I took a nice zero with my parents in Wytheville for my birthday. We wandered around town, ate a bunch of food, and swam in the hotel hot tub. It was a pretty nice day
After spending a couple hours getting packed up and driving back to Dismal Falls, I said bye to my parents again and continued down the trail. The morning was pretty easy with mostly flat trail that crossed a lot of small streams. Eventually the trail took an uphill turn as it so often does, and I pushed my way up a steepish climb over Sugar Run mountain. Although the trail didn’t have any other large climbs for the rest of the day it became extremely rocky, and I had to spend almost all my time looking down at my feet. I made it the 15 miles to Doc’s Knob shelter before 4 pm but because cold temperatures and rain were coming overnight I didn’t push on. Doc’s knob shelter had a large porch with benches and a picnic table, a flowing water source right under the shelter, a privy, and the shelter was flat and well insulated, all pluses. I made dinner by myself but eventually a couple of hikers who I remember passing before in the Smokies but hadn’t gotten to meet arrived, and we spent the evening talking. No one else arrived at the shelter so the three of us had plenty of room to spread out for the night.
The temperature dropped overnight as the rain moved in, and I woke up to temperatures in the high 30’s and steady rain. I had just given some of my warm winter gear to my parents, and I knew I would have to wear what I’d kept: my warm leggings, fleece, and jacket, today to keep warm but that they would also likely get damp as my rain gear wetted out while hiking for hours in the rain. This was worrying because it meant that I wouldn’t have any warm clothes left to change in to at the end of the day, which isn’t an option when the temperatures are so cold, so it meant that I had to set my sights on Pearisburg for the night, even though I had just come from town yesterday. I stayed dry for the first hour or two of hiking, but as I climbed up along the ridge and the rain turned to sleet and freezing rain with gusty winds, I started feeling chilled and damp which meant that my warm under layers were getting wet as I’d worried they would. Along the ridge top the wind was blowing hard and ice shells were flying off of tree branches and hitting the ground and me as I scurried along.
A layer of ice covering flowers on a tree. Definitely not spring yet!
Before starting the descent into Pearisburg I put on my last fleece layer after breaking some of the ice off my pack, and tried to push my speed to stay as warm as possible. I gradually got colder while heading toward town, and knew that if I didn’t have the option of going to town for the night that I would have been at serious risk of hypothermia staying out for the night. This may have been the most dangerous day on trail for me yet, all because of the poor weather. When I got into town I was shivering and wanted to get inside, but I still had a hard time figuring out what to do next. The bad weather had drawn in all the hikers in the area and the two motels and the closest hotel to the trail were fully booked. Fortunately there was one more hostel across town that still had space, and the owner came to pick me up. I was very glad to be warm and dry as it kept raining on and off the rest of the day. There were also a ton of familiar and new faces at the hostel and I got to talk to a bunch of hikers throughout the afternoon. The wood stove in the hostel kept the place so warm that we actually had to open the windows to let in some cool air over big hot, but that was way better than the alternative I’d faced for the day so I didn’t mind and still slept well.
I woke up early in the hostel and put on most of my warm clothes again, knowing that it was another cold (although dry) day. I was back on trail by 7:45 and finished winding my way around Pearisburg before starting a long, but not super steep, climb up to a ridge top. The climb was nice because it kept me warm throughout the morning while the temperature was still in the 30’s. Snow flurries fell on and off in the early part of the day too, and it felt like the weather was trying to say that winter is never going to end this year. Once I got to the ridge top I hiked along the usual ups and downs, going through fields and woods, and over a lot of down trees. My feet started feeling sore pretty early in the afternoon, but I had to keep going because the night was going to be below freezing and I wanted to get as low in elevation as possible to be out of the wind. I made it 20 miles to the Pine Swamp Branch Shelter a little before 5 pm and threw up my tent there for the night. There was quite a large group of hikers that joined in there, since most people had stopped in Pearisburg to avoid the bad weather like I did, and I chatted with people while making dinner before heading to my tent early to try and stay warm.
It was hard to get out of my warm bag into the cold morning, so I stayed in my sleeping bag for a little while before getting moving. The day started with a slight downhill among many little creeks before starting a large 1500 ft climb up to a ridge top. The first climb of the day is always rough and I took it very slowly. Unfortunately, upon reaching the flat top the trail didn’t get much easier with a couple miles of very rocky terrain that was tricky and slow to navigate.
The rocky terrain in Virginia has been tough! I’m seriously scared for Pennsylvania
With the trail being kind of tough and without any amazing views, I put in my headphones and listened to an audiobook to pass the time, which definitely helps. The descent off the ridge was easier, but upon reaching the bottom the trail immediately turned and headed back up another 1500+ Ft climb up to the top of Kelly Knob (this may be the third or fourth Kelly Knob of the trail so far), so I started hauling myself back uphill. I kept my momentum better on this climb, and kept trucking up and over the top and down the descent. Finally towards the bottom the trail provided some novel views for the day, and I passed through some pretty fields and cow pastures during golden hour. I pulled into my stealth site next to a creek a little before 7:30, glad that no one else was there because the spot was only big enough for one and there wasn’t much light left to find another spot if someone had already been there. I hurriedly made dinner and set up camp as the light faded and headed to bed.
I slept in a little bit, lulled by the creek next to me, and got a slightly later start than usual. After just a few minutes of hiking I passed the Keffer Oak, which is over 300 years old and the oldest known oak on the southern half of the trail.
The large Keffer oak with a white blazed fence at the bottom for scale
Next up came a climb to the top of a ridge (surprise!), which wasn’t as long as some of the others recently, and then stayed on the ridge top for a while. The ridge was covered in huge piles of rocks, cairns the size and shape of those giant rounded stone pizza ovens you see at wood fired pizza restaurants. I wonder who piled all the rocks up like that, at least it meant that there were fewer for me to step on which I’m always fine with. The trail also went over huge slabs of rock with nice views across the valley.
The broad view across the valley and the next ridge over
Eventually the trail descended the ridge and I stopped to have lunch at the Niday shelter toward the bottom of the hill. After lunch was another steep climb up to a ridge top, but while listening to my audiobook the climb didn’t feel so tough. At the top of this ridge I had large views of the surrounding hills and I got to guess at where the trail would take me for the rest of the evening. The trail wound past the Pickle Branch shelter, and I gathered water from a shallow stream just after the shelter before continuing up and finding a tiny stealth site along the next ridge for the night. The camp spot was a little squished, with just enough room for my tent, but it was flat and peaceful and I settled in for a good nights sleep.
Cooking dinner in my tight campsite
I woke up a little after 6 am, excited to start the day and tackle the Virginia Triple Crown, which includes three awesome rock formations and views that I’ll describe below. After just half a mile of hiking I passed the 700 mile marker, which was a fun start to the day.
Passing another mile marker is always exciting
I hiked up along the ridge for only a couple miles until I spotted the side trail to Dragon’s Tooth and hurried down it. The large rock spire rose out of the pine trees and overlooked the valley below and I dropped my pack to climb it.
The climb up wasn’t too difficult and I spent a few minutes at the top enjoying the view before starting to climb down, which was trickier than the climb up. Eventually I made it off the spire and started the steep and jarring descent from Dragon’s Tooth, which involved a lot of rock scrambles and was rough on my knees. It was a very tough and slow period of hiking, and the only thing positive thought that I had about it was that at least I didn’t have to ascend that steep and rocky section of trail! At the bottom I took a break from the trail to walk along the road to a nearby gas station and grabbed some snacks and pizza for lunch, and I shoved half the pizza into a ziplock bag so I could eat it for dinner later (am I hiker trash yet?!). It was only 11:30 am but the temperature was quickly reaching the low 80’s, and after lunch I struggled along the trail feeling very sluggish and hot. Between the freezing rain and snow on Monday and Tuesday and the 80 degree temperatures today, I felt like I was having weather whiplash. I had to put in my headphones and play some energetic music to make it up the climb to McAfee Knob, but thankfully the trail wasn’t as steep as it was earlier and I made it to the overlook without too much trouble. I admired the view and took photos but there were tons of flies swarming me, I even swallowed one accidentally, so I headed on after a few minutes, although I wish I could’ve stayed and relaxed a bit longer.
This time the descent was fairly easy but my legs and feet were starting to feel pretty sore after the tough terrain earlier in the day. My goal was to complete the entire Virginia triple crown in one day and make it to the Lambert Meadow Shelter 21.4 miles from where I started, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it. I slowly started the final climb toward Tinker Cliffs, and boy was it steep. It felt like I was slowly crawling up the side of the mountain, especially because I could see the cliffs all the way from the bottom and they didn’t appear to be getting closer despite many minutes of climbing. I kept chugging and listening to music and I finally crested the ridge and the trail led along the edge of the cliffs. I was treated to another set of amazing views, and I stepped out onto the cliff edge in a bunch of places to look around and take pictures.
Tinker Cliffs, the last in the triple crown!
After winding along the cliffs for a while the trail started back down, and thankfully the trail was mostly soft and not too steep, which was good because the 3 large climbs and hard terrain meant that my feet were super sore. I made my way down to the Lambert meadow campsite and arrived around 7, quickly throwing up my tent and then scarfing down the rest of the pizza I’d brought (it was even better for dinner than it had been for lunch). I hadn’t showered since Sunday, and was feeling pretty grungy, so I walked into the nearby stream and gave myself a little rinse off, which was also nice and cooling. After that it was straight into my sleeping bag for the night, as I was very tired.
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