Fall Back weekend - November, 2103
During an extended weekend in November, my daughter and I hiked an eleven mile section of the Appalachian Trail in
Virginia. We began our trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Punch Bowl Shelter and travelled South to the James
River. We did this hike as an out-and-back so we actually managed to put 22 miles under our boots.
This was a trip that my son and I attempted back in May of this year, but due to a leaky air mattress, we had to bail after the
first sleepless night.
April and I arrived at milepost 51.7 on the parkway sometime around midday Friday and began sorting our gear and packs
for the climb up to the summit of Bluff Mountain. The trail gains 1,300 feet in 2 miles so it's a pretty intense workout with
moderately weighted packs. The weather was near perfect with the mercury showing 71 degrees but a little on the breezy
side. Most of the trail here is on a southwest facing slope with a moderate canopy and lots of thick, low growing shurbs
and bushes. Thanks to some well graded switchbacks, the climb is not as relentless as one would think with this much
elevation gain in such a short distance. After an hour and half of sweating, we arrived at the summit of Bluff Mountain.
Due to the dropping temps and the wind, we were forced to add a layer to our apparel. We lingered on the summit for a few
minutes and ate a snack and downed a few ounces of water. My son and I spent the night at a small clearing near the
summit last May but my daughter and I pushed on further south. The rest of the afternoon was much easier going since
the trail descended a few hundered feet of mostly ridge walking with a couple of saddles thrown in. There were probably 4
or 5 good spots to camp but we pushed on until we arrived at Big Rocky Row. We set up camp near a small rock outcrop
over-looking the James River. We were already 6 miles in to an eleven mile hike so I felt confident that the rest of the trip
would be a relaxing undertaking. We ate supper that evening and retired to our sleeping bags around 8:00 PM.
I awoke the next moring thinking it was time to get up but it was actually only 1:00 AM. I exited the tent in order to answer
the call of nature and stood in amazement at the stars above and the lights of Glasgow off in the distance. After a couple of
minutes of star gazing I decided to return to the tent. The temperature had dropped considerably since yesterday, but the
lack of heat wasn't unbearable. I returned to my sleeping bag and evantually drifted off to sleep.
April and I both awoke the next morning in time to catch a hazy sunrise. We ate breakfast and planned our adventure for
the day. We decided to day hike to the James River Foot Bridge and back up to camp. After studying the elevation profile
on my map, I told April that we were camped at 2,400 feet and the James River was at 800 feet. That meant we would lose
1,600 feet in 5 miles and then have to regain that elevation back to our camp site, a total of 3,200 gain/loss. April told me
not to be such a wimp. I let her know quickly that I was not 17 years old anymore also. Just a little less than half-way to
the James River we arrived at Fuller's Rocks which offered some more outstanding views of the world below us. We spent
the rest of the morning going down, down, down and down some more until we finally made it to Hwy 501 and the James
River. We lingered around the river for a while and took a few photos. It was now around 1:00 PM, so we decided to start
our long climb back up to camp. We probably hadn't gone a mile yet when I noticed my right knee began to ache. I didn't
think anything of it since the 45 year warrenty was about to expire anyway so we continued on. Another mile went by and
the pain continued to get more and more intense. It finally got to the point that I was using my trekking poles as crutches.
Every now and then a sharp pain would shoot through my knee and into my ankle. The next 3 miles were very slow going
but persistance paid off and we made it back to camp before sunset.
The sun disappeared behind the row of mountains to our west and the temperature almost immediately dropped. We
layered up and cooked supper. April had roast beef and gravy and I enjoyed a hot cup of chicken soup and crackers. The
temperature began to steadily drop so April once again retired to the tent and bagan studying for her psychology test on
Monday. She was supposed to take the test on Friday, but since I'm such a bad parent I kept her away from her college
classes in order to take her to the mountains. I don't think she was too badly disappointed. I searched my pack and found
my zip loc bag where I had stashed my Ibuprofen. I took 3 of the little brown pills and laid down in the tent and began to
feel much better.
The next morning we awoke to another glorious but cold sunrise. I checked the reading on my campmor thermometer and
the red stuff said it was about 35°F. We ate a quick breakfast and April began packing up her gear. I, on the other hand just
couldn't get going this morning. My knee was feeling much better than the day before but even with the cold temps, I just
didn't want to leave my little piece of heaven. I finally pulled myself together and organzied my gear and packed up for the
6 miles back to the parkway where my truck was patiently awaiting our return. Even though my knee was feeling better, I
was moving slower than usual which is still pretty slow. It seemed as if we remained in the shadow of the moutains the
entire morning and with the temps lingering in the 40's combined with the 10 mph wind, I was ready to see the parkway.
Once again, we found ourselves on the summit of Bluff Mountain where we took a short but chilly break. We packed up
once again and bagan our descent back to the road. We met several day hikers on the way to Bluff Mountain but I was
ready for some real food so I didn't stick around for long intimate conversations with them. The temperature finally
reached the upper 50's and the sun was shining and I actually started feeling pretty good even though my knee was still
bothering me a little.
We arrived back at the parkway at 12:45 PM and immediately bagan a quest to find a Bojangle's as soon as possible. The
drive back home was somewhat relaxing. April spent most of her time studying and I just let my thoughts drift as we made
our way back to God's country.