Sunday, April 30, 2017

Appalachian Trail - Whitetop Mountain

Whitetop Mountain is second highest peak in the state of Virginia.  Located in the southwest corner of the state and rising 5500 feet in elevation, one can easily see  mountains in four states.   On the southeastern slope of the summit of Whitetop mountain is a large meadow, a mountain bald.  Prominent amidst this bald is Buzzards Rock. 
There are two ways to get there.  One is easy, the other is hard.   The Fat Bald White Guy and his Faithful Hiking Companion rarely choose easy.   The easy trek is to drive the gravel road to the top and walk down a trail about a half mile long to the rock.
The harder way to get there is a 3.5 mile out and back hike from Elk Garden along the Appalachian Trail.  It is really easy to find.  Take the Chilhowie exit off I-81 and follow the signs to Whitetop Mountain.  Elk Garden is at the foot of a wonderful bald.  The AT trail north crosses this bald. 
The trail up Whitetop Mountain to Buzzards Rock is the AT-South and begins on same side of the road as the parking lot.  It is a wooded trail that gently but continuously ascends the mountain.
Spring is late at this elevation. Still mountain wild flowers are in full bloom and line both sides of the trail and dot the landscape wherever I looked.  The trail is a typical AT trail in that it is rocky and well worn but easily followed.

A tree the name of which I do not know but looks from a distance like a dogwood was in full blossom and adorned many of the features of the trail like this old weathered tree.
The trail is deceptively steep.  About 1000 feet in elevation is achieved in 2.5 miles of the 3.5 mile hike to Buzzards Rock. It is rated by some as moderate but I think that is an AT rating.  I would say moderately strenuous but very fair.  The trail architect constructed the trail to allow for a constant but moderately steep climb.  We only realized the steepness on the journey back. 

The trail is interrupted several times by cascading creeks whose sound sometimes can be heard well before they are seen.  On a humid day the creeks serve the FBWG well as I usually wet my hat in the cool water.

We paused to rest our dawgs at the halfway point and took in some of the flower blossoms.  I was especially drawn to the baby Stinky Benjamin blooming delicately next to the path. But my Faithful Hiking Companion really liked the "dainty" yellow flowers. 

From this point the trail became more rocky and there was an occasional opportunity to scramble over and down some of the rock formations blocking the trail.  All were manageable and provided some nice variety to the hike.

Of course we looked for a Keebler Elf beneath this tree and found neither an elf nor any cookies.

Nearing whatat appeared to be the summit, the trail became less steep and we encountered this sign. 

Seeing that we had traveled 2.5 miles, I was thinking the Buzzard Rock would not be much farther as we emerged onto the edge of the large bald.  But as it turns out there is another mile to hike through an orchard like trail. 
The meadow-like bald allowed for some brief views of the surrounding mountains.
The trail crosses the gravel summit road and proceeds back into the forested trail. 

But as we left the meadow we got a glimpse of our destination. 

The outline of Buzzards Rock was clear before we descended into the trees.
The trail to Buzzards Rock took us through a forest of orchard sized trees typically seen at this elevation.  It was an enchanted forest type of trail of nearly a mile before we emerged onto another mountain bald at the foot of Buzzard Rock.
The Rock sits on the southeastern slope of the summit of Whitetop Mountain and faces south. From the top of this rock there is a 180 degree view of the surrounding mountains.  Due to the overcast of the day, our views were limited but I believe this may be one of the best views in southwestern Virginia. Scrambling to the top of the rock I got to sit and contemplate the beauty of the surroundings.
The best views were to the northeast as the clouds were coming from the southwest.
Still the clouds and the interplay with the sun and the grass of the bald allowed for some interesting views.
There are other rocky overlooks across the southeastern slope but distant thunder soon drove us from the summit.  We will return again someday and but I think we may drive up for the views next time!

We trudged back down the trail more quickly than we trudged up the trail...not just because it was downhill but we were trying to out run the rain...which we did.  But I still stopped for an occasional picture.

Buzzard Rock hike is something short of seven miles round trip.  It is a great workout.   A steady uphill but tolerable hike through the mountain woods....crossing streams, rocks and meadows....ending in a large expansive bald from which views are is well worth the trip.   But if you are a view junkie....take the road up.   The access is a 9....the trail is a 9....the scenery was an 8 because of the overcast conditions....overall a 9 hike...if you want to hike part of the AT this is the hike to take.
My guess is that on a clear fall day, this may be one of the best places in the Appalachians to see the fall colors on display.

No comments:

Post a Comment