Sharp Top Hike, Round One

Well, I finally made it out into the woods of Virginia after five weeks of running on concrete and asphalt and itching to put on a pack. Ironically, the mountain I hiked teased me for those five weeks as I could see it from practically every place I went around the Lynchburg area. As I posted last week, the destination was Sharp Top Mountain, a nice little trek that ends in terrific views.

The start looked pretty pedestrian, if you’ll excuse the pun:

IMG_20170708_131515

It quickly turned into a decent workout once we were in the woods a few hundred yards, and the rock and step-studded trail began to take on elevation. Sadly, in a first for me, I was so totally engrossed in the hike and in breathing the fresh air that I neglected to take a single picture of the actual trail! Hence my labeling this trip “Round One”. I’m anxious to go back in the fall and check out the foliage from 3875 feet, as well as take a few shots of the trail itself.

Anyway, I found the jaunt up the 1.5 mile trail with its 1243-foot elevation gain to be a nice workout. We went on Saturday morning, so it was a bit too crowded for my isolationist tastes, but people were friendly and seemed to be enjoying the camaraderie inherent in conquering an objective with random strangers.

The views were perfect. I especially enjoyed the clouds, which added some drama and mood to my casual phone shots:

Top of Mountain SignLandscape ViewPeak View

And my daughter, she of the Snapchat ilk, begged for a photo of her, my son-in-law and intrepid canine explorer Sadie next to the sign:

Kids and Sadie

One hiking site lamented the lack of wildlife seen on the trail, but we had just started back down when, about a hundred feet below the summit, we happened upon this hungry buck enjoying some foliage:

Deer

Sadie gave him a quick look then totally lost interest, as did another dog just below us on the switchback. The deer peeked at the group of ten or so of us for several minutes while he ate, before slipping off among the trees. Such grace in movement!

In my previous post, I debated whether or not to carry my Kestrel 28. Well, I did, but even cinched down it was pretty serious overkill for this hike. So much so that it has me thinking about getting a smaller capacity hydration/daypack for these half day or shorter hikes, even the 6-8 mile quickies I do on the Appalachian Trail when I need to escape the concrete jungle.

And here’s my take on the difficulty, a topic that has gotten some discussion online: While it’s not a very technical hike, I would rate it as moderate overall due to the elevation gain over the distance, terrain and occasional steep sections. But I saw people from age five to sixty-five making the climb, so I feel it could be mastered by anyone in decent physical health who isn’t allergic to the notion of stopping to catch their breath.

It was perfect weather, good cardio exercise and amazing views. A nice three-mile introduction to the mountains of Virginia. And more importantly, it lit the fire under me to drive over to Daleville in the (very!) near future and get myself back on the AT…

 

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First Virginia Hike, Planned

Thirty miles from where I sit typing this post lies a 1243-foot incline known around these parts as Sharp Top. It’s a 2.7 mile round trip hike, according to AllTrails.com, and ranges from easy to strenuous depending on which hiker you ask. My daughter and son-in-law are anxious to take me there this weekend, and I’m looking forward to my first foray into the trees of Virginia, albeit (for me) a brief one.

Given that it’s a short jaunt, I’m faced with a dilemma: Do I toss twenty or so pounds into my trusty Kestrel 28, grab my trekking poles and use it as a weighted practice hike, or just strap on my running bottle carrier, leave the poles and pack at home and enjoy the day? The motivated AT section hiker in me wants to do the former. But the dad and father-in-law says kick back and enjoy the ride, uh, hike.

I guess I’ll wait and see how the planning stage goes tomorrow. They’re in NYC right now, enjoying a brief vacation. They might be too tired of walking the streets of The Apple to want to exert themselves too much this weekend, which means dad might end up bringing his daypack filled with snacks and water bottles for all, which would add a third and ultimately final option to the above list.

I guess I’ll know for sure Saturday morning. However it plays out, I’m looking forward to some quality family time among the rocks and trees…

Self-Inflating, Indeed!

A couple of times since March I’ve chatted about a sleeping pad I’ve been eyeballing from a cottage manufacturer. I finally ordered one, and it arrived on Saturday. Introducing my first foray into self-inflation, the Hiker Hunger Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad:

Pad

I paid the reasonable sum of $46.99 for this slice of on-the-ground comfort, and though I’ve yet to give it a proper testing, my initial impressions are very positive, which dovetail with the reviews I’ve read on it. For the detail-minded, here are the key specs as printed by the manufacturer on the stuff sack itself:

Sack

The only listed spec I took issue with was the 13.4″ height. The sack itself may be that tall, but after inflating, deflating and returning the pad to its sack, I found it came in at exactly 10″ top-to-bottom. When loading a pack, those three inches will make a difference…

Being a somewhat bony side/stomach sleeper, I couldn’t see myself getting much comfort from a thin, closed-cell foam pad, so I set a minimum thickness of 1.5″ during my search for the perfect pad. I also wanted an R value of at least 3.0, and it had to weigh less than two pounds. Check, check and check. It packs up a bit bigger girth-wise than I expected, but for the price/comfort, not a deal breaker by any means. The materials and construction inspire confidence; but in case I do something dumb, the company graciously includes a patch kit tucked away in a small pocket inside the stuff sack.

I pulled the pad from its matching bag, spread it out on the floor, opened the valve and walked away for ten minutes. When I returned, it was ready for the three or four breaths it took to get it to my desired firmness, a far and pleasant cry from the dizziness-inducing air mattress inflation experiences of my youth. I crashed on it in my usual sleeping positions for twenty minutes to test it out, and found it comfy in its intended context. I did not test it with my sleeping bag; I’ll wait to do that when I can actually take it outside. A carpet laid over a concrete floor isn’t exactly duff-covered terra firma, but it was close enough for me to do a decent trial. And I came away very pleased and impressed with my latest gear purchase. Kudos to New England-based Hiker Hunger!

Can’t wait to try it out in the Virginia woods. And as soon as I do, I’ll post a real-world review in this space…