Risk's Virginia

Section - Nov 2003

Northbound from VA 60 to Montebello

The Cold Mountain Bald



This was a little hike of just over a day, taken over Veteran's Day.  Casting about for a short trip, I remembered the Dutch Haus in Montebello.  I had such nice memories of finishing my trip southbound there, that I wanted to get back and have another of Lois' wonderful breakfasts.


Photo courtesy of the Dutch Haus

Lois & Earl Arnold

P.O. Box 1
655 Fork Mountain Lane
Montebello, VA 24464


I went to church in Dayton, Ohio and then drove the 7 hours south to the rural community of Montebello, Virginia.  After a restful night in the bed and breakfast, Earl Arnold gave me a shuttle to the shoulder of Bald Mountain, where the AT crosses VA 60.  I enjoyed the ride with Earl and his father.  We saw a number of deer crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a number of hunter's vehicles.  The gun season for deer had started. 



It was about 25  F (-4 C) when I was dropped off.  The pack contents have not changed much from my September pack list, with the exception that I was wearing a long pair of pants and had a 3 season jacket.  Other additions included my floppy felt hat (which I had forgotten in September) and a pair of SealSkinz socks.  I wore the socks with my Choca sandals to keep my feet warm.


I was not half way up the 2000 ft (610 m) climb up the mountain before the jacket and the SealSkinz came off.  Even though the temperature was below freezing, I needed less clothing if I was going to avoid soaking my clothes with sweat.  I met a couple hunters halfway up who offered me a cup of coffee.  Hunting trail angels!  May wonders never cease!



The woods are a bit different after the leaves have fallen.  Views are to be had on every side.  No longer "the green tunnel" of summer, the path is a road to great views and pleasant walking the whole time.  I wanted to keep my eyes on the horizon, instead of the path, but the occasional rock hidden in the leaves kept my eyes focused on the path almost as much as if were high summer.  More than once, I had to depend on my two walking sticks to support me when a foot would come down sideways on an apple sized stone in the footway. 


One hour into the hike, it was time for a snack of trail mix.  A handy set of boulders came into view and it offered me the opportunity to take a nice fall picture:



My home-made pack has now seen me through more than a hundred miles of trail.  The Native-American flute I made from PVC pipe is great entertainment for the long dark evenings after sunset and before bedtime. 



It was a great day, with crystal clear air that allowed me to see nearly 100 miles. 



The path was un-crowded.  I did not see a single hiker all day.  I did see a number of hunters and even fresh deer blood on the trail from two recent kills.  I spent many hours whistling through most of the songs I know to make sure that I was heard before I was seen by the hunters.  Perhaps I helped push some game toward the hunters, and perhaps I frightened some away. 



Did I mention that it was cold?  These ice crystals were growing out of low spots in the trail.  From comparison with the pin oak leaves, you can see that the crystals were up to 3 inches tall.  They seemed to grow out of little places where puddles would have formed.  Anyone know the name of ice crystals like this?  They looked like gypsum flowers in Mammoth Cave. 



From what reading I have done about this part of the trail, Cow Camp shelter may be one of the least used shelters.  According to Wingfoot, it is 0.6 miles (1 km) off the main trail, and that does not count the change in altitude.  The fact that I had just climbed a large hill did not predispose me to check out the shelter for grins.  I later found out it did not have a shelter journal.



Climbing out of Cow Camp Gap, there are a number of beautiful views.  The path is not very hard, but my camera kept insisting it come out and take pictures.



Finally, at the top of Cold mountain (below) I came out on a large bald.  (There is no bald on Bald Mountain, but Cold Mountain has a big bald - go figure!)  The sun was warm and the views were priceless.



This bench mark has been placed on the mountain.  However, it has neither elevation nor a marker name on it.  Someone had written the elevation on the marker with a pencil...  They must have been proud of the achievement. 



Gone, on the bald, are the Irish greens of summer.  Instead, the color is painted in muted tans and olive drab.  I was concerned, with all the gunshots I heard, that I fit right in a little too well. 



I ate lunch on a second bald at the end of Tar Jacket ridge, and then settled in  for a nice afternoon walk to Seely  Woodworth Shelter.  I have been to the Priest Shelter from the other direction, so it felt a little like home to see the sign. 



Though I intended to spend the night at Wolf Rocks, I never saw them.  At least I never saw the rocks that I had seen from Spy Rock early this summer.  So I walked on to the shelter and set up my hammock.  I was a bit weary and it was time to kick back for a while in the late afternoon sun. 



After an hour or so, another hiker came into camp.  I certainly had not expected to share the camp, because of the time of year.  it was a real pleasure to get to know a West VA forester who went by the trail name of Alligator.  We gathered firewood and sat around the fire from supper until bedtime.  Alligator is a section hiker who has completed more than 800 miles of the trail.  As a relative newbie, it was great to pick his brain about the things he thinks best amongst his gear.  I would have taken his picture, but my camera battery decided to give up the ghost at this point. 


It takes quite a bit of firewood to support a conversation from sundown at 530PM until bedtime at about 10 PM.  Alligator and I talked about his statistical work with the forest service, and the changes in the woods over the last few years.  We talked about bugs and diseases that have affected the pines, hemlocks, dogwoods, and many other species.  We talked some about whether the water is safe to drink without treatment, making gear, the best stoves, the right weight of gear, and the shelters we had both visited.


The night was cool, starting at 40 F (4 C) and rising in a steady breeze to about 47 F (8 C) in the morning.  I was a little cool in the hammock, but slept well with my Overlap Target pad.  I put my coat between the layers of my double bottom hammock so my feet rested on the coat and this helped a lot with control of the cold foot syndrome. 


The next morning I walked the two hours back to the Dutch Haus, a fresh cup of coffee, and my truck.  The drive home was uneventful and a nice way to rest. 


What I really liked about this hike: 

- the weather was wonderful

-the support Earl and Lois gave me from the Dutch Haus was fantastic

-it was nice to be able to talk with someone after dark on an early winter evening. 


Happy trails,





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