I setup this trip anticipating great fall colors - and although I got a really nice glimpse of fall colors on the drive to trailhead, the colors during the hike weren't really as awesome as I was expecting. Especially, as I was repeatedly told, if one compares this to New England fall colors. :)
We left from Vienna in two groups : Brian, Alejandro, Mark, Taylor, Kylie, Steve, Shane and me in one group; Jimmy, Bridget, Deb and Andrew in the other - Gen joined Jimmy's group directly at their trailhead. Jim's group was planning to do the exact reverse of our group. Our drive to the trailhead - Hog Camp Gap - was adorned with vibrant fall colors. We got to the trailhead around 11:30 AM and found the parking lot filled with a lot of cars. After going over the plan, we hit the trail - heading Northbound on the AT.
Quickly, we were climbing towards the ridgeline. We got a glimpse of the surroundings : it seemed that only the colors at really low elevations were vibrant, but on higher elevations the colors were dark red/brown, i.e. past their peak. I still found the dark colors nice.
The group went on making really good progress - especially considering that there were applicants in there. On our way, we stopped at couple of overlooks and took a few shots.
There were a lot of apple trees on the way and some of us gave these apples a try - suffice to say they didn't taste very good. We tanked up water at Seeley Woodworth shelter and then headed towards our camping destination : Spy Rock, where we met Jim's group. I was nervous that there would be a crazy number of people up there as Spy Rock is easily accessible via nearby roads. In the end, my fears turned out to be true. There was a large Christian group with young kids who pretty much seized up the whole area. Not wanting to repeat our previous nightmare experience at Spy Rock (http://www.meetup.com/DC-UL-Backpacking/messages/boards/thread/46431602/), we agreed on backtracking 1.5 miles towards Porter's Gap. Obviously, after checking out the views at Spy Rock.
To our content, nobody else was there and we had the large campsite to ourselves.
We setup our shelters, got a good fire going and celebrated Brian's birthday with beer. Steve showed very impressive skills at crushing beer cans with a giant rock- and thus earned the trailname "Crusher". Many people checked out various tent setups including Gen's Yama Mountain tent. We all recounted Jimmy's awesome experiences with ponies in Grayson Highlands. Car keys were exchanged. It was a merry campsite.
The next morning we packed up, said goodbye to Jim's group and continued northbound towards VA-56. Just like the previous evening, the skies were overcast. We repeated our journey to Spy Rock and then went further north, enjoying an overlook or two on the way. Some time later, we started gaining towards the top of the Priest. A few people did the side trip to the Priest Shelter to gather water. Water was flowing very well at all the sources on our trip. We reached the top of the Priest and checked out the dark fall colors again.
The descent off the Priest was mostly non-eventful and felt a little long. The footing on the initial rocky section was tricky because of the layer of leaves on the ground. Eventually we reached the parking lot - the other group rolled in soon after. Our splits were 12/12 miles. We left for Devil's Backbone, but were disappointed to find out that there was a long waitlist to be seated. We gave-in to the limited outdoor food options - this was one of the dullest meals I've had after a proper backpacking trip. As somebody remarked, even Sheetz food would have been a much better post hike meal ;) It was time to say good-byes.
It was a good trip - I am glad we could get everyone on the trail. Congrats to the applicants for gaining member status. I look forward to hiking with this great crew again in the future. As for Spy Rock, I am not planning to camping there unless the temps go below 20 degrees - hopefully the crowds won't go here then.