The Cold Mountain / Mount Pleasant crew also experienced some logistical snafus as we gathered at the West Falls Church Metro Station, a traditional DC UL meeting place that has fallen into some disuse in recent years. Nonetheless, before long, Jag, Jimmy, Kingsley, Mona, Trisha, Cesar, Ali (with Charlie!), Emily, me, and Laura all managed to meet up, organize the cars, and get rolling on I-66. We picked up Jessie in Centerville and were soon headed south on I-81. The weather looked a little threatening at various moments on the drive, but it had cleared by the time we reached Buena Vista. In my car, we opened the sun roof and enjoyed brilliant weather as we climbed over the pass with the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The key to reaching this trailhead is Wiggins Spring Road, which has the advantage of starting hikers up quite high, but has the disadvantage of being rather rugged—rugged enough that my car was pretty close to its limit. Admittedly, it’s not got a lot of clearance. This is a trip that one should try to take vehicles that at least stand a few inches above the ground. As old-timers will recall, this road also becomes completely impassable in the winter. I still recall trying to get that SUV out of the ditch on my first trip with DC UL in 2010.
We reached the trailhead and soon all 11 of us were ready to begin our hike, heading south on the AT to cross the balds of Cold Mountain. After a short climb, beautiful vistas open out along the balds. Really the only problem with this area is that it’s not long enough—one yearns for a few miles of such stretches, but unfortunately the AT dips back down into the trees. Before we knew it, we had reached the intersection with the Old Hotel Trail. We dipped down into the hollows, passed the shelter (where there is water), and then past a vast, but dry, campsite before coming to the Mount Pleasant trailhead.
Here, we took the more southerly route to Mt. Pleasant, as I was trying to keep our mileage under 10 for the day. We walked for a time along the old jeep path, then the tread way became more of a footpath. We crossed a creek, but wisely held out for a second creek to re-fill our bottles—the mountain was drier than I would have thought so there was some nervousness about water. And we planned to camp try at the very summit of Mount Pleasant, so no water there.
Incidentally, I recognized this as the place where we, years ago, lost the trail amid the 18 inches of snow that fell during Snowpocalypse. I recall us searching higher up in the hollow, but the trail heads right and begins climbing to the shoulder of Mount Pleasant. There a hunting dog assaulted poor Charlie, but we drove him off … OK … his interest shifted to a golden retriever more his size. Soon enough, we arrived at the summit of Mount Pleasant. I was worried about our having to pitch 10 shelters up there, but we managed to find pads for all them, very near the westerly view. We made friends with Dave and his daughter Kaylee, who were very understanding about our taking over the mountain. Hopefully, Dave will join our group.
We passed the afternoon basking in the sun atop Mount Pleasant’s summit, drinking in the views. Then, in the evening, Kingsley and Jimmy started a campfire. Smores were eaten. Brownies were devoured. Whisky was imbibed. And stories were told. A great common campfire, despite our dispersed campsites! The night got a little chilly as the wind picked up, but a blood-red dawn heralded another brilliant day.
Sunday, we had only a few miles hiking to complete the Mountain Pleasant loop. Despite a few bee stings, this was easily accomplished, and we reached the Devils Backbone Brewery at precisely 11:30am, when it opens! There we enjoyed a delicious meal and Charlie became a local celebrity by flinging himself over the retaining wall with great vigor. We parted in high spirits to begin the long drive home.
Thanks, everyone, for making this such a fun and rewarding trip! Overall, this has to be one of the most moderate and most rewarding routes in Virginia. For the 2nd edition, I will have to think about including it as my beginner’s trip for the state, as the views really are nice. I may also take a look at a map to see if there isn’t some longer trip that could be walked nearby.
Would love to get suggestions for a longer route -- maybe adding it to our women's backpacking series for a late winter / early spring trip.
I just ordered this Nat Geo map ... which I hadn't had before. Should be here Friday.
Let's see what can be pieced together. As you know, I really like the idea of our developing new trips that go beyond what others are doing.
Would be great to have a 20-ish or 30-ish mileage trip down there.
If you combine these with the Tar Jacket Ridge route, it will be about 25 miles. All three hikes start from nearly the same location.
Mr. Shook anticipates us. He is quite right ...
If you string together the three loops, you'd have something in the neighborhood of 27 miles, which would be a perfect full-fledged LM trip, addmittedly rather strangely passing through the center point a few times.
Plus, how could you skip a view of Big Butt Mountain?
I'm ready to hit the trail right now!