Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bringing the Trail to life

I have a vivid imagination. That helps when writing fiction, but it also provides me with a constant set of narrative speculations as I hike the Appalachian Trail. What I mean by that is: as I walk along I note the trail construction and imagine the thought processes and of those who chose the route. I note the current trail condition and imagine the hard work (or needed attention) that has been invested in the trail by the stalwart volunteer maintainers. Then I speculate on the ever changing weather, and how mountain weather compares to the forecast tailored to the population centers in the lowlands. I observe the plants and animals, the geography and geology, and speculate ... you get the idea. There's never a dull moment.

And occasionally I get a major 'assist' from somebody who can do more than speculate - somebody I meet along the way who has in-depth knowledge of the trail. Ridge Runners are a great source of knowledge. Local club members often turn up on the trail. And the hunters and other locals offer their unique perspective.

Today, my hike might have turned out to be pretty mundane. The trail dutifully ascended from Craig Creek Valley to Sinking Creek Ridge with barely a switchback - a no-nonsense slanting trail that achieved the ridge in due course - the trail designers here seemed more intent on locating a trail rather than 'making' one. There was very little grading, unlike yesterday's carefully carved treadway up through the Brush Mountain East Wilderness. This seemed an older, more established route (indeed it is), laid out in a simpler time before the AT became a 'celebrity'.

OK, I'm rambling. The bottom line is that there wasn't a whole lot to see on today's 14 mile out-and-back leg. Once the trail achieved the ridge, there was some precarious walking on side-sloped bedrock that I'd hate to have to try to walk when it was wet:
These exposed rock faces offered views of Craig Creek Valley, but there really isn't much to see in that narrow valley. There were similar views westward across the Eastern Continental Divide into Sinking Creek valley where the watershed feeds into the Gulf of Mexico.

Otherwise it was just a day of hiking along under balmy but cloudy weather and soaking up the wilderness experience ... until ...

When I reached the turn-around point of my day's effort at Sarver Hollow Shelter, I chanced to meet two ladies from the Roanoke AT club. And they provided me with the kind of local flavor you can't get from the guide books.

Sarver Hollow Shelter is quite new. Before it was built, the AT hiker seeking shelter was accommodated in the old homestead with its two stone chimneys. When the roof collapsed on the house, hikers were forced to seek shelter in the old log corn crib - a tiny rickety log out-building with the only remaining roof on the abandoned homestead. That roof finally collapsed a couple years ago.

What's more, there's a family cemetery somewhere in the vicinity. The ladies were there to try to find it. Rumor has it that the Hollow is haunted. Here's Blue Ridge Outdoors' take on that.

And here are three photos I took before heading back up the trail: The spiffy new shelter:
The 'Corn Crib':
And the Sarver Home Place:
It started raining during the last hour of my hike, but never amounted to enough to get me wet. I continue to be blessed by great weather, perfect health, and the time to enjoy them.

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