Thanksgiving Trek on Garden Mountain

Its been a long time since my last posting. A busy fall schedule had prevented me from doing any AT hiking since the Labor Day Weekend. Having some time off and needing to work of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey feast, I decided to take an overnight hike Friday and Saturday.

I had a difficult time deciding where to go at first, but eventually settled on a 8.7 mile section of the trail on Garden Mountain in Virginia between Walker Gap and the Jenkins Shelter. This section closed a gap between sections that I had hiked previously in the summer. Garden Mountain is an interesting section because it surrounds a geological wonder – Burke’s Garden. Burke’s Garden is a large bowl shaped valley – approximately 5 miles wide x 9 miles long that looks like a gigantic volcanic crater – but its not.  It is the result of varied erosion rates for different rocks, with a hard sandstone rim forming the bowl with an interior made of softer limestone. The limestone has over time eroded away forming the bowl. The remnant soil in the valley is very rich and the floor of the valley is a pastoral paradise full of farms and cows.

I started the hike at Walker Gap -3500 ft elevation -where the gravel / dirt road leading up from the west end of the valley reaches the rim of Burke’s Garden. There is a small parking area here for 3-5 cars and a water source marked by blue blaze trail. Curiously, there were 2 small campers in the parking lot, one without a truck to pull it. I figured out later that this was a mini base camp for the hunters that were hunting deer on the mountain and the surrounding wilderness.

The trail lead up the ridge line to the first of many knobs along the rim of the bowl. A cold front associated with the Thanksgiving snowstorm in the upper midwest had just passed through the area so the hike led up through the humid air and into the low clouds. The majority of my hike on Friday was spent in the clouds, making it tough to keep bearings and keep track of progress and of the trail. The sun tried to poke through the clouds a few times but I did not see clear sky until well into the afternoon. Progress was slow – I had expected to hike the 4.8 miles to VA 623 in about 2.5 hours. This is the first major man-made landmark along the path. I did not make it until after 1PM, over 3 hours from when I started. I did not expect that the small knobs of the ridge and the rocky terrain would slow me down so much. Near the road crossing I passed some hunters heading southbound on the trail. I don’t expect that they saw any deer to hunt in the fog.

I heard the road crossing from a good distance away. There was another camper stationed here, but this one was outfitted with a large generator that was not muffled very well. The sound of it probably scared away all the deer for mile around. I was glad to get out of earshot of it. Not exactly peace and solitude. Once up the next knob of the ridge and over a set of boulders it was again very quiet. I passed the side trail to the Davis Farm Camp and continued to the beginning of the descent off of the ridge and into Hunting Camp Creek valley – 1500 feet below.

The drop in elevation finally brought me down and out of the clouds. I could see over Brushy Mountain, the valley beyond and Big Walker Mountain. A very welcome sight after seeing tree branches and gray for the majority of the day. This was not an easy descent – my knees felt every step on the way down.

On the way down I met a southbound thru hiker named Sage. We talked for a bit. She had been hiking for over 7 months and was hoping to make it Springer Mountain by Christmas. I hope she makes it – she has quite a bit of hiking still to do – nearly 600 miles. She would need to average over 20 miles a day to make it. She told me she was planning to stop at Chestnut Knob Shelter for the night. I wished her well and she headed on her way.

I continued down to the Jenkins Shelter. I finally made it just after 4. This gave me enough time to make supper and set up my hammock before the sun set around 5. There was another thru hiker already setup at the shelter who was from Clinton, NC. He was pleasant and we talked as we both prepared our dinners and got ready for the night. The clouds were breaking up and the night was getting pretty dark with the moon not yet risen. I decided to go to bed and rest, knowing I would have to cover the same trail the next day – but in the opposite direction – up.

A very cold night but I managed to stay warm in the hammock. I am glad I came prepared with enough cold weather gear to make it through comfortably. Woke up the next morning around 7. Made some oatmeal but could not finish it all. Not very hungry surprisingly. The thru hike was already up and getting ready to go. He left out before 8. He was planning over 20 miles that day. Not being quite so ambitious, I took my time my things together and headed out around 8:30.

The hike uphill was difficult. It took me nearly 3 hours to hike the 3 miles to the turnoff for the Davis Farm Campsite. The weather and views were clear and cool but very windy. I took some photos of the views I missed the day before but did not linger long in one spot.

I made it back over the rocks and knobs and arrived back at Walker Gap just after 4 in the afternoon. Tired but satisfied, I headed back home with only 7 more miles to hike to complete my goal for the year of 200 miles.

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