Fellow geocacher Todd "tbbiker" Briggs had invited me to accompany him on this outing, and so I agreed, figuring that an endeavor of this magnitude would either kill me or make me stronger. At the moment, I'm still alive, so I guess that question is answered. The morning sun, however, has not yet risen....
Brilliant sun, biting wind, deathly dark clouds, hail, sleet, a spot of rain, bone-chilling cold — all of these things we experienced on the ten-mile round trip. I met Mr. Briggs at his place in Mayodan bright and early, and we immediately hit the road for the trip out to the mountains. We reached the trail head right at 11:00 AM, passing up a few nearby caches to make a beeline for the summit, figuring it best to get the big hike out of the way first. This proved wisdom (yes, such thing is known to happen, however infrequently). Initially, one sets out on the Appalachian Trail and ascends steadily on very rocky, rugged terrain that only grows steeper as you go, particularly around a large formation about halfway up called Rhododendron Rock (for obvious reasons). The landscape is virtually all rock and scrub; unlike most mountains in the Appalachians, there are no dense woods until you draw near the summit, lending the impression of being out west. The last half mile or so of the hike is a gradual ascent up the ridge through lush fir and spruce trees, on a carpet of moss, which turns the forest into an unbroken sea of brilliant green. At the summit, you are completely engulfed in this forest, so there aren't any spectacular views. Those are all reserved for the trips coming and going, and they are incredible.
One of the most entertaining aspects of the hike is encountering the multitudes of wild ponies that live on the mountainside. I made friends with several who came to request of me goodies, of which I unfortunately had none. The warning signs on the mountain indicate the ponies may kick or bite, but the ones who came to visit with me were very well mannered.
The climb up was pretty taxing on our old bones — well, my old bones — but Todd and I kept a steady, relaxed pace so we'd still have some energy for the long descent. The majority of the hike involves carefully picking one's steps on oftentimes treacherous rocks; there's very little just plain walking. We suffered one (Todd) and a half (old Rodan) falls, but these happily proved inconsequential.
A bitter wind had pummeled us for a fair portion of the hike up, but it wasn't so cold that we didn't work up a decent sweat. Upon arriving at the summit, we broke out the beef jerky, taunted Bigfoot for a while, and took a passel of photographs. We hadn't been there very long when black clouds came rushing in, and — as is inevitable — there, at the farthest point from any significant shelter, the sky opened up and began pelting us, not with rain but with BB-sized hail. This kept up for more than half our descent, turning things fairly treacherous as the rocks got slicker and slicker. For a little while, the hail turned to snow, and then — fortunately, very briefly — to rain. By the time we arrived back at the parking area, the sun was shining and the temperature had risen about ten degrees.
I may be sore tomorrow, but while this was probably the longest and most rugged hike I've done since I was in Boy Scouts... all kinds of a long time ago... it was actually far from the most physically grueling of the past five years. We'll call that one the Birkhead Wilderness, last summer — half the distance of this one, but with super-steep terrain in 105-degree heat. That's the one I was lucky to survive.
Perhaps a nightcap, and then I sleep. Goo' night.
Click images to enlarge.
|Damned Rodan on the rocks|
|One of the nice views while the sun was still on our side|
|Mr. Briggs taking in the view at Rhododendron Rock|
|Old man at the summit — messin' with Bigfoot|
|One of the many ponies that came to make friends with us|
|We didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition... or the deluge of ice|