Thursday, February 19, 2015

Looking Towards the AT: Virginia Blues, Part 3 (Troutville to Waynesboro)

I believe this may be along the Blue Ridge Parkway close to its northern terminus at the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park. 

Section: Virginia, from Troutville to Waynesboro 
Region: South
Miles of trail: 132.4
Highlights: The Priest, James River Bridge, Blue Ridge Parkway

For most of the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it has little to do with the Appalachian Trail. It starts several miles down US 441 from Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and heads in a northeasterly pattern from there. As the AT follows the western edge of the Blue Ridge, the BRP follows the eastern edge, going by the Black Mountains (and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak of the Appalachians).

The last 100 miles however, the trail and the parkway become intertwined, with the trail making a crossing of the Parkway many times. These 100 miles are also the part of the BRP in Virginia that looks closer to the high vistas of the first 100 miles of the roadway, rather than the pastoral meadows and woods to the south of Roanoke. It's a beautiful drive, and I imagine it is a pretty nice hike as well.

While the trail begins deep in the heart of Virginia, the northern end of this segment marks the move of the AT into the northern portion of the state. Here, near Waynesboro, is the crossing of I-64 and the beginning of Shenandoah National Park (specifically the southern terminus of Skyline Drive). As such it would be easy to define this part of the trail by its end.

However, there are some sights to see along the trail. Most famous is probably The Priest is a peak along the blue ridge that is famous for a rocky outcropping near the summit, giving a panoramic view of the Tye River valley. The pictures I've seen look rather interesting, but also a possible place for my latent fear of heights to kick in.*

While there are plenty of places along this section that are high up above the valley, the hike is also defined by two major river crossings. The second, across the Tye River, is after an over 3,000 foot descent from The Priest. The first encountered by the NOBO hikers is the James River, making its way out of the mountains down to Richmond, the Hampton Roads, and eventually the Atlantic. Here is a footbridge across the wide river, the longest foot only bridge on the trail.

There aren't any trail towns directly on the trail along this segment once you leave Troutville, at least until you get to the other end. Even here Waynesboro itself is a couple miles off the trail, but should be fairly easy to reach, upon where a multitude of hotels, restaurants, and shops are available for a hiker preparing for the hike through Shenandoah.

* I know, I know. "But Andrew, if you have a fear of heights, why do you hike?" The answer is that I don't have a fear of all heights. For instance, I'm fine flying, or in a tall building (that doesn't have floor to ceiling windows). For the most part I don't feel it while hiking down a hill with drops on the side. However, overlooks, particularly those on rocky outcrops, can make me a bit nervous.

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