Sunday Oct 3rd 2021, 0615-1910
James River to Cove Mountain Shelter, SOBO AT mm 1437.8
7800 gain, 6400 loss
Despite some traffic noise and an early morning train, I slept very well. A great horned owl and an eastern screech owl provided a nice alarm clock in the morning. I passed a bunch of tents and hammocks in the dark as I set out along Matts Creek. The nearby shelter was empty, which was a surprise given the amount of people camping nearby. The trail began an 11 mile ascent of Apple Orchard Mountain from this point. There were a few little dips in-between but most was up up up. It took me almost all morning to get up this one mountain.
When I left my tent site in the morning, I’d noted stars. But just past the shelter, less than one mile in, it became foggy. The trees started dripping with dew like it was raining. The rain wasn’t supposed to start until the afternoon so I was a bit confused. Shortly the sky lightened and the fog cleared entirely. The air also became hot and dry. I’d climbed above the fog and a temperature inversion. The valley was covered by the fog while the mountain tops rose like islands. I love such an effect.
I passed some more people tenting, weekenders just waking up. Then I caught up to Old Army and Infomercial, a pair I met just before the Priest. Being thru-hikers, they were already up making their miles. I walked and chatted with them for awhile. Infomercial was from New England and had a lot of experience hiking in the Whites. We marveled about the big climb we were currently doing and how it just didn’t compare in difficulty. Of course, it was still a chore.
The trail came to a crossing of the blue ridge parkway, where there was a nice overlook, of course. The parkway is kind of like the extension of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, paralleling the trail in many places and seemingly just as scenic. I stopped for a short break and a nice lady in a mini van offered me cold water. The day was quite hot, so this was greatly appreciated. I sure could’ve used it the day before in the 9 mile water-less stretch where I was down to half a liter. I chugged a couple bottles and carried on for the final bit of climbing.
I came to a feature named ‘the guillotine’ for the large boulder that sits right above a keyhole slot in the rocks. The trail goes directly underneath, no sweat. It was fun tempting fate multiple times while I tried to get a timed picture (I was alone).
The mountain top had an observatory and semi open meadow. At 4225′, it was the highest I’d been since the Whites. I didn’t stay long, as the sky was pretty hazy and the views so so. I made it to a shelter with a creek for a late lunch. It was mostly downhill the rest of the afternoon.
Right around 4 pm, I came to another shelter with a spur trail leading to it from a nearby dirt road. I saw on my map that the dirt road lead to a campground and store that serves hot food and milkshakes. I could rejoin the trail at another road intersection by Jennings Creek. The detour added maybe a mile or so but also avoided a 1200′ PUD….sold! This might have been my best blue-blaze yet. For dinner, I got a chicken sandwich, peach milkshake and a lager from the nearby brewery, Devil’s Backbone, that I passed up days before. It was all very good. Plus I got to rinse off briefly in the shower…just enough to wet my clothes and wash away the sweat. I chatted with a nice section hiker named G from Melbourne FL while there.
I left the store around 6 pm, figuring I’d have plenty of time to make it to a nearby shelter. It was sunny and the road walk a delight. Yet just as soon as I stepped onto the trail, I started hearing rumblings. They got closer and closer. Well, maybe the storm would skirt me. Nope. Upon reaching a ridge, the wind picked up and the lightning started flashing all around. I was only 1.5 miles from the shelter but do you think the rain could hold off for 30 minutes? Nope. The trail gods had determined that I had a penance to pay for my blue-blazing. I’d confessed my sins to the Priest earlier, yet I’d continued to sin. I had to answer for this.
The sky opened up and there was lots of lightning nearby. On top of this, it got dark enough to need a headlamp…except for the brief flashes. Luckily I escaped some of my purgatory with an umbrella and then a shelter roof over my head. The only casualties were my shoes getting wet. Seeing as how they’d stayed dry over 400 miles, all the way from Duncannon PA, I still saw this as a win.
I found the shelter easily and was relieved that there was only one person there, another solo lady! We each inhabited a side and I cooked a second dinner, just because I could. Travis commented on how I was in good spirits considering I’d been caught out in the dark in the rain and lightning. It was no bother, a small price to pay for good food at the camp store. I was in even better spirits when the rain began to really hammer. It made for great white noise to fall asleep to.