We left Spy Rock in early afternoon, scrambled down the steep rocks, and retraced our steps to the Appalachian Trail, heading north towards Priest Mountain. It was about 3.5 to 4 more miles, much of it uphill but with some very pleasant ridge walking as well. After the big crowds at Spy Rock, the solitude of the trail was kind of nice, and led us to speculate that we would have the Priest Mountain Shelter to ourselves as cold as it was going to get.
Much of the walk was without views, and we saw hardly any wildlife – just a few juncos from time to time. Now and then we had pretty views, like this one of Cash Hollow.
But mostly, it was just the Appalachian Trail going through some nice forest land.
After a while, we had a view of Priest Mountain looming above us:
I have no idea what this plant was, but we thought it was very interesting:
Eventually, we passed a hiker going towards Spy Rock, and shortly thereafter, we came to the intersection of the AT with a very rough and steep woods road coming up from the Crabtree Meadows area. It was at this point that our illusion of solitude at the shelter was shattered. Boy scouts staggered up the road, complaining about the steepness. “How much further to Priest Shelter?” several asked. “About a mile and maybe 800 more feet in elevation,” we replied. We were greeted with loud groans, and headed up into the Priest Wilderness Area in the George Washington National Forest.
The final 1.3 miles to the summit was nearly 100% uphill, but was not bad, other than we were getting tired of carrying our packs. About a half mile from the shelter, a man was walking down and told us that he was looking for the rest of his boy scout group. He told us that they had a very big group up here from Virginia Beach. It was at that point that Chris and I decided to skip the shelter with its spring, lean-to, and outhouse, and just head to the summit to camp. We got up there about 4:30. There were about a half dozen hikers enjoying the views, which we did as well. They were spectacular to the north and east especially and we soaked them in for some time despite the rapidly chilling temperatures and very strong winds.
Then, just before looking for a spot to camp, we each posed for a photo:
We had only a little more than an hour of daylight left, and much to do, so it was time to set up camp for the night.
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