22 May Southwest Virginia Appalachian Trail
Southwest Virginia Appalachian Trail hike from the trail crossing on VA Route 42 near Ceres, VA (mile 558.3) to VA Route 311 near Catawba, VA (mile 709.9). This hike took place over 10 days from May 12th thru May 21st, 2019.
Day 1 – May 12th
At mile 563.7. Hiked 5.4 miles today.
I started hiking at 5 pm after a long day of driving from Roswell, GA. Here is a photo of the countryside as I drove along narrow roads toward my starting point in rural Southwest Virginia.
As I pulled up to the AT parking area, I saw a couple of NOBO thru-hikers crossing the road. I rolled down the window of my luxury sedan and waved foolishly like some kind of newbie hiker eagerly anticipating his first hike. I’m really missing the trail cred that goes with my old Sienna mini-van that was plastered with hiking stickers.
I quickly caught up with this pair and began hiking along and chatting. The woman was a little subdued, but I didn’t think anything of it. I mentioned that I had hiked the PCT last year and she said that she had hiked the John Muir trail. At one point, the man said that they had not made much progress because they had been caught up in a mess the day before. Thinking he was talking about the weather, I agreed and stated that there had been a lot of storms. He didn’t say much in the way of an answer and I hiked on ahead. Only later would I realize the significance of his words.
Soon I reached a ridge where I had one bar and a text from my PCT hiking buddy, Cache 22, came through. Assuming the text was just sent, he was apparently only 3 or 4 miles behind me. On the other hand, I thought he might have sent it earlier when I had no signal. In that case, he could be ahead of me. I tried replying but received no response. The fact that he was this close was an amazing coincidence. We were last hiking together on April 11th at Neels Gap and had not coordinated to meet up later. I was only here because plans for a Natchez Trace Parkway cycling trip had fallen through. Having no plans, I made the last minute decision to another section of the AT.
Minutes later at Knott Maul Shelter, I checked the hiker register to see whether Cache 22 had made an entry. Nothing from Cache 22, but I immediately saw another disturbing entry. Sovereign had been let out of jail and he had attacked hikers last night killing one. Not knowing whether to believe the journal entry, I waited at the shelter to ask the next hiker whether this was true. A large group of about 10 hikers soon arrived and confirmed the story. They added that Sovereign had already been caught and was back in jail. All of this happened the day before about 10 miles from where I began the hike an hour earlier. Wow! I began checking for a signal so I could let my family know that I was okay in case they saw something on the news. It wasn’t until the next day that I could get in touch with my wife. Fortunately, nobody had heard the report so there were no worries.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the victim’s family, his hiking companion and the AT hiking community. Here is a link to a tribute article on Stronghold.
Day 2 – May 13th
At mile 586.3. Hiked 22.6 miles today.
I poured on the miles because Cache 22 texted me that he would be at Woods Hole the night of the 15th.
Day 3 – May 14th
At mile 606.4. Hiked 20.1 miles today.
Day 4 – May 15th
At mile 625.4 in Woods Hole Hostel. Hiked 19 miles today.
Day 5 – May 16th
At mile 637.0 In Perisburg, VA. Slackpacked 11.6 miles today and stayed at Woods Hole Hostel.
I took my time getting out by helping out with breakfast clean up. My thought was to give Cache 22 a little more time to catch up. My expectation was that he would eventually catch up in Pearisburg, 12 miles ahead. As I was heading out the driveway of Woods Hole that morning, Cache 22 came walking down the hill. I couldn’t believe he had already caught up. A couple of days ago he texted that he would not reach Woods Hole until the 16th, but I expected it to be late in the day.
While at Woods Hole, I learned more about the murder. Cache 22 had hiked along for a while with the couple that I had met that first day. He told me that this pair was the same that had helped the female stabbing victim make it 6 miles out. Now, the “caught up in a mess” statement made by one of the hikers made more sense. The first hikers that I met on this section hike had been caught up in the aftermath of the murder. I’m sure they didn’t want to talk to me about it. For that reason and the fact that this is second-hand info, I’m won’t state their trail names here.
Day 6 – May 17th
At mile 637. Zero day to visit Trail Days in Damascus. Stayed at Woods Hole Hostel.
Neville and Single-Trek are driving into Damascus for a single day of Trail Days. Both Cache 22 and I decide to go along on the ride. I’ve always heard about Trail Days and this was an easy opportunity to see it. I was glad to finally see it, but for me, it was mostly vendors and a little of a disappointment. I’m sure that it is a lot more fun for thru-hikers who stay for all of the weekend festivities.
Day 7 – May 18th
At mile 656.3. Hiked 19.4 miles today and slept in Pine Swamp Branch Shelter. There was a long hot 10 plus mile stretch where I had to ration my water. It was soooo NICE to reach water.
Day 8 – May 19th
At mile 674.8. Hiked 18.5 miles today and tented at Laurel Creek Shelter. In the early morning, I spotted a bear from a distance. It was moving through the woods toward the trail up ahead. Losing sight of the bear, I moved ahead, loudly clicking my poles against the rocks. I soon reached the point in the trail where the bear would have crossed. Again I saw the bear, this time much closer, but moving in the other direction away from the trail. My noise making had worked.
There were hard hot climbs today, particularly up Brushy Mountain.
Day 9 – May 20th
At mile 697.3. Hiked 22.5 miles today.
Tonight I am dry camping on a level spot in a wooded area so that I won’t have to hike the 0.3 mile blue blaze trail to the tent sites at the Pickle Branch Shelter.
Day 10 – May 21st
At mile 709.9. Hiked 12.6 miles today.
The highlight of the day was Dragon’s Tooth. I climbed part way up the far tooth over the hardest part. Though a further climb on to the top of the rock would be easier, I passed. I don’t like heights while on narrow ledges.