Along the Appalachian Trail just south of Va. 785 crossing
Along the Appalachian Trail just south of Va. 785 crossing, looking north up the Catawba Valley with Tinker Cliffs in the background.
On this, the shortest weekend day of the year, we set out at just after noon from the snowy Dragon's Tooth Parking Lot, about which The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All had also been a better predictor than I, as her bet was there'd be three cars in the lot and mine was six. There were two as we arrived.
Still, there was considerable evidence in the crusty snow of hikers who had come before us since the snow of three days earlier. At least for the first .4 or so, as when she led us off the Dragon's Tooth Trail and onto the Scout Connector Trail, Gail's footprints were the first into the snow. At least the first human footprints, as before long she was stopping us to look at this print or that, speculating on big cats and, as she is wont to do in the snow, bears! Soon after were traces of fresh blood amid the tracks, and we paused to speculate on what might have caught and dragged away what for winter sustenance.
At the Appalachian Trail intersection, we remained the first hikers to have trod since the snow, and we continued to try to puzzle out tracks. For a stretch, big squarish prints went from big tree to big tree, seeming to disappear near the tree and then resuming. Bear for sure, The Day Hiker concluded. See photo:
And for another section, over a large open field with fence-crossing styles at either end, we puzzled over more big squarish prints that were no doubt a big gathering of bears! Until, that is, we figured out that they were, um, cows.
Still, those one in the woods by the trees…
This section of the AT includes open fields, stream-side walking, good forest and two road crossings before it begins the climb of Sawtooth Ridge. Our hope had been to get to the ridge line, but we stopped about three-tenths short of the crest because of two things: One, it was 29 degrees when we got out of the car, and so the sun was our best buddy on this walk; the crest would be slightly around the corner from direct sunlight, and at least partly shaded. And so, when we came upon a nearly dry log across the trail in a sunny spot, we took it. The other factor was that we hadn't walked too fast coming into the woods, and if we took our usual time for lunch and walked back at the same pace we'd come in, that 5:04 sunset would be staring us in the face.
Ah, but you walk with The Greatest Day Hiker, you likely as not do not go back at the same pace. She retraced the path she'd cut for us in 15 minutes less time than coming in. Of course, once she's had lunch, once the day is wearing on and we're walking in hollows that remind you of the Darrell Scott line about places where the sun "comes up at 10 in the morning, goes down at 3 in the day," she's not pausing to look at any daggone animal tracks. She's on her way to a hot shower and a warm dinner.
Note: The two photos accompanying this dispatch provide a little visual on how to hike in the winter. The darlin' girl in the bluish top standing by the tree to pose with the alleged bear prints was on her way to lunch. The equally sweet winter-time hiker standing by the blaze in the Catawba Valley was on her way back from lunch and thus has on all-new stuff from head to waist, 'cause if you don't take off those hill-climbin' layers and put new ones on just before you and sit down in the cold, they'll freeeeze right to ya!
Hike: December 19, 2010
Dragon's Tooth Trail to Boy Scout Trail to Appalachian Trail north to the side of Sawtooth Ridge and back. 6.4 miles.
How to get there: Va. 311 to Dragon's Tooth Parking lot on the left no far beyond Va. 624.