Angel’s Rest & Evolution of the Appalachian Trail
For me, it is difficult to not feel a sense of history when I’m on the Appalachian Trail. The trail, which winds through mountains that are over 300 million years old, was first completed in 1937. In just in my little section in southwest Virginia, it takes you by rare virgin forests that have never been touched by loggers (the spruces found in the Mountain Lake Wilderness Area) and a tree that is over 300 years old (the great Keffer Oak). You go by old farmlands which, although unattended, still survive (the cherry orchard south of Dismal Falls). You see stunning views that we have Africa to thank for– sixty million years ago, the continent collided with Virginia and brought us the likes of McAfee Knob. You pass by reminders of our nation’s wars ranging from the Revolutionary War (Tinker Mountain is supposedly named for deserters who hid there) to WWII (the Audie Murphy Memorial on Brush Mountain). All this on a footpath that has been traveled upon for seventy-one years.
Old AT map listing the mileage as 2,007. In 2005 the total mileage had grown to 2,174.9
Interestingly enough, the AT’s abundance of history is the very trait that lulls me into viewing it as a static being, as stationary as the sandstone formations that photograph oh so well. I think of it as a constant. Yet, all around me, I can see that isn’t the case. Destroyed bridges are replaced. New shelters emerge. Or perhaps a new switchback blaze surfaces near Wind Rocks (what wise soul could have suggested that?). I see hints of the trail being rerouted– a guide book note here, a covered blaze there. And I’m well aware what was once the trail in the 1940’s is now part of the Blue Ridge Parkway (I suspect that is why that section boasts so few views– all the good parts were snatched away for the road!). Even with all that evidence, the AT in my mind, seemed so concrete.
On Saturday, I got to see first hand how fluid the trail really is. I took the dogs up to Angel’s Rest near Pearisburg. It’s my favorite hike and I’ve done numerous times in the past six years. I’ve seen that section through all four seasons and despite the changing temperatures and vegetation, the route has always been the same.
Not anymore! The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club has finished a relocation! As a result, the early part of the ascent was all new trail to me. And… if the beautiful, brand spanking new sign at the top is correct, the AT has now grown! Perhaps I was hiking on the AT’s newest 0.2 miles. 🙂
I did lament the loss of one or two small landmarks. And now I have no idea if my ascent time of sixty-six minutes is any better or worse than my previous personal best of sixty minutes. But all in all, it was a thrill to see the AT change before my eyes. Afterall, it’s the trail’s ability to change, to reroute and evolve, that has allowed it to accumulate the deceptive history it has. 🙂
One very important item remained the same on Saturday and I expect it to remain the same for years to come– the views on Pearis Mountain are spectacular: