Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Flat Top Mountain Trail (Part One)

The best trail I hiked while we were at the Lodge was the Flat Top Mountain Trail. It's a National Trail of some note. It passes over Flat Top Mountain which is one of the more impressive peaks in the area and the tallest of the three Peaks of Otter (and the only one of the three that's over 4,000 feet in elevation). There are spectacular views from the summit and at several points along the roughly five-mile trail.

I had Carole take me to the northern terminus of the trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway where she dropped me off and drove back to the Lodge. By hiking over the mountain and back down to Abbott Lake I could end my hike at our room at the Peaks of Otter Lodge. Simple. Years ago I had hiked half the trail by starting at the lake and then hitting the summit and backtracking to the lake. But that had been on a very rainy day with no views at all. Plus, I'd missed out on hiking a little more than half the trail between the summit and the Parkway. This way I'd see everything I'd missed before, plus retracing my hike of several years back--this time in optimal scenery weather.

Carole dropped me off at about 9:30 after we'd had breakfast. It was pretty cool--about 20 degrees--with stiff winds blowing through the forest. After I began my hike and as I gained elevation on the peak, one thing that very much impressed me was how well engineered the trail is. The route follows the easier contours of the peak and does not tackle the slopes head on. Neither does it use very many switchbacks, instead moving easily over the slopes and meandering easily without any extremely steep climbs. It was almost like following a railroad bed and this very well may be the case--I couldn't say. But it was one of the easiest and most pleasant climbs of that height that I can recall. I'm pretty sure that I gained about 1600 feet between the Parkway and the summit, but I hardly felt it.

Also, I seemed to have the entire mountain to myself. I didn't encounter any other hikers on the entire trek. I had complete solitude and quiet for the entire duration. It was just me and the wind.

This is one of the easiest trails I've ever hiked. I hardly broke a sweat.

I guess they just decided to let this snag lay as it fell across the trail. It was easy to step over. You can see that the terrain was getting rockier at this point.

Climbing the slopes. This moss was about the only green in the forest.

The closer I got to the top, the more rugged the slopes.

I was getting even with some of the higher surrounding peaks.

This big patch of ice was actually a pain in the ass. I had a hard time getting around it without slipping.

This was at one of the first great views: Cross Rock. About half a mile from the true summit.


Mark Gelbart said...

I don't like hiking in the winter as much as in the summer.

There are fewer visible plants and animals, and the trees are harder to identify when they have no leaves.

What state is this lodge in?

James Robert Smith said...

Peaks of Otter Lodge is in Virginia. Near Bedford. About 90 miles south of Shenandoah National Park.

I like hiking in winter because forest visibility is so good. Bushwhacking is easiest in winter. But of course summer is the best. I love to go swimming in mountain creeks, and you just can't do that until summer.