Old leaves cracking here,
No thunder in the distance,
As we climb the ridge.
As we hiked the Appalachian Trail south from Petites Gap Road into the Thunder Ridge Wilderness today, we felt compelled to compose another haiku poem, like we did in our A.T. hike on Friday. Unlike the first one, which took most of our return hike to compose, this one came quickly and we had it in maybe 10 minutes.
This section of the Appalachian Trail roughly follows the Blue Ridge Parkway through western Virginia. At this time of year, the ridge is alive with color:
For today's hike, we selected a trailhead that was nearby, but a bit off the beaten track. We followed Petites Gap Road up the shoulder of the ridge. The road is a well-maintained gravel forest road, and it took us through some beautiful Autumn-shaded woods:
As it climbs to the ridge, Petites Gap Road separates the Thunder Gap Wilderness from the James River Face Wilderness, where we hiked a section of the A.T. this last Friday. As we climbed, we navigated a number of sharp switchbacks, some of which gave us spectacular views, including this one where Dusty poses in front of Devil's Marble Yard, a giant rockfall in the opposite ridge marked by a grey-white scar on the otherwise forested mountain (more on that later):
We found our trailhead just below the Blue Ridge Parkway and layered up for the cloudy, 42F weather. Orange was the color of the day because it is hunting season in this region:
The trail started innocently enough with a gentle climb to and beyond the Blue Ridge Parkway:
Soon, we reached the northern boundary for the Thunder Ridge Wilderness. By this point, David had already collected a full complement of leafy hitchhikers on his trekking poles:
Thunder Ridge Wilderness stretches through three counties of Western Virginia in the Jefferson National Forest. Established in 1984, the Wilderness is rugged and is located below the crest of its namesake Thunder Ridge. It rises almost 3,000 feet from Arnolds Valley to Apple Orchard Mountain on the crest of the Blue Ridge. Due to its steep terrain, much of the Thunder Ridge Wilderness is characterized by southern hardwoods and drier forest types. Chestnut Oak and southern yellow pine dominate the landscape. There are two trails in the Thunder Ridge Wilderness: the Appalachian Trail, which we hiked the 2.4 miles from Petites Gap to the Blue Ridge Parkway and back (there are two other A.T. sections in the Wilderness) and the 1.5 mile Glenwood Horse Trail. Thunder Ridge Wilderness trails are maintained by the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club, the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards and the Golden Horseshoe Backcountry Horsemen.
Soon after we entered the Wilderness, the trail grew steeper and we knew we were in for a climb -- a grade of 700 feet per mile. About a half mile in, Kathy posed with one of the nearby peaks in the background:
We started our hike at 11:30 and knew that we would have to stop for lunch before we reached the far point of our hike. We chose a point for our meal stop about a mile into the hike, at a viewpoint opposite and above the Devil's Marble Yard:
The 8 mile Belfast Trail leads to the Devil's Marble Yard, but it appears we won't be able to venture that trail on this stay, as we have only one more hiking day left, and we have reserved that for a hike on the Cedar Creek Trail to and beyond Natural Bridge (stay tuned for that adventure). Nevertheless, we found Devil's Marble Yard impressive, even from a distance.
Here was the place to stop for lunch, and Kathy eagerly pulled out her veggie wrap to amp up that blood sugar. David opted for his usual PB&J sandwich -- ever the traditional.
After lunch, we climbed onward; and it was a continuous onward climb, all the way to our endpoint, near where the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the A.T. again. We found the height of land, looked both directions off the top of the Blue Ridge (there were too many trees to allow decent photos of the view), and started our return descent. It had been 2.25 miles up, and it would be 2.25 miles down.
We spent much of the downward trek composing today's haiku poem (only 10 minutes or so, as noted above), and then discussing our interpretations and impressions of Anthony Doerr's "Cloud Cuckoo Land," fascinating book set in three different eras -- past, present and future.
Occasionally, the landscape thrust a subject in front of us that was suitable for a photo. In one case, it was a granite boulder wrapped in lichen and moss and littered dry leaves --
-- and in another case it was an old fallen tree (sawed by trail maintenance crews to let us pass through) that was mysteriously perched on a boulder (Did the trail crew do that? Doubtful.) The greater mystery was why its inside, seen through this hole, was charred as if by fire:
We think we solved that mystery as we hiked further, noticing that many of the older trees bore evidence of severe fire damage. So, however, it happened, this tree lived through (or died in) that long-ago fire. The mystery of the fallen tree balancing on the boulder may never be solved.
Never mind. Life is full of mysteries. On to the next adventure.