The Revelation of Beauty in The Gentle Appalachian Mountains.
Life... what a complex yet beautiful thing. Life has many things that make every day well worthwhile; great food, awesome interactions with phenomenal people, moments involving love, happiness, and excitement fill our minds every day. And yet, this is the same life that gets all too routine, as well. Constant work overload, not much sleep, and much education to work on for future goals gets in the way on a lot of leisure. Working in the United States Navy out of Norfolk, VA, USA for the past nearly three years has put countless hours of work, a deployment that didn't consist of much other than working on a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier in the middle of the Persian Gulf, and many other tasks that clouded my view on the beauty of the world. The United States Navy, as well as the whole United States Government, means well and the work we do is paramount to the security of the United States. However, back in January of 2017, I knew I needed a change of pace -- something to look forward to that is not only fun and helped me showcased the beauty of life again, but was also challenging. After searching my thoughts, and deciding that I was most happy outdoors, I decided to look into mountaineering as a hobby, and while I am still pretty "green" at the whole thing I must say that it was the best choice I have made in my twenty-one years of existence in this universe -- let me tell you I have so much to be thankful for after all I have experienced, and there is so much more out there to explore.
I signed up at the local REI co-op store as a member, and began to take the classes offered on their website. I attended multiple "camping tip" classes over 2017 where I learned skills necessary to survive backpacking in deep backcountry trips, the basics of rock climbing on natural surfaces, and other events to help the community out. After accumulating much gear, I took a couple trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC, USA and started my own backpacking with a friend where we climbed Mt,. Mitchell, highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and I fell in love with the rush and challenged that followed. During that four-day trip I witnessed close encounters with mother nature -- black bears, raccoons, deer, and very little artificial interference -- I also witnessed the beauty of being cut off from external communication (due to no cellular service being present in the backcountry of the trail), the rush of climbing a 75 degree face to get to an excluded part of the summit, and, the most important thing of all: the peace of the present moment. Fast-forward to now, nearly a year later, and you find me with a list of multiple summits to climb and areas of the whole world to explore -- hence my Summit Post account creation!
However, I digress from the purpose of this article. Today, I speak on my adventure last week -- the icy and dangerous experiences of a steep Appalachian Trail. My original goal was to make it up a popular hike near Luray called Old Rag Mountain Trail leading to the summit of that trail's name. However, the road -- Skyline Drive -- to the trail-head were closed earlier that day against my knowledge via the Thornton Gap Entrance. So, I parked in a secluded area off the highway and decided to trek the 5 miles to the trail-head with all my gear seeing as I had two days. I found myself finding a trail -- turned out to be the Appalachian Trail. I thought "cool, let's get this done," and continued on my merry way. After about three miles of the jagged, rocky glazed with ice so fine I had to use the trees to pull myself up most of the way I decided going all the way to Old Rag might cause a broken leg or two so I decided to settle for the nearest peak titled "Mary's Rock". I was bummed. I really wanted to hike the Old Rag trail I had heard much about. However, as I continued on a mile more to Mary's Rock, I grew content. The view on the way up was refreshing although the trail was still icy. A steeper-yet-"doable" trail climb with multiple switchbacks encompassed this climb to Mary's Rock with pine trees freshening the freezing air. There truly is something about climbing when there are no other hikers due to cold or acclimate weather -- the fact you alone decided to conquer the path regardless of the challenge all alone fills me with motivation and peace, but might just say "that is stupid, you are going to kill yourself" to another person, but not to me! As I approached the summit after two hours of moderate hiking/trekking, I, again, was amazed at the view once I reached the top. Endless, rolling mountains for as far as the eye can see filled the skyline as I sit there, cross-legged on the rock surface of the summit in awe of the present moment I was living in. I said a prayer, laid against my pack, and enjoyed the moment for about an hour up there all with the company of a couple hawks circling me overhead deciding whether I was food or not.
Luray and the surrounding Shenandoah National Park offer hundreds of miles of exploration and free backpacking (as do all national parks). The revelation of beauty just may just be in these foothills and mountains for you, as it was for me.
Best regards, and safe adventures, everyone