It was a pleasant morning, on track to be a gorgeous day, topping out at 60 degrees. After allowing for a couple delayed arrivals because of traffic, six of us set off from the Vienna metro. One of the great things about Little Devil's Stairs is how short the drive is. After I suggested to another hiker that "Nah. You won't need microspikes," we were on the trail before 10am. it was immediately clear that the stream crossings were going to be more challenging that usual. There was more water than I had ever seen along that trail, and one of us took a spill on that first crossing within a tenth of a mile from the parking lot.
The climb up Little Devil's Stairs is always a good workout. We each went at our own speed, but everyone made it in fine form. At the top, the snow was a little heavier, and ours were the only footsteps in the snow on many of these trails. Human footsteps that is; there were many deer tracks and an occasional bear paw print! We descended along the creek by what I have appropriately named "Deer Toilet Gulch" before turning right onto the Piney Ridge Trail. We tackled another challenging climb to reach the AT, turning right for some beautiful views, including Rattlesnake Point and Hogback Overlooks. The last few miles included more snow than I expected. Uhhh, much more. This part included trudging through unbroken snow that was occasionally more than a foot deep.
After a 14-mile day of climbs, descents, snow, ice, and mud, we finally arrived at Gravel Springs Hut right around sunset. We were greeted by three others (plus three dogs) who already had a fire going at the hut. Then two more joined us…with three more dogs! We proceeded to share stories, food, and beverages. (This is where Brett probably earned his first trail name option: "Talker". Shortly thereafter, Brett earned his second trail name option: "Pfffffffft". Although he seems to think "Blaze" is a better trail name. You be the judge.)
We all got up on our own and had a somewhat leisurely breakfast before we hit the trail around 8:30am. After a 1.5-mile trudge back up through the sometimes-deep snow, we enjoyed a very pleasant descent back to the cars. We lost one of the cars in the caravan briefly…turns out to receive a speeding ticket. Bummer! That put a bit of a damper on lunch, but I think we all enjoyed our fish and chips, reuben sandwiches, and Irish breakfasts at Molly's Irish Pub, before heading back to town with plenty of day left to do laundry and rest up for the week ahead.
All in all, a nice, short (20-mile total) trip with fine company and beautiful weather. In hindsight, it's surprising that half of the people on the hike were "applicants" at the time. Congrats to Katrina, Brett, and Mark for officially attaining "member" status, in fine form I must say. I hope to see you all on the trail again soon.