Reality intruded with snow and more snow. I lopped off one day of the trip prior to leaving in anticipation of the inclement weather, eliminating Tuesday’s hike completely. Wednesday’s hike had to be moved due to road closures in the park. Thursday’s hike suffered the same fate. Each day, however, I managed at least a few new trail miles, and two more lessons were learned…(1) alternate plans are a good idea, and (2) when nature is in charge, the best option is to roll with it. This is no place for rigid itineraries.
An overnight snowfall closed Laurel Creek Road and eclipsed Wednesday’s hike on the Rich Mountain Loop Trail. Friend Allen Sweetser braved freezing temperatures for a day in the mountains, and we decided on a short, easy trek through park history at Metcalf Bottoms – up Little Brier Gap Trail (1.4 miles) to Little Greenbrier Trail (1.9) and back via Wear Cove Gap Road (1.25). We visited Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse and the Walker Sisters’ Cabin, both looking beautifully forlorn under a blanket of snow.
Snow measured up to 5 inches in places and was as softly airy as foamy white mounds of soap bubbles. Allen said it looked like a washing machine had overflowed. A few small animal tracks could be seen, including those of an illegal dog along the trail. A cross country skier had been there too. Most of the typical woody evergreen plants were present including large boxwoods at the Walker cabin. Near Little River at the bottom, there were lots of alder shrubs with new catkins and old cones. And at the top, we found a striped maple with beautifully colored young bark and a patch of trailing arbutus sporting flower buds. A few warm days will unleash its delightfully sweet fragrance to herald spring.
The neatest find occurred with regularity along the trails – needle ice. The saturated, unfrozen soil continually exudes water under pressure that freezes and is forced upward into needle-like columns. We saw thick clusters a few inches tall and curled at the tip. They were remarkably beautiful. From the delicately miniature to the impressively robust, slanted geologic formations along Little River Road were coated with rows of thousands of icicles, some as big around as an arm and several feet long.