MO: Cole Mountain, Spy Rock & the Priest

Posted by Kylie L on

The recent snow in Pennsylvania had us reconsidering our original plan to hike the Old Logger’s Path. Early in the week we settled on a stretch of the AT from US-60 to Tye River as an alternative. On Friday evening, Karan and I departed from Vienna at 7pm and met up with Shane around 10pm at the Tye River parking lot. A group had claimed most of the spots to the right after the bridge but our small group was able to find some suitable spots to the left. We had a relatively calm night- excluding the large group of college students who loudly passed by as we were going to sleep.

We rolled out of the Tye River parking lot at 7am, leaving Shane’s car behind for the reverse shuttle. Forty minutes later, we arrive at the US 60 parking lot, ready to get started. The trail started climbing immediately, warming as up quickly on that seasonably warm day. Towards the top of Bald Knob, we noticed that much of the area had been burned--possibly in the wildfires last fall, Shane observed. From there, we descended a bit and climbed up Cole Mountain. We thoroughly enjoyed the view from the bald stretch on Cole. Another short mile or so, and we reached Hog Camp Gap, which was already quite crowded around 10:30am.

The three of us took a break in the sun with a view from Tar Jacket Ridge and then churned out several miles to the next north/westward-looking rock outcrop. After that, we filled up water at Seeley-Woodworth Shelter and continued on the Spy Rock. Although we had originally planned to camp at Spy Rock, the possibility of crowds already had us considering moving on and the large Boy Scout troop set up there convinced us. We took in the views before departing around 4:30pm for the Priest.

After some confusion/clarification about what constituted “the Priest campsite” (sorry, Shane!), we all made it to camp at the top of the Priest. We got a solid fire going and took some photos of the briefly colorful sky. We called it a night around 8:30pm, tired from a good, long 20 mile day.

Just as we finished packing up in the morning, I spotted someone coming up the trail. It was Gen! He couldn’t join us for the whole trip but had come up to meet us in the morning. We hiked the relatively short miles down to the Tye River (why does it always feel so long?) and finished up around 9am. From there, Shane, Karan & I headed south to reverse the shuttle with plans to meet Gen in Charlottesville for a meal.

We arrived back at US 60 to discover Karan’s car had a flat! With some help from the owner’s manual and YouTube, we were able to put on the donut and drive (slowly) to a repair shop in Charlottesville. Thanks for sticking with us, Shane! After a quick fix, we had a filling meal at Moose’s by the Creek and stopped by Gen’s shop for a tour (thanks, Gen!).

Altogether, this was a very enjoyable trip I’m sure we will revisit in the future.

Shane Stezelberger posted on

Thanks for the trip - I needed one last shakedown before Massanutten!

I should have photographed those clusters of scorched acorns north of VA-60. They implied that A) the fire was recent, since the previous autumn at least, and B) the local squirrels haven't moved back into the burn area yet (or else they don't prefer toasted food). But I'm not a trained biologist.

Upon Goggling: The fires were last November (2016), and this section of trail was briefly closed. I missed hearing about it at the time - this was just a few days before the Gatlinburg fires:

It was no big deal to escort you two and your donut tire down the road a little bit. Those things make me nervous, too :)

Dave MacLuskie posted on

Does the burn area continue past Bald Knob and impact Cold/Cole Mountain, Mount Pleasant, and Hog Camp Gap too? I keep thinking I was just out there but it was in early October last year, well before the burn.

Karan posted on

No, we didn't see any impacts past Bald Knob. Everything else seemed intact.

By the way, it was really weird that the shuttle time from VA-56 to US-60 was 35 mins, compared to the shuttle time between VA-56 and Hog Camp Gap, which is 1 hour. It adds 6 miles and a fun climb, but you also get great views on Cold/Cole mountain (no idea which one is right??) in return.