Why do you hike? I am guessing that whatever the reason, this hike has it:
- Lovely forests? Check! The hardwood forests that I hiked through today were so pretty!
- Solitude? Check! In 10+ miles of hiking, I saw seven people. Five of them were at Bear Church Rock. The other two were Appalachian Trail through-hikers that passed me heading north as I was 0.3 miles from reaching my car. Other than that, I saw not a soul.
- Vistas? Check! The rock has a gorgeous view. You won't want to leave!
- A cardio workout? Check! You bet your quads, glutes, calves, hammies, lungs, and heart that you will get a workout! 2,800 feet of ascending round trip, and the same amount for descending.
- Flowers? Check, at least this time of year! In addition to lots of mountain laurel, the state flower of my native state of Pencil-Vane-Eye-Ay, I saw lots of other flowers on my trek.
- Wildlife? Check! How about two bears? That was the highlight. I also saw a ruffed grouse (the state bird of my native state), and three different amphibian species. And for the entire hike, I was serenaded by oven birds ("teacher-teacher-teacher-teacher"), wood thrushes, veeries, Rufus-sided towhees ("Drink your tea-he-he-he-he-he"), and eastern wood peewees ("pee-a-wee").
I ran a half marathon less than three months ago, and I finished in the top third of my age group in a 10K two weeks later. After resting my knee injury for a while, I have been walking a lot and running some, and doing a lot of exercises. I thought I was in pretty good shape. I thought wrong, because this hike today kicked my butt! It was a real test, hiking in the mountains again. It was a test that I passed, but barely, maybe with a C- at best. It was a vivid reminder that no amount of running and walking in fairly flat areas can truly prepare you for a hike in the mountains along a rough trail that resembles a roller coaster route.
I'll admit it, I'm tired. That is why this post will have minimal photos. I will be posting more later this week about Bear Church Rock, including at least one or two of my "what am I series." It won't be the bears - you already know that I saw those, plus they moved way too fast for me to even get my camera out. They make an Olympic sprinter look slow - and that is in a forest!
To get started, here is a map of my route - it was an out and back - and the elevation profile (one way only, returning from the rock). The hike instructions said 4.5 miles to the rock, but my GPS - which is very accurate - pegged it at nearly 5 miles. So I wasted an hour and a lot of energy hiking back and forth between miles 4.2 and 4.8 trying to find the rock. I literally got one tenth of a mile from it the first time and turned around, hiking all the way back to 4.2 before deciding to turn around again and hike back. That ended up having a negative impact on my day. More about that later. On the plus side, I probably would not have seen the bears without that happening!
The route starts on the left hand side. I hiked on these trails today to get to Bear Church Rock on the right: Appalachian, Laurel Prong, Cat Knob, and Jones Mountain. The bear icon at about the half way point was where I saw the bears on my hike back. They looked like two yearlings, almost certainly still with their mother. I didn't see the sow.