Jim, Sue, Cody, and Tater at Springer Mtn., start of the Appalachian Trail Adventure Run


More AT Photos


Runtrails Home Page




Appalachian Trail Conference


Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club


Fueled by:




































































































Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
Start: New River Bridge/Pearisburg, VA                 
End:  Salt Sulphur Turnpike/VA 613
Today's Miles:                      26.7
Cumulative Miles:             648.9
"Although frequently called the 'second oldest river in the world' (after the Nile), the New River has not been authoritatively dated."
- AT Guide to Southwest Virginia

That's not a trail, it's a rock pile!  5-7-05

Where is the logic in calling one of the oldest rivers in the world the New River??

See what I mean about place names?!

I'll admit it. This was not my favorite 26-mile section of the AT. I was in a lousy mood starting from the river crossing in the early morning, and my mood got increasingly worse as the day wore on . . . and on . . . and on.

I did not have fun. I swore I'd never set foot on this section of Trail ever again, even though it is in the 100-mile jurisdiction of my own maintaining club (Roanoke AT Club). They couldn't drag me back out there to work if they paid me, I told myself as I painstakingly crossed yet one more boulder field . . .

Two days later, it doesn't look as bad in retrospect. Still, it isn't a section of the AT that I'd recommend for a run. There are simply too many difficult rocks to make a run feasible unless you can skim over big rocks set at an angle. Good luck to Andrew Thompson when he hits this section! He's been through it twice before, going north, so he knows what to expect. It won't be any easier when he tries to set his north-to-south speed record this summer, although he'll do it much faster than my 10-hour time.


The dramatic narrows near Pearisburg, where the New River breaks through the wall of mountains to the west (the area known as the New River Gorge in West Virginia, popular with white-water enthusiasts and adventure racers), mark a transition between geologic "provinces" as well as an important cultural boundary.

North of the river, the direction in which I went today, the AT runs along the Allegheny Front, in the Peters Mountain Wilderness. The plateau beyond the front is one of tortuous hills and valleys, including the coal country of West Virginia and Kentucky. Culturally, it was dominated by small farmers and squatters unsympathetic to the slave-owning planters farther east, which led to its split from the rest of Virginia during the Civil War.

Per the AT Guide to Southwest Virginia, The U.S. Geological Survey describes this geologic province as "alternating beds of hard and soft Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, folded like the wrinkles in a kicked floor rug." The AT follows long rocky ridges with steep climbs in and out of the valleys.

So I had a good idea this would be a rough day on the Trail, but I didn't have a clue just how tough it'd be.


As soon as I stepped out of the truck, I had to cross the bridge over the New River, a 4/10ths mile span with a safe pedestrian walkway but nerve-wracking none the less with all the morning traffic whizzing by. I went down some steps at the far end, walked uphill about 1/4 mile on a road, and entered the woods.

Ahh. Peace and quiet, I thought.


Because of the way the Trail is routed up Peters Mountain, I could hear industrial noise for about four miles, which took me a good 1 1/2 hours to walk (at least a 1,700-foot ascent). Even the sound of my labored breathing couldn't mask the din of the heavy machinery below, which seemed to reverberate through the valleys and mountains.

Rivers have come to mean one thing to me on the AT: a guaranteed lengthy and/or steep climb up the other side, since they're the lowest points on the elevation profiles. At least this climb up Peters Mountain was easier than the climb up Pearis Mountain, if I'd been going south. All the way down that 2,000-foot descent yesterday I kept thinking, "Man, I'm glad I don't have to climb up this thing!"

What a weenie!


The very best part of the day came shortly after the noise stopped and I could enjoy the silence of the mountain. I came to Rice Field, an extensive open pasture with rock outcroppings but a fairly runnable trail. The views to the valleys and mountains in West Virginia on my left were impressive:

There is a nice shelter off to the side of Rice Field, just past a fence with a stile, where I talked with a young female northbound (NOBO) thru-hiker taking a break. Her trail name is "TCB," for" Taking Care of Business." While I was there eating a muffin, two of her male companions arrived that I'd passed a few minutes earlier.

Throughout the day I caught up to more NOBO thru-hikers than I've seen in a week previously. I think I'm finally catching up to the tail end of the "bubble" of hikers that started in March and April.

Another clue is that I found the second "trail magic" offering today, just past Stony Creek - a large cooler packed with cold soft drinks, candy, and a register. I peeked, but since it was pouring down rain, I quickly closed the lid and went on so the rain wouldn't ruin the candy wrappers or register. That was very nice of the "trail angel" who provided the goodies!  (Often a local resident who also hikes.)


Along much of this 12+ mile ridge I was doing the two-state-step like I did with the Tennessee/North Carolina state line over and over, only this time it was West Virginia under my left foot and Virginia under my right foot. Cool - my fifth state, sort of. I still have lots of Virginia to cover before hitting the WV state line again, though.

The other sign of progress today is that we started on our fourth set of maps and guide book, of eleven total.

Part of this long ridge was runnable, but most was not. There were lots of interesting rock formations on either side of the ridge as well as in the middle of the trail. I didn't find the ones on the Trail to be so fascinating, though.

Around noon, I found a boulder "with my name on it," made myself at home, and took a little break while admiring the scenic West Virginia countryside 1,700 feet below.

At the north end of the ridge (designated Pine Swamp Ridge), I began a mostly runnable descent from 3,900 feet to the second shelter at 2,500 feet. There were pines, but I didn't see anything resembling a swamp - just rhododendron thickets and a creek (Pine Swamp Branch).

The shelter was packed with seven hikers (mostly young thru-hikers) who were all interested in reading the register entries their friends had written, so I didn't get a chance to sign or read that one. At Rice Fields, I noticed that Warren Doyle's group had been there yesterday and was doing the same distance I am today. That gave me hope I might catch up to them tomorrow if my segment is longer than theirs.


Soon after the Pine Swamp Branch shelter the AT comes to, but doesn't cross, paved VA 635. There was a sign posted on a tree that indicated the bridge across Stony Creek two miles up the Trail was washed out last fall by Hurricane Jeanne, and it hasn't been replaced. The alternate, for those who don't want to ford the creek, was to walk 1 1/2 miles up VA 635 (a narrow road with large trucks) and rejoin the AT where it crosses the road.

I looked at the creek, which is as wide as some rivers I've crossed. It didn't look that deep or fast there, and I was going upstream where it should be smaller (ha!). Someone had hand-written on the sign to go ahead and ford it upstream, that it wasn't bad.

You already know how determined I am to follow the white blazes, not the "bad weather" or other blue-blazed routes. So of course I didn't take the road!!

By half a mile I was questioning my judgment. The Trail was gnarly, slick from yesterday's hard rain, with steep PUDs (pointless ups and downs). I was slipping and sliding around, already fatigued from miles and miles of rocks on the ridge.

And what if yesterday's rain (2-3" fell on some parts of the New River Valley) had made the creek deeper and more swift at the crossing ahead of me? Maybe it was a narrower channel that would look much different than it did where the sign was posted.

I forged ahead, determined. I was ahead of schedule, and should have time to retrace my steps if I couldn't cross the creek where the bridge was washed out.

Then I fell hard on a slanted, wide, slick rock. I landed on the side of my right arm and slid down, down, down. It hurt. A lot.

I laid there and surveyed the damage: nasty "road rash" from my wrist to my elbow, bleeding, full of grit, with two bulging hematomas that went away in about an hour. My right knee was bleeding at the same spot I had injured it in a fall a week or more ago.

I cleaned up with some tissues and a Wet Wipe, then trudged on to a little creek feeding into Stony Creek, where I washed the wounds as best as I could. I didn't think my arm was broken or cracked, because it didn't hurt to use my trekking pole with that hand, but it throbbed with pain. I was too damp with sweat and the high humidity to put on any bandages, which I carry with me in my pack.

That's #8.


I trudged another mile to the creek crossing. There were imposing steps made from railroad ties on either side of the broad creek, but no span connecting them. That must have been some flood! In nearby Roanoke we had two storms last August and September, hurricane remnants, where we got 6" of rain each time in one or two days, causing serious flooding of the Roanoke River and local creeks. This area was also affected, obviously.

I made sure my cell phone and camera were in plastic bags before fording the river. It wasn't bad. The cold water felt good, my trekking pole helped give me stability as I stepped between the slick rocks to find gravel to step on, and the water was only about mid-calf deep. I was across without incident (but with caution!) in about a minute.

Then the heavens opened up and it poured down rain. I was glad I was at a lower elevation (2,450 feet), with the lightning all around. Of course, the next part was a 1,650-foot climb up Big Mountain to today's high elevation of 4,100 feet! I passed the trail angel's cooler with drinks and candy and trudged rather stoically up that mountain to the next shelter, Bailey Gap.

A nice 30-ish section-hiking couple was there and gladly shared the trail register. I was so drenched that I didn't read any entries, just signed my usual greetings and continued on so I didn't get too cold. I was about on schedule to meet Jim, but got concerned when the SOBO couple told me how rocky the Trail was for the next couple miles. They were so tired out from it that they were considering spending the night right where they were.


I was tired from negotiating around, over, and through all the previous rocks, rattled from my fall, and soaking wet in the rain. I was not having fun. I didn't even want to socialize with other hikers much today.

Then I hit one of the worst stretches of rocks and boulders I've encountered in 650 miles. I was convinced of diabolical scheming by the nasty trail designers who either deliberately routed the AT through the rockiest part of that mountain, or actually moved rocks into the Trail to make it harder.

My mind thinks funny thoughts after eight hours of misery!

This section also didn't help my sore right leg/calf any. It wasn't swollen, but started to hurt again after five hours on the Trail. I had called Jim earlier in the hike (can't even call today's effort a "run") to ask him to make an appointment with my orthopedist later this week so I could find out what's wrong with it. That was before I banged up my arm, too.

It took what seemed an eternity to get through those two miles of rocks and another 2.7 miles of less-rocky trail to our rendezvous point. I was one whipped puppy when I got there. The rocks won today. Jim had an equally bad day dealing with the camper brakes and hours of driving, so it was a long (1 1/2 hour), quiet drive home.

It was undoubtedly my worst day on the Trail.

We didn't get home until 7:30 PM. We had to clean up, get dinner, and get everything ready for the next day's run. We were both exhausted when we got to bed later than we wanted. Lack of sleep is wearing me down as much as the Trail.

What will tomorrow bring?

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

Previous       Next

Send an e-mail message to Sue & Jim  

2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil