This Saturday, we went on our annual fall hike. I know that we just returned from a great hiking vacation, but we love to hike, and fall is the best time in Virginia for hiking. Spring has too many ticks; summer is God-awful hot; and fall? Well, fall has cool temperatures and gorgeous autumn colors. At least most of the time.
So we leashed up Shadow, packed our backpacks, and headed out for a day in Amherst County. We chose the Mount Pleasant recreation area for our hike. Two years ago, we hiked to the top of Cold Mountain, which is one of the prettiest hikes in all of Virginia. We’d noticed another set of trails nearby so we decided that this year, we would tackle those trails. I looked it up on the Hiking Upward website, which has user-submitted trail reviews and information from local hiking clubs, and we planned our route.
The weather was iffy, but we’d hoped that the rains would stay well to the east of us. The skies were overcast and it was cool, with temps in the high 40s. When we arrived at the parking area for the trail, there were only a few spots left. Mobs of Boy Scouts, some in full uniform, others in colorful troop t-shirts, milled about in the parking lot. There was a huge camp-out and hike planned for the Richmond-area troops. We met some of the Scout Masters and chatted with them for a few minutes before heading out on the trail ourselves. We also passed groups of trail runners who looked like they may have come from nearby Buena Vista or Lynchburg. There are several big universities there and a lot of college kids come out to the trails on the weekend.
The Henry Lanum trail starts out in the parking lot and climbs 2.8 miles, where it meets the Mt. Pleasant summit trail. The trail was pretty and relatively flat for the first mile or two out, making it a nice walk. There were forests of Mountain Laurel that must be gorgeous in the spring. I stopped to take a few photos of the foliage; at this point in the hike, it was overcast, but we could still see the autumn trees. Many of the trees had shed their leaves, but the orange and yellow colors were predominant, and at some points along the trail it was just spectacular.
|Hiking girls – Jeanne and Shadow on the Henry Lanun Trail, Mount Pleasant, Virginia, October 2013|
|View from the Mount Pleasant trail|
After about 2.8 miles with a gentle climb at the end, we reached the branch to the Summit. The Summit trail is steep. There’s no denying it. It’s also rocky, which is tough for me since I have a lot of orthopedic issues in my feet and knees. But we climbed anyway! It was .5 miles to the top. At the top, the trail split into side trails to the East and West Summits of Mount Pleasant.
Each summit was wreathed in mists. I sat on a rock on the West Summit while Shadow relaxed and had a drink of water. Suddenly I looked over at my husband, who was standing near the edge of the summit. The entire valley below us was shrouded in a thick, heavy fog and he was trying to see anything down below.
“John,” I said. “There’s a cloud coming at you!”
Sure enough, you could actually see a cloud sailing along in the stiff wind, a discrete gray puff of mist and vapor. When it hit the cliff top, it enveloped my husband. I felt its cold, damp hand on my cheeks and my hair was soaked as another puff of wind pushed the cloud over the ridge. It was amazing. I had just sailed in a cloud.
|West Summit of Mount Pleasant shrouded in fog and mist|
|Looking pensive as the clouds approach….|
The weather was turning rapidly, but we pushed on to the East summit. At that point, we lost the trail. We couldn’t see the blue blazes on the rocks or trees, and the heavy mists and clouds were making it hard to see our feet, let along the trees where the trail was marked. I started to panic, picturing us wandering around to be found by the gleeful Boy Scouts (“Hey! We earned our Merit Badge in Search and Rescue!”) but my husband didn’t panic at all. “We’re on a small, round top of rock,” he said. “Sooner or later we’ll stumble over the trail.” But we didn’t. I finally suggested we backtrack, hiking to the top again. We found the rocks where we met the cloud, and then started out in another direction, and found the trail. Whew!
At the West summit, we ate lunch. It felt colder and wetter and so when we started out, we were already damp from the mists and clouds. Another hike .5 miles back down the Summit trail to the Henry Lanun trail, which makes a loop. We had planned to head out from there to follow the next section of the loop to Mount Pompey. The trail threads over the saddle between the mountains, then up to Mount Pompey and back down to the parking lot, emerging a few hundred feet from where we’d started out.
Unfortunately, the fogs and rains decided to come. We were cold, damp, and the trail, which had promised to be “gentle”, was a rocky hell on my feet. We kept losing the blue blazes again because the fog was so thick. Fortunately, we met other hikers climbing in the opposite direction, who confirmed we were still on the trail.
I think what I missed the most was the views. It would have been a great hike back — you could tell that the cliffs were dropping off on either side (we had plenty of room to walk, but you could see that we were on a ridge). But the fog and drizzle was so thick, it was just like staring at a blank gray wall for hours on end.
I was really glad to get back to the parking lot. There we found a motorist stuck in the mud. He backed out and smashed his side mirror. A bunch of campers were trying to help the guy pull out of the parking spot and finally he managed it to great applause.
We drove home, tired and chilled to the bone. What do you do when you’ve just hiked 8 miles in cold, wet drizzle, been kissed by a cloud, and hiked a strenuous trail? Chinese food, of course. Massive quantities of Chinese food from our friend Bill from Brooklyn who runs the Chinese restaurant in Appomattox, Virginia. That’s right, the Chinese guy who owns the restaurant is named Bill and he is from Brooklyn. We are always happy to see him and catch up on all the goings-on in his old neighborhood; he makes us New Yorkers feel right at home!
I tried a new Chinese food dish made with rice noodles, gorged and sat down to watch one of my all time favorite horror movies, Freaks, a 1932 movie about circus freaks getting their revenge on the sexy, shameless tramp high wire artist in the circus who dissed a midget, and then settled in for the end of a long, fun, and exhausting Saturday.
Sunday brought with it myriad tasks: church, choir practice, shopping, four loads of laundry, and gardening tasks. I picked the remaining peppers and potted up several geraniums to winter over. Lucky thing I did, too. We had frost last night. Fall is indeed upon us!
|Frost on the asparagus this morning in the garden|
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.