Free Spiritís ( Al's )

Appalachian Trail Journal

Damascus Virginia to Petites Gap - Part 5

Dates ........ Saturday, April 14, 2001
Miles ........ 15.8 miles
From ........ Damascus VA
To ............. Lost Mountain Shelter
Weather ... Sunny, low 70's

Saturday, April 14, 2001

Damascus VA (Hikertown USA), Iron(2900'el), Straight (3500'el), and Lost (3400') Mtns., Great Horned Owl, Taylor's Valley views.

Up before 6 A.M., breakfast at Cracker Barrel, check out of our motel in Abingdon VA, John and I drove into DAMASCUS VA and picked up the trail where it headed up the mountain out of town. It was easy to find - a set of steps on the edge of Route 58, next to a piped spring. I strapped on my backpack, waved good-bye and the journey into the unknowns and adventures of the Appalachian Mountains along the Appalachian Trail (AT) of Southwestern Virginia began. I was eager to meet the challenges of the 301 miles of trail ahead of me.

I refined and fine-tuned my pack for this my fifth Appalachian Trail adventure. Fully loaded before food and water it weighed a pleasantly amazing 22.75 pounds. That included all my gear and clothes, except what I wore or carried in my pocket. It included film, but not my small camera, which I carried in my front shirt pocket. Food weighed 1.1 pounds per day and I never carried more than 5 plus 1 days reserve of food due to frequent mail drops, so my maximum pack weight with food and 1 qt. Of water was 22.75 + 6.6 + 2 = 31.35 pounds. That is a very light pack and, as this journey would prove, had all the essentials I would need. I carried nothing that was not absolutely necessary. Halfway through my journey I sent back my sneakers, shaving off another 1.5 pounds.

The weather was nice- though at 70 degrees it was a little warm for the exertion of backpacking. Right away I knew I'd be going through a lot of water, most of it exiting my body in the form of perspiration. I started at 2000 feet elevation, a low point in the trail, and immediately climbed 1000 feet to Iron Mountain, descended 700 feet then climbed another 1000 ft. to Straight Mt and then down again to Laurel Creek and up another 1000 feet to Lost Mountain. My hips ached and I realized that my pre-hike conditioning had been far less than adequate. I struggled up the climbs, but at least my knees did not give me any problems as they had in the past. Tomorrow was to be another day of rugged climbing.

Whitetop and Beech Mountains as seen from the AT on the crest of Straight Mountain.

Part of the AT paralleled the Virginia Creeper bike trail, a nice smooth foot and bike path, and went over some old rail beds and a 540 foot long bike and foot bridge made from a former railroad trestle before it broke away and headed up Lost Mountain. The trail itself was packed dirt covered with pine needles and leaves. It was not muddy or rocky and was pleasant to walk on. The forest was mixed hardwoods and conifers with lots of mountain laurel and rhododendron. Tree buds were swollen but not yet leafing out. Redbuds, dogwoods and serviceberry were in various stages of bloom. Azaleas were just beginning to blossom. Songbirds were everywhere.

After crossing Straight Branch Creek I saw a large owl on a branch over the trail. It flew a few feet and landed on another branch, allowing me to get a good photo. It appeared to be a great horned owl - common in these parts but rarely seen. It is only the second live owl I have ever seen in the wild, though I have heard them many times. Later in the hike I was to see my first ever mink in the wild.

I stopped briefly at Saunders Shelter to replenish my water supply and take a little break, lying in the sunshine. I enjoyed the many and beautiful views of the picturesque and peaceful looking Taylor's Valley below. I wondered what life must be like down there and if the residents had hiked this trail to look down on their homes and farms.

At Lost Mountain shelter I met up with Harry Carey, a former military chopper pilot and real gentleman, Jeff, a schoolteacher and his girlfriend documenting his AT hike as a school project, and a techno-geek testing the function of various electronic equipment on the AT. I slept well, though I was a little too warm in my unzipped bag.

Daily Journal Entries

~ Journal Part 5 ~

04/18/01 04/20/01 04/21/01
04/29/01 04/30/01 05/01/01 05/02/01 05/03/01 05/04/01  

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