Sunday, June 06, 2010

Third Day on the Trail

The third day on the trail was probably the best one, as far as scenery goes. Once again, as we hiked north from the Bailey's Gap Shelter, we found ourselves headed into an official wilderness area. Much of the Appalachian Trail passes through a semi-protected corridor. This does not equate to true wilderness, and it does not guarantee either solitude or protection from nearby development. But when the trail goes through a wilderness area, you can actually find real solitude and witness something at least approximating the state of the natural world as it should appear.

By this time we were all pretty grungy. When you're hiking the AT, often you're following the highest ridges. That's part of the appeal of the trail and it affords more opportunities to see great vistas. But it often precludes being able to hike near large bodies of water where you can immerse your body and actually bathe. After a few days of ridge hiking you can be really filthy. This is why I prefer backpacking in places that give me the opportunity to hike to large streams and swimming holes. We did pass one such place (Stony Creek), but this was in the middle of the day and we didn't have time to pause for a swim.

It was also a relief to head into Mountain Lake Wilderness for a couple of reasons. We were at the highest point we'd reach on this particular hike (almost 4200 feet above sea level). And we were passing through a much more biologically diverse ecosystem. The heights here were very lush with all kinds of trees and plants--the upper elevation forests of the southern Appalachians are extremely lush and productive. The Mountain Lake Wilderness provides one with a classic example of this kind of environment.

Soon after entering the wilderness, we came to Wind Rock, which provides one of the finest views along this stretch of the Trail. This is where we chose to eat lunch and relax for a long time just talking and soaking up the views. Also, Kevin's knee was really bothering him and he decided that it was best to bail on the hike at this point, thus sparing himself from the last few miles of the hike with a heavy backpack. After we left the peak, Kevin remained to rest, then hiked back to the road less than three tenths of a mile away to wait for me and Andy to pick him up. It was a good thing he did this, because the last stretch of the hike involved a tremendous and very steep descent from Lone Pine Peak into a gap and then another steep climb up the War Spur Trail and back to Andy's waiting car.

However, he did miss seeing a really nice bog. These little spots are rare in the southern Appalachians, but where they occur one tends to find some very rare plants and animals. In fact, we passed a number of these along the way, which really impressed me. Usually when you see them, there are only one example. But we hiked past several along the way through the forest to the car. After the hike back, we loaded up our packs and then drove up the road about two and a half miles to where Kevin was waiting for us at the wilderness kiosk.

Turning the car around, we then drove past the Mountain Lake for which the wilderness is named. It actually lies just outside the wilderness and has an extremely nice resort on its shores. It's the only natural lake in the mountains of Virginia, and only one of two natural lakes in all of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Normally it's 120 feet deep, but due to a cyclical draining, it's currently only half full (headed back to full). For those of you who are movie fans, this was the site of filming of the movie DIRTY DANCING. I plan on booking a room here for a couple of nights--Carole loves that movie and the place is truly beautiful, so I wouldn't mind staying there myself.

After this, we drove down to Pearisburg to drop Kevin off at his car, then we hit the local Dairy Queen where I had a big burger and a large chocolate shake (don't tell my physician!). I figured I deserved it after three days of lugging a 40+ pound backpack over 32 miles of mountain trails.

Sign for a wet weather spring at Bailey's Gap Shelter. It was running full on.

Mountain Lake Wilderness was pretty wet, too--plenty of rainfall!

Sometimes the forest throws a view in front of you that stops you in your tracks.

AT through the ferns.

I love the AT most when it's quiet and I have it to myself.

Hiking up the last few peaks toward Salt Pond Mountain.

We stopped for a bit at the information kiosk where the Trail crosses a road into the Mountain Lake Wilderness Area. We were only about a quarter mile from Wind Rock at this point.

Boundary sign for Mountain Lake Wilderness. Old and lichen-covered.

The slabs of stone leading to the top of Wind Rock.

The views on the summit were great!

Click to enlarge this one! The best view we had on this stretch of trail.

People blather below me while I make a video from the summit.


Gnarly oak tree.

One of the bogs we passed.

Boone splashes about in the bog while I make observations.

A typical view along the War Spur Trail.

Flame azalea as the sun pokes through the rain clouds!

Great dancing forest.

The last trail sign as we approach the parking lot. What a great hike!


Janet said...

'sounds like a great experience. Love the ferns!

HemlockMan said...

Yeah, the ferns were crazy! The best ones were on the ridge tops in the higher country.