I could spend this entire post lauding Virginia for its hiking-friendly winter weather, but that wouldn’t leave room for photos. Instead, I’ll say this: Getting out on the AT at the end of January in shorts, with no snow in sight, is this transplanted Mainer’s dream come true…
Having said that, I opted for a short day hike to the Johns Hollow Shelter from the James River Foot Bridge trailhead to celebrate my winter freedom, and to launch my hiking year. It was sunny and 53 degrees with a touch of breeze when I left the car and crossed state route 501 into the trees.
I had barely gotten my pack adjusted when I hit the first bridge spanning Rocky Row Run, a bubbling, peaceful little waterway that I would follow for the first mile:
I met four ladies from the Natural Bridge Trail Club heading back from their own 8-mile out-and-back, and chatted with them about the club, as I’d seen the NBTC mentioned online in various places. They were glad to share, and excited about the club and its group hikes. I guess I need to join up!
It was so peaceful on that stretch of trail. Even crossing a dirt secondary road just beyond the one mile mark didn’t interrupt the flow of silence, as I buzzed across and back into the woods. 3/4 of a mile later, the AT marched left along the ridge and a sign pointed me down into the hollow to the shelter:
My experience with shelters on the AT is limited; I’ve only seen four, to be honest. But it seems to me that the pair that exist two miles from the James River, Matts Creek to the south and Johns Hollow to the north, are pretty luxurious. Like Matts Creek, this shelter is in good shape, with a picnic table, fire ring and privy.
And, most importantly, both shelters have a water supply running next to them, ready for filtering. Assuming non-drought conditions, which was an issue at times last year. The advantage that Johns Hollow has over Matts Creek, however, is that the area around the shelter is a tent-pitcher’s nirvana. The space is wide open, with an impressive number of camping sites. This might be a good spot for my first overnight shakeout at the end of March…
The shelter is a scant 1.8 miles from the trailhead, and as I was looking for a five mile day, I left it and hustled up the side trail, rejoining the AT.
When I hit the 2.5 mile mark and made the turn to head back to the James, two trail runners and their dog blew past on their way up the mountain. I greeted them but stood aside; as a less-ambitious trail runner myself, I know enough to avoid interrupting their rhythm. One of the guys, head down and arms pumping, looked like a member of the staff at my favorite local outfitter. I need to stop by soon and ask if it was indeed him!
The return trip went too quickly, as always. I slowed to take several photos on the way to try and lengthen my afternoon, but couldn’t stop the inevitable springing from the woods onto 501. After dropping my gear at the car, I did go out onto the bridge; it would be a shame to ever make the trip to Big Island and NOT tread the Foot Bridge!
I’m still excited over the condition of the trail in January, and how accessible and easily hiked it was. At my favorite AT launching point in Maine, the trailhead parking lot gets plowed under until spring, and the trail is covered with literal feet of snow.
I much prefer the Virginia version in winter…
Note: In case you’re wondering about my powers of observation, or lack thereof, this was my third run out to Big Island, but the first time I saw this sign:
If I don’t find a job soon, I might have to take that 775-mile trip to Springer…