Cold Mountain: My First Backpacking Adventure

Leaving on the Old Hotel Trail

I had always done day trips.  I had imagined an overnight excursion somewhere like False Cape or kayaking to camp one of the barrier islands on the Eastern Shore.  But, a mountain hike and camping trip?  What the heck.  It would earn me a little “street cred” among my co-workers around the state.  The Chesapeake Bay Sierra Club had a trip to go along with a class I attended a month or two ago.  The group seemed friendly and the leaders knowledgeable.  So, everything would go like clockwork.  Right?

Anyone who knows me or read my last entry knows that nothing goes like clockwork for me.  I was lollygagging in Charlottesville waiting to buy a map from Blue Ridge Mountain Sports.  Then, I wasted more time looking for a Route 51 off of Route 60 (directions given to me by an online map and seemed to be the best way according to the map I had).  I had brain enough to print off another set of directions before I left West Point and followed them until I got to the parking lot at Hog Camp Gap where the Appalachian Trail intersected Route 48.  I called myself waiting on the group when, little did I know, they had waited and then left me.  Figuring I had already come so far, I refused to call it quits.  I packed up my gear and took the AT up Cold Mountain.

Summit View

Up is an understatement!  In another previous post, I described how I got my butt kicked underestimating the difference between flat and mountain hiking when I went up Humpback Rock.  I should have died on the AT trying to reach the summit with that heavy backpack!  Some of the pain went away as I gazed all around at a fantastic panoramic view and enjoyed meeting a nice family out for a quick day hike.  If I were allowed, I would have stayed right there and captured amazing sunset and sunrise images.  But, I really wanted to get to the Cow Camp Shelter before sundown.  It was a steep decent down the mountain.  the trail seemed a lot more narrow and had these hair pin switch backs.  There is no way in the world I would have made that trip in the dark.

Chesapeake Bay Sierra Club Hikers

I got to the shelter and sadly didn’t find the group.  But, I did run across some dudes who offered me advice and conversation.  I did see a piece of racist graffiti on the other side of the Blue Ridge.   Among hikers, I have yet to meet anyone who has been unfriendly.  There are all sorts of jerks in everywhere you go in life.   But, I follow the example of my father who became a communications technician with AT&T long before there were racial hiring quotas:  Be respectful of yourself and others.  Be sincere about what you want to do and people will work with you no matter what they might think of you.  I thank God for everyone I met and greeted along the way.

A Stream Of Living Water

I set up camp near the shelter and spent the night under the stars with my Bible.  The ghost of my grandfather-in-law, Rev. Carter Wicks, was already on my mind as I was in Charlottesville to say goodbye to my grandmother-in-law.  With the waters of Little Cove Creek, I couldn’t ignore the spiritual presence of the place.  Romans 8:12-17 reminded me to live according to the spirit and not the flesh.  If I could strive this hard on a hike in the natural world, how much more must I strive for the Kingdom.  While I would have enjoyed the company of the Sierra Club hikers, I believe God intended for me to be alone on this trip.

Wild Strawberry

I had the brilliant idea that if I took the Old Hotel Trail back to the parking lot, I wouldn’t have to go uphill again.  That was not my best thought!  Another hard climb awaited me.  Little did I know I would run into some friendly and familiar faces.  “Hey John.  We didn’t think you were coming.”  We chatted a bit about my failed sense of timing.  But, I was congratulated for going through with the hike alone.  I didn’t learn to hike by a compass yet.  But, I do know how to follow a well-marked trail and map.
Aside from packing way too heavy (Chris warned me not to bring my Pentax K200D.  Did I listen?  Of course not!), I thought this whole experience was absolutely wonderful.  almost everywhere I looked there was something worth seeing and enjoying!  Clouds were drifting effortlessly past the mountains.  Wild strawberries and other flowers were in bloom.  Along the Old Hotel Trail, there seemed to be running water around every other bend.  I am glad I had sense enough to take the little Kodak Easyshare C143 so I could get a few good shots in without taking out my “Brick” (I love my camera, but it is as solid and heavy as a brick).  The trip is everything that it was advertised to be.  But, I don’t recommend that rookies go solo.  Yeah, I did it.  But, the Lord protects babies and fools.  Since I haven’t worn a diaper since Lyndon Johnson was President, I know where I stand.

Cloud on the Mountain

11 thoughts on “Cold Mountain: My First Backpacking Adventure

    • Thanks Shellie. I am going to use my old Kodak Z612 next time I make such a trip. It isn’t as good as my “Brick.” But, it is nowhere near as heavy.

  1. So glad you ended up finishing the trip even without the group. It is definatly a great spot for hiking. Sad I missed you…but glad I was not made a liar by my brick-ditching recommendation…although, I am sad you had to carry a lot of weight…but hey, the worst trip is ALWAYS the worst…so hey, it just gets better from here!

    • Chris, thanks for introducing me to backpacking and Cold Mountain! Yeah, I ached for a day or two. But, I wouldn’t take anything for the journey.

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