AT Day 042: Friday May 19,  2023

Mile 637 + 20.5 miles / 33 km

Total Distance Hiked: 657.5  miles /1058 km

Plaza Motel, Pearisburg – Narrows Rd – Hemlock Ridge – Rice Field Shelter –  Syms Gap – Dickinson Gap – Pine Swamp Branch Shelter – Camp 

A: 4505 ft/ 1374 m  D: 3710 ft/ 1132m

Nothing like a town stay to restore energy and enthusiasm to embrace whatever the trail brings. Although putting on a heaving pack loaded with five days food was a challenge. We left the motel about 7.30 for the 1 mile walk back to the trailhead on Narrows Rd.  From here we had a mile on trail through a lightly forested hill that comes back onto a highway. 

The trail leaves town along the very busy highway, crossing over New Creek on a very utilitarian looking bridge and past a chemical plant.  Crossing underneath the highway  we were at the next trailhead leading to Hemlock ridge and were now leaving the town behind. 

Looking at the map I had assumed a long climb up to Hemlock Ridge which we then follow for some time. But in reality the trail went up then came back down to a road and then back up again as we slowly made our way up the 2000 foot climb to the ridge. Laurel in full bloom lined the trail. The Laurel gave way to dense stands of blackberries in full bloom as we approached the top of the ridge, opening out to a meadow where Rice Field Shelter was located. A really nice looking location for a shelter with great views of the town below.  

About four  hours after leaving town we finally ascended onto the ridge and we could again see Pearisburg township and the valley below us in the break in the trees. It was  a beautiful day for hiking. 

But the time we stopped  for lunch we were on top of the ridge not that you would know once you’re up there because the trail still undulated and was in the woods. The trailside was lined with knee high vegetation mainly purple Comfrey in full flower.  Though reasonably pretty, there was  nothing too exciting.  We had an eight-mile stretch without water coming up so we stopped for lunch at the last available spring. 

Lunch was nice and relaxing. We were joined by a female hiker from Portland, trail name ‘Kit Kat’.  She was only doing a 50 mile section in her holidays.  

She stayed to wait for her friends and we headed off.  Within minutes of leaving our lunch spot,  I spotted the most exquisite yellow lady’s slipper orchids by the trail. It was such a surprise I squealed  ‘yes, yes yes ….” like I’ve just scored a goal or won a lottery. It was not expected because everything around them looked dense and lush and green and just these three most magnificent yellow orchards stood out.  I spent a little while photographing them and finally had to leave them and move on.  I wished I had a better camera, although sure don’t wish to have the extra weight of one. Hope I get to see some more of these beauties again. 

As we loaded up with water at the spring where we stopped for lunch for the 8 mile dry stretch,   my pack felt  unsually heavy. Hammer said the same for his.  It was almost as if we loaded our packs with a couple of extra bricks.  Afternoon hiking started to feel a lot harder even though  there was a cool breeze blowing, the sun was out which made for  really pleasant hiking conditions. We were both  just feeling a little bit heavy, I’m not sure why. The  trail felt very hard on our feet. It was very rocky underfoot which kind of slowed our progress.  My knee was not happy with the heavy load. I really wanted the day to end and soon. 

Hammer was listening to an audio book,  Bill Bryson’s ‘Walk in the Woods ‘, so he was absorbed.  He was  kind of falling into a slow rhythm and every 10-15 minutes I’d stop and wait for him so he could catch up.  It’s not a good place to have long gaps between us just because the trailside vegetation was quite dense right up to the edges of the trail.  So it looks a bit snakey I guess. 

As we were feeling so tired, we thought we’d stop at the Pine Swamp Branch shelter. We got there about 6pm to find 3 tents already there and the shelter occupied. There was a free campsite but it was gross. Previous occupants didn’t believe in the ‘leave no trace’  principle.  It was pretty deliberate and quite disgusting. This is the first time we’ve come across this on the AT. So we hiked on finding another spot about a mile or so further along by a creek. Not a quiet spot with the noise of a distant generator and a small road nearby. But we were ever so relieved to put our packs down, get the tent set up and get horizontal. Hoping that sleep and rest would make for easier hiking tomorrow. This trail has no easy miles.