Well, due to commitments back home, Deep Woods and I had to stop short of Daleville. We finished this latest hike at VA Route 624, just down the road from Four Pines Hostel. That equated to 67.4 miles over six days. Not quite what we had hoped for but no worries. It sets us up well for hitting McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs right out of the gate next year as we shoot for Glasgow, VA. A huge shout out goes to Deep Woods for his contribution of many of the photos from this trip. The Essential Tremor is making it next to impossible for me to get anything in focus.
Day One: Narrows Rd Parking Lot to Campsite on Meadow (12 mi)
A shuttle from Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven dropped us off at the Narrow’s Rd trailhead parking lot around 8 AM. We set off, immediately entering the woods and arriving at the Pearis Cemetery quickly thereafter. After a brief look around, we continued on, dropping out onto US Route 460 where we made our way across the bridge over the New River. Once across, it was down some stairs and another short road walk before entering the woods once more. A short climb brought us to Clendennin and Pocahontas roads, at which point we did a short walk along the latter. In the woods again, we began a climb of approximately 1,300 ft on our way to Rice Field. Large swaths of Mountain Laurel were in full bloom through here and we would run into much, much more over the course of the trip.
Once across a powerline cut, we entered the woods once again, welcomed back by some tiny white Azaleas. With the dry weather the area had been experiencing prior to the start of our hike, water was hard to come by at times. A small stream now provided us an opportunity to tank up on several liters each to get us through that evening and much of the following day. Proceeding on, we reached the open expanse of Rice Field and it was spectacular. It’s a beautiful setting for the shelter that sits there. As tempting as it was to call it a day right there, it was early afternoon and we wanted to put more miles under our feet. We made use of the picnic table to have lunch and set off again.
Rice Field behind us, we passed a cell tower, crossed another powerline cut with a fantastic view and some small patches of Phlox and re-entered the woods. At one point my eye caught something right next to the trail and I came to an abrupt stop. Two small stalks of Shooting Stars, a wildflower I had yet to run across, were so close to the trail that I’m surprised they hadn’t been trampled.
We made our way across an old apple orchard and popped out onto a large meadow with a fantastic view. This would be home for the night. At that point, we were the only two there and we debated back and forth on who would pitch where. Ultimately, Deep Woods gave up a nice spot out in the open and set up just outside the treeline while I took his former spot. A young thru hiking couple showed up, followed by another young guy. They all pitched a short distance away. Everyone spent some time taking in the incredible view before eventually retreating to their respective shelters for the night.
A great night’s rest was had by no one though. We had heard that bears had been seen throughout this section, in particular, a mother and two cubs. Deep Woods made sure to hang our food well away from camp but the young guy who showed up later had an Ursack Major (bear-resistant food bag) which he hung against the trunk of a tree….just 15 or 20 feet from Deep Woods tent! Once momma and the cubs found it, there seemed to be no way of getting rid of them. We were up numerous times chasing them off. Deep Woods asked me if he should move his tent and like an idiot I said “I don’t know but here’s some rocks to throw at ’em”. I’m surprised he didn’t rip my tarp down and take his original spot back! We should have had the kid move his stupid bag or moved it for him. At any rate, the bears must have come to the conclusion that acquiring this meal was going to expend far too much energy and eventually left us alone. Sleep at last.
Day Two: Bailey Gap Shelter (11.5 mi)
We woke to a beautiful sunrise and to discover the young guy’s Ursack riddled with holes…punctures from the bears’ teeth. Deep Woods said it looked like someone had used it for target practice. They didn’t get any of the guy’s food but a lot of it was crushed or ruined. We loaded up and hit the trail by 7:30 AM, hoping to knock off as many miles as possible before it got too warm. The day before had reached into the ’80’s and the prediction for much of the rest of the week was the same. We had pressed on a bit further the previous day than what was originally planned and it was a good thing. The way things would have worked out had we stuck to “the plan”, we would have had two big climbs on day three. As it turned out, the availability of water would often dictate how far we moved forward each day. Additionally, we would generally now have just one major climb each of those remaining days. That said, we would have much preferred to go at a wee bit slower pace, especially considering the heat. To put it bluntly, we’re getting old and like to take our time!
The trail, while very rocky, rolled gently along for the first couple of miles to Dickenson Gap. From there it was a very short but stiff climb up to the Allegheny Trail junction. Now we lost 1,200 ft in elevation on our way to Pine Swamp Branch Shelter, crossing a couple of small streams enroute. Along the way, we passed the first of many Pink Lady Slippers that we would encounter over the course of the trip. Reaching the shelter, we dropped the packs, had lunch and took a LONG, much needed break, content that we had already knocked off nearly 8 miles.
Deep Woods eventually convinced me to get off my butt and start moving but we only managed to go a short distance when I got distracted by some beautiful Flame Azaleas. After those, we put just 2 miles more behind us when we came upon the large footbridge over Stony Creek. Considering that we were now getting scorched from the searing heat, this was too good to pass up. Off came the shoes and socks and a long, cold foot soak commenced.
Leaving the oasis of the creek behind, we made the 1.5 mile, 1,100 ft climb up to Bailey’s Gap Shelter. And it kicked our butts! So much for the refreshing, cold soak. We were drenched in sweat once more. We eventually made the top though and discovered the shelter empty. We opted to take up residency there in the hopes of getting an even earlier start the next morning. Another section hiker, a psychiatrist by the trail name “Skunk Man”, showed up not long after. He opted for the shelter as well. We really enjoyed talking with him. Very interesting guy. Thru hiker “Rain Man” showed up later and was he something! Very nice guy…just talked a million miles an hour, every other word was the F-bomb and he constantly interrupted each time the three of us tried to say anything.
Just before dark, we noticed several mice running around outside and under the shelter. Then several more. The three of us in the shelter decided to stay put, hoping they wouldn’t drive us nuts or chew up our gear. It wasn’t long after we headed to bed that they were scurrying right next to my arms and face. I kept trying to chase them off with zero success. Fed up with this, I tossed my sleeping pad and quilt on the picnic table outside and slept there. Surprisingly, I was bothered no more, though I could still hear them scurrying around all over. Somehow, Deep Woods and Skunk Man survived the rodent horde. Rain Man slept like a baby. Go figure.
Day Three: Campsite near John’s Creek Mountain Trail (12.2 mi)
Rain Man, toting his 40+ lb pack, was the first to hit the trail in the morning. Deep Woods and I weren’t far behind, though we never saw him again. A generally easy, uneventful 4 miles brought us to Wind Rock. Off came the packs for a break and an opportunity to take in the view. The young guy with the Ursack we spent night one with had stayed here last night and was just now packing up. He apologized for the whole bear bag fiasco and said he should have moved it. Good enough for me. Skunk Man caught up with us here. We were already withering in the heat so a simple sit-down break wasn’t sufficient. Prone position in the shade was called for.
Moving on, we had 2.5 mi on the same contour before starting the 2,000 ft descent to John’s Creek. Along the way, some White Trillium, more white Azaleas and huge swaths of flowering Mountain Laurel. Beautiful!
We eventually arrived at War Spur shelter early in the afternoon, approximately 9 miles in for the day. This also meant that most of our descent to John’s Creek was behind us and we would have just a few more opportunities to tank up on water before beginning our final climb of the day. We had lunch, talked with a group of young thru hikers and contemplated our next move. The shelter was positioned right next to a well-flowing stream but we decided to hold off and fill up at one of the last two sources ahead before starting that last climb. We moved on, coming to the first of those sources, a weak stream. Out of fear that John’s Creek, the last source, would be dry, we opted to fill up here and it took forever. Bottles finally topped off, we proceeded on, arriving at John’s Creek to find it flowing just fine. Ughhh.
Moving on, we had 1,700 ft of up over 2.5 miles to the John’s Creek Mountain Trail junction. For whatever reason, day three of every hike I’ve ever done seems to be the most difficult. Up to this point on this hike, I had fared pretty well, especially considering the insane heat. Now, though, I was struggling. Late on day one, I had developed a scratchy throat which had now developed into a full blown head cold (and later, after the hike, Strep). Combined with the heat, it was no wonder I was moving like a snail. About two miles into the ascent, we reached VA 601, a gravel road at Rocky Gap. We took a long break there before moving on. The last half mile seemingly took forever and I was practically crawling by the time we made it to the top. We found a nice spot to pitch and called it a day. Fortunately, we would both get some decent rest this night. No bears. No mice. So nice!
I’ll wrap up this trip in the next post.
More to come…