have to walk." He keeps rowing pretty much all the way down, which may have helped jinx the rain away, as after that pretty steady stuff as we were leaving the peak, we didn't get much beyond drizzle.
Appalachian Trail from Va. 311 crossing to McAfee Knob and back. 7.4 miles.
How to get there: Va. 311 west from Salem to the parking lot at the high point on Catawba Mountain.