I had a freaking blast. This is what we did...
Can't quite make it out? That's okay. It's Sharp Top Mountain, as seen from the back door of my lodge room before the sun had begun to rise, but after I was up and dressed, ready to roll.
My first order of the day (after breakfast at the Peaks of Otter Lodge restaurant) was to drive seven miles north on the Parkway to the trailhead for Apple Orchard Falls near the top of Apple Orchard Mountain. It's a hell of a trail, which descends steeply for about one and a half miles to the named falls. Some of the steeper sections have stairs, which the National Forest engineers have seen fit to install.
After a little more than a mile of descending the mountain, I came to this small waterfall (about eight feet tall). Initially, I feared that these were the much ballyhooed Apple Orchard Falls. I'd been hoodwinked before into long hikes for little payoff. But I could see that the trail pressed on, so I did, too.
I stopped along the stream at a couple of places to wash my hands and just admire the clear water.
A little past the small waterfall, I came upon a brief clearing in the forest, affording me this spectacular view to the west.
And a few minutes later I could hear the sound of crashing water. Looking down, I could see a really nice wooden viewing platform below the ice-laden waterfall. Already, I could tell that this waterfall was going to be much higher and much larger than I'd anticipated.
And here I finally was, at the foot of Apple Orchard Falls. This waterfall is really a great sight! It's far higher than I'd thought it would be--somewhere between 150 and 200 feet, with good water volume. Much of the rock face was covered in ice from recent sub-freezing days (November had already been a record cold month in that part of Virginia). While I was hoping for a nice waterfall, I had no idea that I would be treated to such a great viewing. I spent about forty-five minutes or so just hanging out at the falls, taking dozens of photographs.
Then it was back up the trail. I had to climb all of those vertical feet I'd lost on the way down. I'm not sure, but I think I had to climb back about 1800 feet to where my truck was parked.
The Appalachian Trail intersects with the Apple Orchard Falls Trail. (It's always nice to visit an old friend.)
And then it was back to the trailhead where my truck was waiting. (Some remnant snow from the week before.) After that, I drove back to the lodge where Carole was waiting. We then drove north again on the Parkway to Petit Gap where I caught a Forest Service Road to go to see Cave Mountain Lake Campground, a Forest Service facility that we're thinking of visiting in the summer months.
From this overlook on Apple Orchard Mountain, you can look down almost 3,000 feet to the valley floor. Apple Orchard Mountain may be only 4200 feet above sea level at its highest point, but its base lies at less than 1,000 feet above sea level, making for one of the most prominent peaks in this part of the East.
Along the Forest Service Road I caught a glimpse of this huge patch of exposed rock on the flanks of a mountain. This is not far from a landslide area called The Devil's Marbleyard. I wondered what it would be like to climb around on that exposed dome of rock.
About thirty minutes later I found out what it was like. The road takes you right past the slide area, where the forest had peeled away from the mountain years before, revealing the underlying strata. This made for some great friction climbing. I was surprised at how smooth the rock was. The years of rain have polished the stone so much that there are no rough or jagged edges at all. It made for some very easy friction climbing.
From the top of the slide I could look down on the spot of white that was my truck, where Carole waited patiently for her overgrown kid-of-a-husband to finish playing on the rocks.
This was my view from the top of the slide, looking back toward Apple Orchard Mountain.
After sliding back down the rock, I hiked back to the truck through the pines and rubble.
The jam-packed day will be continued tomorrow. We were not finished exploring the area. It wasn't even noon yet! Stay tuned...