Day One | Day Two | Day Three
With the days shorter and the temperatures colder, I decided earlier this month to stop bicycling to work and to stop paddling for the season. I'm a three season paddler and my backpacking season only lasts a few weeks longer. After that, I might do an occassional day hike, short bicycling trip, or cross country skiing.
This was my last backpacking trip of the season. I wanted to make sure I had some great memories to last me through the winter so I signed up for Mike J.'s Cold Mountain and Pleasant Mountain trip. Mike swore we would see "some of the most breathtaking views in central Virginia." I believe a money-back guarantee came with that promise.
Day One: Saturday, October 25, 2008
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave the following forecast for the town of Buena Vista, Virginia:
Saturday: Rain, mainly before 11am. High near 65. Southeast wind 7 to 11 mph becoming west. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New rainfall amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.
Saturday Night: Mostly cloudy, then gradually becoming mostly clear, with a low around 38. Light west wind.
Sunday: Sunny, with a high near 74. Light wind becoming west between 10 and 13 mph.
Sunday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 41. West wind between 8 and 10 mph.
Monday: Partly sunny, with a high near 53.
Our campsite would be near this town but at a higher elevation so Mike told us to subtract a few degrees.
I awoke at 0530 on October 25. I hadn't yet turned on the heat and the house was cold. But I knew it would be much colder in the mountains. Hence, I packed polypropylene underwear, silk underwear, a fleece top, wool socks, fleece gloves, knit wool cap, and a fleece headband. Hopefully, all that along with two sleeping pads and a goose down sleeping bag would keep me warm. Since it had been raining during the night, I made sure to bring lots of firestarter so we would have a good fire too. I had no excuse for being cold.
After packing my clothes and gear, I threw together whatever food I had lying around the house. I stopped at the grocery store to buy tortillas (because bread gets crushed) then headed on over to the Broken Land Parkway and Route 32 Park and Ride carpool place. Here, I met our fearless leader, Mike, Don (the mad hatter), Betty, and Jess (a new chick).
I drove with Betty in her Toyota Prius while the rest rode with Mike in his Toyota Tacoma PreRunner. As always, I had a great conversation with Betty. Mike picked up Craig. An accident slowed us down but since it was raining, I didn't mind too much. It was supposed to clear up in the afternoon so if we started a little later, we would have a better chance of a dry hike. It was over a 4 hour drive but I managed to catch a catnap so it didn't seem so bad.
At the trailhead, we met Leena and Paul. By 1420, we were heading southwest on the blue blazed Hotel Trail (completed in 1989) in George Washington National Forest.
It wasn't raining but it was kinda cold and very windy. I wore a good deal of insulation but after the first hill, I stopped to shed. It is a fine art to dress appropriately during cold weather hiking and I'm still trying to find the right balance between staying warm enough and not sweating.
We saw a large group of scouts. They occupied the Cowcamp Gap Shelter and we set up camp nearby, only 2 miles from the trailhead.
Just downhill was a spring for us to obtain water.
I saw a mouse in the outhouse near the shelter.
After eating, we hung the bear bag then got a nice fire started. Most of the wood was damp but my huge firestarter brick ensured we had a roaring blaze. It was dark by 1845. I couldn't imagine NOT having a fire.
Sitting around the fire, I got a couple of games started. In one, the objective was to name television shows that contain the word "show." Mike won that. In the other game, we had to say, "In my grandmother's attic, I found a..." then say a noun that starts with an A. The next person repeats this, saying the word already chosen that starts with an A but then add a word that starts with a B. We keep up this iterative process until we go through the whole alphabet. It is a good test of memory and can get rather silly.
By 2100, we all called it a night.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Day Two: Sunday, October 26, 2008
It was a cold night but not cold enough to freeze. That was a good thing since I left my contact lense case (with lenses inside) outside of the tent.
After 10 hours of sleep, I was up at about 0700.
I re-stoked the fire so we could keep warm while eating breakfast.
We posed for a group photo (see first photo) then began our double circuit day hike. Most of us wore the big backpacks we used to carry our overnight gear while the clever ones like Jess brought a hip pack for today's trek.
Continuing our clockwise route, we eventually came to the Appalachian Trail. Then we walked east and stopped at some scenic overlooks on Cold Mountain (sometimes called Cole Mountain). It was still pretty windy so we didn't stop for too long...just enough to take in the breathtaking view. The open, grassy field on which we stood made for a nice contrast with the mountains all around. See the second, third, and fourth photos at left. Also, see the photo at the top of this page which I created by merging two photos together to get an extra wide-angle view.
Venturing onward, we came back to the trailhead where we began yesterday. This trailhead is really great because one can access not one, not two, but four, yes, FOUR trails at this one parking lot. I imagine that during warmer parts of the year, the place must fill up quickly.
A short road walk between the Appalachian Trail and the Hotel Trail took us under a wasp nest where we could clearly see the openings below (fifth photo).
At a kiosk, we saw several gypsy moth pupas. See sixth photo.
Next, Mike led us east (clockwise) on the Mount Pleasant circuit. Here, we walked on the blue blazed Henry Lanum Memorial Trail. We first stopped at Pompey Mountain then headed south to Mount Pleasant.
One important rule for hiking is to stop at trail junctions. This way, people don't go off in different directions. At one part of the trail, Jess starting heading to the right but she was told to head left since we believed the path to the left was the actual trail while the section to the right was not. There were no signs to indicate that both might actually be correct. Six of us made it to the East Vista of Mount Pleasant. We waited a bit then became concerned when we did not see Mike or Betty. Craig and I headed back a bit to the vista sign then I jogged partly down the mountain, looking for Mike and Betty. I passed two groups of hikers and neither saw anyone fitting Mike or Betty's description. I ran back up the mountain and told Craig I was unsuccessful. A little later, Mike and Betty came walking down from the West Vista. It turns out the route that Jess tried to take was not incorrect, it was an alternative path that led to the peak. Craig and I were thankful Mike and Betty were fine. We learned a valuable lesson...actually, we already knew it...but this made it sink in better.
There were some great views on the east side. See seventh, eighth, and ninth photos at left. Leena saw an old friend at the overlook. A couple of dachshunds wearing sweaters climbed up there too. I don't usually think of them as trail dogs but they proved themselves that day.
Next, Paul, Leena, and I walked over to the West Vista. It took a little rock scrambling to get the best view but it was well worth it. See Paul and Leena in the tenth and eleventh photos.What makes Cold Mountain and Mount Pleasant so fantastic is the wide angle from which one can see the terrain below. The visibility was good. It would have been even better if the fall colors were more vivid but I think we might have been too late for that.
I was hoping for warmer temperatures but was satisfied that the wind died down and the sun shined. I never changed out of my polypropylene top.
We hiked west to finish the loop, ending back at the parking lot. I found a grey sports shirt on the ground under Mike's truck. There was nobody around to claim it so I kept it. Just my size too. I find quite a few things on backpacking trips. Unfortunately, I also lose things. That day, I lost the folding knife that Brian gave me. I think I lost it on the rock scramble. Wouldn't it be ironic if the fellow who lost the shirt I found was the guy who found the knife I lost?
A two mile repeat of yesterday took us from the cars to the campsite. This time, the two miles seemed much longer thanks to the 10 miles we just finished.
With drier wood, I used a much smaller piece of fire starter to get a nice inferno going.
Again, we played the letter memory game except now instead of starting it with "In my grandmother's attic, I found a..." Jess suggested we start it with "On my road trip, I brought a..." It was much sillier this time. We also played unorganized games that involved guessing the name of television shows that created spinoffs, bands that spun off from other bands, and one hit wonder bands. Our festive conversation kept some of us up until the wee hours of 2145!
There was also a good deal of audible flatulence taking place that night.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Day Three: Monday, October 27, 2008
I thought the first night was windy but the second night was even windier! Fortunately, everything was well secured so I lost no more than my knife.
It was a cold, overcast morning. No sun. We definitely lucked out having the nice weather for our long hike yesterday.
We packed up then headed out. While we walked the route from the cars to the campsite twice, this was our first time walking from the campsite to the cars. Some things were observed that were missed the first time like a big stone wall. I wondered if we missed some important things by only walking one direction yesterday.
At times the sun broke through. See first photo.
There were a few apple trees in the area (second photo). I also saw a great big, majestic tree that reminded me a bit of the great oak tree on Norma's parents' farm. See third photo.
Mike pointed out Mount Pleasant. It really was a pleasant mountain...and so are my memories of being there. See fourth photo.
After our long weekend of 16 (plus some change) miles of hiking, we bid farewell then headed home. I caught another catnap while Betty drove through a downpour. Our trip ended like it began. A dry hike and a wet drive. Much better than the other way around.
Betty showed me a local trailhead that resides 1.6 miles north of the Washington D.C. beltway (highway 495) on Columbia Pike (route 29), south of Hillwood Drive on the northwest side of where the Northwest Branch (a stream) meets Columbia Pike in Northwest Branch Park. I was pleased to know there are still nearby trails with which I am unfamiliar. I often say that the best way to end one trip is to learn about another. It keeps the spirit of adventure and exploration alive.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
In 1994, the 7580 acre Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area located in the Pedlar Ranger District of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests was designated by Congress. This area was established to ensure the protection and preservation of the scenic quality, water quality and resources, and the natural characteristics of resources located throughout the area. The Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area also contains areas that may develop the characteristics of old growth forests.
Included in the National Scenic Area is the rugged high elevation terrain of Mount Pleasant (4071 feet) and Pompey Mountain (4032 feet), groves of old growth hardwood forest in Little Cove Creek and native trout fisheries. The Henry Lanum Memorial Trail provides the visitor with a five mile hike that features panoramic views while meandering through the area. The Old Hotel Trail is a three mile trail, which can be made into a seven mile circuit using a portion of the Appalachian Trail over Cold Mountain. This provides the hiker with one of the finest views on the Pedlar Ranger District. Excellent opportunities are available for solitude and serenity.
- from sign at trailhead
Mike promised some of the most breathtaking views in central Virginia. His word is still good.