Sunday, June 23, 2013

Peaks of Otter - Flat Top Mountain

FLAT TOP MOUNTAIN at Peaks of Otter

Flat Top Mountain
Sharp Top Mountain

Near Bedford, Virginia, on
the Blue Ridge Parkway are two magnificent twin peaks known as the Peaks of Otter.  The most popular peak is Sharp Top Mountain which is accessed from the Peaks of Otter visitor's center.  It is said that the name of the peaks is derived from the Cherokee word "otarri" which means "lofty places".  Early surveyors, including Thomas Jefferson, thought Sharp Top was the highest peak in the State of Virginia (3875')**...trouble was Flat Top was higher at 4001 feet ....and they did not know of Mount Rogers to the south at 5900 feet.  We chose to hike Flat Top.  Trail research said it would not be as steps....nice trail....great views.

You can hike Flat Top from the Peaks of Otter Park or you can do as we did and access the trail head from a parking lot in the northeastern end of the park. Passing the crowded parking lot at the trail head, we were forced to park at the nearby Cascade lot thus extending  the hike to a 6 mile round tripper. 

The trail is well maintained but deceptively steep and deceptively long.  It proved to be the equivalent to a two hour step climber workout at the YMCA!  For three miles we huffed and puffed up an increasingly rocky trail made up of helpful long switchbacks which gave the old thumper time to slow down. 

The trail up was a typical mountain path with occasional glimpse of late blooming mountain laurel and window previews of scenery we were hoping to enjoy when we arrived at the summit.

 Strategically placed along the trail are trail benches...a great place to rest your dawgs and catch you breath. You can judge the distance up the trail by theses three benches as they seem to be placed at half mile intervals.

At the 1.75 mile mark, the trail becomes steeper and the switchbacks shorter...we made sure we took a break at what turned out to be the final trail bench where we were greeted by other hikers coming down the mountain telling us of terrible views and steep climbs ahead...good thing I had looked at some trail research which told me that they did not make it to the we trudged on....

There is a faux summit which was the place the other hikers had forsaken their hike at the 2.1 mark...there is a sign indicating that the real summit was but a half mile away....still some very nice views of the northeastern mountains off a rock cliff.

The day was intermittently cloudy and the sunlight danced with the clouds providing some interesting shadows on the distant mountains.

Undeterred by the pessimism of other hikers we labored on toward the of the longest half mile hikes I can remember!

The trail led steadily upward toward the summit through some sunlit fern meadows.

There were some interesting boulder fields adorned by wild flowers.

The summit of Flat Top Mountain once reached provides many choices for viewing the surrounding countryside.  From the summit sign we followed several trails and were rewarded with spectacular views.

Looking west the mountains seem to merge into the sky.

 Trudging to the other side of the summit and looking east, the populated piedmont provides an interesting contrast to the western view.

 Peaking around to the north side of the mountain as seen from the eastern cliffs, the clouds dancing in the sky provide some changing views.

The twin peak Sharp Top Mountain can also be seen from the summit of Flat Top Mountain shrouded by a dark cloud.
Whatever view we chose, it was the ever changing clouds that dominated the scene which reminded me of a verse from Alexander Pope:
 Lo! the poor Indian, whose untutored mind Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind; His soul proud Science never taught to stray Far as the solar walk, or milky way; Yet simple Nature to his hope has giv'n, Behind the cloud-topped hill, an humbler heav'n.

 On the way down....we slipped, slid and stumbled along a rocky occurred to me that I had not seen a trail I made one. With each stone I praised God for the beauty of His Creation and my good fortune to be blessed with the opportunity of experiencing it on this beautiful day.

Now, if  God made the clouds so beautiful, did He not mean for us to gaze upon them and be thankful for them? - Alfred Rowland

The Peaks of Otter is a wonderful park on the Blue Ridge. It takes about 2.5 hours to get there but the park is but 10 miles from Bedford Virgina. The trek up Sharp Top can be bypassed by using a shuttle bus but Flat Top can only be reached by foot.  The access is a 8 owing to the long drive...the trail is an 8...rocky and steep....the scenery is a views as good as any you will see....overall grade is an is a hike we are glad we took but not one we are anxious to repeat.....this is not a hike for rookie hikers as it tests you both mentally and physically.

FAT BALD WHITE GUY on Flat Top Mountain Summit

**Thomas Jefferson visited the Peaks of Otter but never climbed to the top....
1816 January 2. (Jefferson to Alden Partridge). "I am but recently returned from my journey to the neighborhood of the Peaks of Otter...When lately measuring trigonometrically the height of the peaks of Otter...I very much wished for a barometer, to try the height by that also. But it was too far and too hazardous to carry my own, and there was not one in that neighborhood. On the subject of that admeasurement, I must promise that my object was only to gratify a common curiosity as to the height of those mountains, which we deem our highest, and to furnish an a peu pres, sufficient to satisfy us in a comparison of them with the other mountains of our own, or of other countries."[4]

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