I’ve Never Seen So Many

Blowdowns. Sure, I’ve had to scramble over and/or around fallen trees on the AT many times before, but this little journey from the Route 43 trailhead out to Bobblet’s Gap would feature blowdowns in epic proportions. As in, dozens and dozens. And dozens of them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up…

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A beautiful sky. That’s Sharp Top on the left.

The sky was beginning to clear and the temps rise as my son-in-law/usual hiking partner Jace and I set out from the car to climb up to the section of the AT in this area of Peaks of Otter that follows the Blue Ridge Parkway. Almost immediately, we hit a mishmash of tree limbs blocking the trail, but made our way around the obstacle and across a narrow brook and continued our ascent.

Then we hit another downed tree. Fifty yards later, another. And another. And still more. Some spots featured such a knot of trunks and branches that we had to completely circumvent the area.

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Welcome to the AT!
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Yes, there’s trail here. Somewhere.

We waged war against the poor tangled masses until we hit elevation and popped out onto the Parkway. In spite of everything landscape-wise being pretty much dead and dying, the sky was a stunning complement to the views.

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Sharp Top once again in the background. It would be featured in every shot taken off that side of the ridge.
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Thanks for Leaving No Trace, Chuck and Amanda! (Yes, that’s sarcasm)

Crossing over the Parkway, we began the gentle descent into Bobblet’s Gap, and arrived at the shelter ready to inhale lunch. The bubbling brook nearby was running to the edge of its banks as we sat and ate our food and enjoyed the solitude. Note: One nice thing about hiking this section in November is the strip of Parkway that runs through it is closed to vehicle traffic for the season. So even though we could see the ribbon of asphalt through the trees in many spots, there were no cars racing past to ruin the peacefulness of the hike.

We had our battles with the dead trees for that.

It reached a point where we began dragging the smaller ones we could manage off the trail, giving the local ATC a head start on what will no doubt be a busy spring cleanup. I might even volunteer to come out and help when they do hit this section. The number of fallen trees is appallingly impressive. (When we were driving down off the mountain at hike’s end, the roadside was littered with copious amounts of blowdowns)

In spite of the extra workout and off-trail mileage accrued in order to avoid large tangles of downed trees, our belated OptOutside hike (couldn’t get out on Friday, the actual OptOutside day) was a smashing success.

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Again, there’s Sharp Top in the crook of the tree…

I’m currently shopping a camera to take on future hikes. My phone screen couldn’t fend off the glare, so most of the time I was literally shooting blind, as some of these photos attest…you can only accomplish so much in post!

 

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A Stroll Along Thunder Ridge

Six months (seriously!) to the day since my last wander on the AT, I found myself at Thunder Ridge Overlook above the clouds:

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I’ve been a few miles northbound from the Overlook, but Saturday’s mission was to go south to Apple Orchard Mountain. So, with a liter of fluid, a box of Clif Bars (in case of any SOBO thru-hiker sightings) and my son-in-law Jace in tow, I headed out.

 

As a runner, I prefer crisp, cool mornings. That preference has followed me over to the hiking side, which is one of the reasons I don’t drag myself and a backpack to the woods nearly as often in summer. This was a flawless fall hiking day, with a breezy sun and 60 degree temps for our 9:15AM start.

 

It was spongy in many places, the trail showing the effects of one of Virginia’s rainiest years on record.

 

Less than a half-mile into the trip, we approached then crossed the quiet Blue Ridge Parkway. (That’s another advantage to hiking once school is back in session and the majority of vacations are over: less automobile noise in the sections where the AT runs close to the Parkway) We cruised through the silent trees, enjoying the solitude broken only by our own thoughts spoken aloud to each other.

 

Nearing the 1.5 mile mark, we trotted down a short side trail to the Thunder Hill Shelter:

 

Thunder Hill Shelter

 

The shelter had a cistern-type water source nearby but, to be honest, we were more interested in the de facto tent sites set up near the shelter than we were in the building itself. If we’re ever here for an overnight, we’ll definitely skip the shelter and use one of the grassy spots above it off the trail!

 

I don’t usually stop to smell the mushrooms while hiking, but this one was intriguing, so I grabbed a quick shot with my travel-weary Pixel:

 

Mushroom

 

A short distance later we crossed the Parkway again and, turning a corner lost in thought, I came upon something that I didn’t know lived on this particular stretch of the AT, something I’d only seen in pictures up to that point: The Guillotine!

 

The Guillotine

 

That weird deja vu feeling you get when you come face-to-face with a person or thing you’ve only seen previously in photos or films left me momentarily dumbfounded. I have read many, many hiker books and journals containing a picture of this landmark. For some reason, I thought it was farther south than it is. For the sake of our short hike, I’m glad it wasn’t, as seeing it was the cherry on top of the morning for me.

 

2.5 miles brought us to the “official” Thunder Ridge” sign, and also to the open, grassy top of Apple Orchard Mountain:

 

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Just behind the elevation sign Jace spied a grouping of boulders that would allow us to grab a few shots off the other side of the ridge, so I did a small bit of climbing and snapped a few like this one:

 

Thunder Ridge

 

Beyond the grassy top of the mountain the trail began a muddy-ish descent, with a few switchbacks. We hit the three mile mark at this point, and opted to turn around and head for home. Six was the goal for this morning-only hike, and six we would get with ease.

 

On the way back, we were just about to cross the Parkway for the second time and cruise through the last four-tenths of a mile to the car when Jace stopped and said, “Deer”. I looked off to our left, and sure enough, a pair of does was standing in shoulder-high brush looking at us! I was too stunned to get a shot of them before they wandered off. If you’ve read this blog in the past, you know how I’ve lamented my complete lack of wildlife sightings while in the woods. Paradoxically, I’ve had dozens of encounters with wildlife in the cities where I’ve lived, ranging from black bears to raccoons to coyotes. And, of course, deer. Lots and LOTS of deer.

 

I was glad for the distraction, as I had pretty seriously rolled my right ankle just a few hundred yards before. Running did, as it has in the past, save me as a hiker. The tendons, ligaments, whatever is there are so strong from my other favorite form of exercise that I was able to finish the hike and run thirty minutes the next morning, no pain, no problem!

 

We drove back to the city and tried a new pizza joint for lunch. It was outstanding! The perfect end to an inspiring morning hike. I was so thrilled to be back in the woods. I’ve missed the peacefulness, the crisp morning air, the wandering mind that comes to lock step with my wandering feet…

 

At the risk of jinxing myself, next month I’m going out to the woods twice.

The Hiker Hikes Again!

In the flurry of activities that make up our days, it’s so easy to get distracted and back-burner things that are meaningful to us.

Hiking, for example. Blogging, for another.

I could not believe when I looked at my hiking trip log and saw that today marks six months since I’ve been out on the AT, and nearly five months since I’ve hiked at all!

Not to mention nearly three months since my last post here.

Well, today’s the day. My default hiking partner/son-in-law and I are taking a quick run out to Thunder Ridge Overlook for a southbound cruise on the AT in the woods alongside the hustle and bustle of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

And I can’t wait.

It felt sadly strange to pull my Deuter Airlite 22 out of my storage cabinet and load it up with the ten essentials, water and a box of Clif Bars (I always carry extra in case I stumble upon a thru-hiker or two. SOBOs are afoot this time of year. Pun intended). But the good news is that we are now entering my favorite hiking time of the year, so there will be many more by-foot excursions between now and year’s end.

My sanity requires it.