On a day when most people are inside, by the fire, staying warm, there's a group of hearty hikers who won't let the weather deter them. Such was the case on the coldest day of the winter in southwestern Virginia; when the temperature failed to rise out of the mid-20's and brisk winds of 30-40 miles an hour made it seem much, much colder…frigid would be kind.
The Roanoke chapter of the Appalachian Trail Club sponsors hikes around the region most every Saturday and Sunday and rarely do they cancel because of weather conditions. On this day, eight members of the club make the hour-long drive to the Montebello State Fish Hatchery in Nelson County.
From the trailhead there they trudge through a couple of inches of fresh snow to a first viewpoint, aptly named, Spy Rock. From this granite dome, mostly devoid of trees and other vegetation, one gets a 360 degree view of the Commonwealth; deep into the Appalachians to the south, into the edges of the Shenandoah Valley to the north and looking east to the "plains" stretching to the Atlantic. The hikers get their first serious blast of winter air on the rock. A 135-pound woman is nearly blown off her feet by the strong winds which bring the wind chill down to below zero.
Relative warmth is found several miles later after the group enters The Priest Wilderness Area in the George Washington National Forest and find sun at a picnic table next to a shelter. It's a great spot for a quick lunch, before moving out again, in an effort to keep warm. Next the trail takes them to the top of Priest Mountain before dropping 3,000 vertical feet in three miles and to a parking lot. This particular route requires a car to be dropped off at the end to get back to the starting point at the fish hatchery.
This venture, more than 10 miles long, is not for lovers of all things warm, but rewards the hikers with great views, great exercise, and one of the most cherished aspects of this sort of group activity: the camaraderie and conversation that happens on the trail. You might think this is for the young and fit; the gym rats? Not so.
On this hike and many others sponsored by the Appalachian Trail Club the average age of participants is 50-60 years old. On this day, a 73-year old gets to the end of the trail a full hour before rest of the group, which includes a 69 year-old, a 71-year old, and a 72-year old. They prove that age is just a number. The Roanoke group of the ATC welcomes new members and is a great way to learn and see the varied terrain of our region. You can get more information from its website by clicking here.