Sunday, October 7, 2012

A few rare trees are not trees at all ...

Saturday, September 29, 2012:

Yes, there are ancient things dwelling in the woods - I'm going to let my personal journal tell the story of today's hike, with all its peculiar notions and a somewhat grouchy end-point.  It's me - warts and all:


I drove up to the Hogback Rocks/Hogback Gap parking area and finished preparations and was on the access trail at 7:15. That blue blazed access trail from here runs a quarter mile to the AT following an old road of quite substantial construction (rock walls, etc.). The AT follows that road on south for a while before beginning some switch-back action on very gradual sloped trail toward the summit of Humpback Mountain. This is a long, very easy ascent, only getting a bit rocky in places near the top.

I couldn’t recall anything of my hike over this summit from 15 months ago because, as I remember, it was a foggy day with some rain, so I didn’t get the benefit of the two views on Humpback – one from the summit looking north to Rockfish Gap and the one looking south to Wintergreen that I revisited today after getting a good look yesterday.

Afton and Rockfish Gap from the summit of Humpback Mtn.
Wintergreen's phalanx of 'nosebleed' condominiums

Today was cloudy during he morning, and the view toward Wintergreen was very similar in quality to what I saw yesterday. Then on my way back along the summit ridge I encountered the rarest of the rare:  A tree that is not a tree at all, but an Ent in the woods. These days there are so few of these most ancient creatures left—the tree shepherds—and they rarely move anymore. Tolkien knew them. Treebeard is the iconic example, but the Ent I met today is a white oak ent, not featured in the movie - one with a rather large proboscis and high forehead, who may have joined the battle at Isengard, but who didn't appear at the Entmoot described in Lord of the Rings and shown in the movie.  (photo up top, detail below)  I feel privileged to have met this rare creature today on Humpback Mountain.

 I hiked this leg south and back in about 5¼ hours, then headed north from the trail junction to the parking area, not bothering to return to the parking lot to reload supplies. This trail north was even easier than the leg south. There was a 700+ foot descent to Mill Creek where the beautiful Paul C. Wolfe Shelter is located, and then a 500 foot climb back up. But both are very gently graded and smooth and rock free. The trail was so easy and the weather so perfect that I decided to hike all the way to Rockfish Gap.

Once the trail finished the ascent from Mill Creek, there’s a long level section and then an old chimney and cabin foundation at a site that is so rocky and steep that it seems only a recluse or band of outlaws would choose to build there.  My imagination ran wild, of course.  Beyond the chimney is a section with a few small ups and downs that crosses two pretty creeks.  Otherwise there are absolutely no distinctive features of this long, very pretty woods walk.  The afternoon weather was nearly perfect - quintessentially fall weather with calm winds and cool temperatures.

I turned around at Rockfish Gap at 4:20PM, knowing that meant I’d finish the long easy day in the dark. Indeed the return trip was long and easy. I took my time, because I cannot do anything else without risking more knee pain, and got back to the parking area well after dark, at 8:10PM.

As I passed Paul Wolfe Shelter at dusk, I was bombarded by the sounds of people – a big group of kids (scouts?) and a collection of adults who arrived as three or four separate parties – at least a dozen tents in all, and more using the shelter. It was like a small city. I simply cannot identify with the kind of person who would willingly hike miles to spend a night in such a noisy, crowded place. It’s why I’d never consider doing a thru-hike.


Here's the map of today's hike and a link to more photos:

AT Day 243 - Humpback Mountain at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

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