Saturday morning we met at Vienna and Beks, Chris, Lacey, and Mai headed out to our epic adventure up and over Apple Orchard Mountain.
We left our cars at the 501 parking lot near the James River bridge. Our shuttle driver Charlie (from Stanimals) was a former AT thru hiker with a wry sense of humor. During the AT, he claimed he’d never had a good day. That was a bummer because he’d promised himself to never quit on a bad day. So every morning he woke up and realized it wasn’t going to be a good day so he couldn’t quit.
Charlie dropped us off at the Taylor Mountain Overlook and we headed out on the trail. The first day, we crisscrossed across the Blue Ridge Parkway with some spectacular views (and multiple trash cans!).
After 10.3 miles, we settled into the Cove Mountain shelter for the night.
As the sun came out, we packed up and headed out on the AT for our trip up Apple Orchard Mountain. Our day was filled with steep ascents, beautiful scenery, and wonderful conversations.
Mai and Beks completed an extra loop heading down to the Apple Orchard Falls to gain their hard-earned Veteran Member Status. The trail started out mild with a few day hikers and dogs strolling down a nice flat, well-groomed path. It soon became the toughest ascent of the day.
We made the final climb to Apple Orchard Mountain. There are no apples on Apple Orchard Mountain. The peak is at 4203ft which leaves the trees stunted in a way that they resemble apple trees. The view from the top was stunning.
Starting down the mountain, we passed underneath the Guillotine. A rock formation that seemed destined to topple at any moment and “off with their heads”.
After 7000 ft of ascent, we arrived at Thunder Hill shelter for the night. Settling in for dinner in the dark, we didn’t hear any thunder but we did hear terrifying screams. The echoes of the legendary Eastern Screech Owl haunted our campsite for the night. Another frightening visitor, who turned out to be a hiker, arrived at the shelter at midnight.
Monday morning dawned at 37 degrees. The wind whipped through us as we climbed around the tops staring down on the fog below us. We completed our final intense ascent up Highcock Knob and paused at the top to enjoy the complete lack of the view at the top of the mountain and celebratory Fritos!
As we began to climb down the mountain the sun came out, the wind calmed, and the next section was absolutely beautiful. We wound around the trail walking through colorful fall leaves and gazing at the fall colors on the opposite side of the valley.
As the James River came into view, we began our final descent down the mountain. We crossed over the James River Bridge with pride in completing our hike of 42.5 miles on the Appalachian Trail (plus some side excursions!). Lacey officially became a member of DCUL!
AND our next adventure had just begun. Mai’s car had a flat tire! We had no cell service and none of us had changed a tire since high school. Thankfully, Beks had taken a very memorable class where a fellow classmate taught them all how to change a tire. Beks saved the day by changing the flat! Mai supported by taking selfies. After visiting every potential auto shop in the small town, we found a shop who was still open and happy to plug our tire. We grabbed a celebratory dinner at Mickey Ds and headed home.
It was a wonderful trip with an amazing group of people that I feel so grateful to have journeyed with!