Posts filed under ‘Sinking Creek Mountain’

Halfway to the Sky Fact Checks

As I read Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s Halfway to the Sky, a book about a 12 year old girl’s section hike on the Appalachian Trail, I kept my eyes open for inaccuracies, particularly when the girl reaches parts of the trail I was familiar with. For the most part I was thwarted. For example, when I got to the May 1st chapter, I read this line when the characters arrive at Pine Swamp Shelter which is under the jurisdiction of my beloved Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club.

Vivi said, “Any bunks left for us?”

Wait a second, there are no bunks at Pine Swamp Shelter! I thought I had busted the author! Then I read on.

The one I later learned was named Jake said, respectfully, “No bunks, ma’am, there’s just a floor in this shelter.”

But I did find one tiny mistake later in that chapter. The author refers to a Pearisburg, West Virginia. According to Google Maps, there is no such place. I believe the author meant the quaint town that rests below the beautiful Angel’s Rest view– Pearisburg, Virginia.

Pearisburg Fail
WRONG! Pearisburg is in Virginia

In the author’s defense, it is pretty close to the West Virginia border. And I can forgive that mistake– especially since one of my favorite, but often ignored, mountains made it into the book – Sinking Creek Mountain! The author was dead-on about a characteristic of the ridgeline:

“Sinking Creek Mountain is part of the Eastern Continental Divide,” I told her.

Yup, it sure is:
Sinking Creek Mountain - Eastern Continental Divide
RIGHT! Sinking Creek Mountain is part of the Continental Divide

And it is a beautiful mountain at that. I’m thrilled it was included in the story. : )

July 24, 2009 at 11:01 am 8 comments

Sinking Creek Mountain and Fire Recovery

Virgin Gorda’s The Baths is a great example of how today’s places of beauty are often the sites of past traumas. As the millennia pass, vegetation moves back in and erosion smooths over rough edges. It’s nature’s healing process.

There are a number of reasons to hike Southwest Virginia’s Sinking Creek Mountain and here is another one! You’ll get to witness earth’s recovery on a small scale.

On October 13, 2008, a section of the Appalachian Trail was closed while firefighters tackled a wildfire on Sinking Creek Mountain. I hiked that section five days after the fire. The damage was about 0.5 – 0.75 miles southbound of the Niday Shelter. The air still smelled like a giant camp fire, the trail was lined with charred bark and fallen trees, and the ground was carpeted with blackened pine needles.

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - Shadows on Burnt Pine Needles
Blackened Pine Needles on Rock

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - Burnt Logs
Burnt Tree Burial Ground

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - James Hike Debris
James I on Burnt Landscape

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - Post Fire Trail Maintenance

Forest healing brings forth flora and fauna. In 2001, Backpacker Magazine discussed the changes one could expect after a fire.

As blazes level tall trees and undergrowth, holes are left in the forest canopy, “so all of a sudden you have sunlight hitting the forest floor,” explains Jack Cohen, Ph.D., a fire physicist at the Intermountain Fire Research Laboratory in Missoula, Montana. “This produces a profusion of shrubs, flowers, and shade-intolerant plants like fireweed, and the soil in these areas is rejuvenated. More insects come in, as do animals that forage on the plants and bugs. This brings in the predators, like wolves and bears, to prey on ungulates.”

– “Lessons from Forest Fires“, Backpacker Magazine, June 2001

As spring arrives in Craig County, Virginia and the surrounding mountains, you can witness the rejuvenation of this section of the Appalachian Trail. You can see the profusion of shrubs and flowers and the influx of animals. And if you make return trips, you can watch the vegetation change, the trees grow larger and the signs of the fire become less noticeable.

More pictures of the Sinking Creek Mountain Fire can be found on my Flickr site.

If you do head up that way and take pictures, let me know! I would love to see the differences.

Appalachian Trail: Sinking Creek Mountain Fire

Length: ~4 Miles Round Trip

Elevation Gain:~1000 feet

Directions from Blacksburg, Virginia

1) Take 460 West

2) Turn right on Craig’s Creek Road (VA-621). The Pandapas Pond Turnoff will be on the left hand side of the road.

3) Craig’s Creek Road will turn to gravel, pass Caldwell Fields (worth a stop!) and then eventually turn back to pavement. Once it does, the AT crossing will be within a couple of miles. There will be a camping and parking area on the left side of the road.

Fire was about 0.5 – 0.75 miles south of Niday Shelter on a rocky ascent.

March 31, 2009 at 7:16 am 2 comments

Season Compare: Sinking Creek Mountain

Here are a few season compares of Sinking Creek Mountain, starring pictures from my 33rd Birthday Hike and a trip back up the mountain last October. Enjoy!

Sinking Creek Mountain - Slanty Rocks (Cropped)
Three Trees on Slanted Rock Face – March 18, 2008

Sinking Creek Mountain - Trees on Slanty Slope
Three Trees on Slanted Rock Face – October 19, 2008

Sinking Creek Mountain - Wind Mangled Tree (Heading Northbound)
Twisty Tree at Top – October 19, 2008

Sinking Creek Mountain - Top - Wind Mangled Tree (Cropped)
Twisty Tree at Top – October 19, 2008

Sinking Creek Mountain - Jimmie and View (Cropped and Adjusted)
View – March 18, 2008

Sinking Creek Mountain - Top -  Changing Leaves in Valley (Cropped)
View – October 19, 2008

More pictures of Sinking Creek Mountain in March and Sinking Creek Mountain in October are available on my Flickr site.

March 20, 2009 at 6:00 am 2 comments

Furthering the Case for Sinking Creek Mountain

Dear Southwest Virginia Hikers,

You should hike Sinking Creek Mountain! I wholehearted and fully believe that this section of the Appalachian Trail is as worthy of a day hike as Angel’s Rest, Kelly’s Knob, Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee’s Knob or even Tinker’s Cliffs. Yes, you do have to hike 3.7 miles and ascend 2000 feet to get to the top. But once you are there, you have 1.5 miles of slanted rock faces and beautiful valley views! I am so fond of this mountain, it was my selection for my 33rd Birthday Hike. To help further my case, I present some pictures of a visit I made last October.

Vicky TGAW

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Colors
View on the Way Up

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Evergreen From Trail
Snippets of Ridges from the Ascent

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Jason
Jason Poses on the Way Up

Sinking Creek Mountain - Top - Layers of Ridges From Top
Layers of Ridge Line From the Top

Sinking Creek Mountain - Top -  Black Lichen on Slanty Rocks, Changes Leaves and Ridges Looking Northbound (Portrait)
One of the Slanted Rock Faces Covered in Black Lichen

Sinking Creek Mountain - Top -  View Looking Northbound
Looking in AT Northbound Direction

Sinking Creek Mountain - Top -  Changing Leaves in Valley (Landscape)
View From One Slanted Rockface

Sinking Creek Mountain - Top - Lichen Rock and View (Landscape)
Looking in AT Southbound Direction

More pictures of my October Hike to Sinking Creek Mountain are available on my Flickr site.

Appalachian Trail: Sinking Creek Mountain

Length: ~10 Miles Round Trip

Elevation Gain: 2000 Feet

Directions from Blacksburg, Virginia

1) Take 460 West

2) Turn right on Craig’s Creek Road (VA-621). The Pandapas Pond Turnoff will be on the left hand side of the road.

3) Craig’s Creek Road will turn to gravel, pass Caldwell Fields (worth a stop!) and then eventually turn back to pavement. Once it does, the AT crossing will be within a couple of miles. There will be a camping and parking area on the left side of the road.

March 19, 2009 at 5:00 am 4 comments

Birthday Hike 2008: Sinking Creek Mountain

Birthdays are a time to indulge yourself and do what makes you most happy. On my birthday, I choose to hike. At the time this post publishes, I’ll be in Fairy Stone State Park, Virginia on my 34th Birthday Hike. So it seemed to be an appropriate time to share pictures from my 33rd Birthday Hike.

I celebrated my thirty-third birthday with a round trip hike up Sinking Creek Mountain. I started at Craig’s Creek Road (VA-621) and hiked southbound on the AT for 3.7 miles. Once you are at the top, the next 1.5 miles offer a series of rock outcroppings… and views! You ascend 2000 feet in your journey, but it doesn’t feel like 2000 feet. In fact, it feels relatively easy.

I don’t know why, but Sinking Creek Mountain gets about…well, zero attention. Everyone hits Kelly’s Knob to the south or look northbound to Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee’s Knob and Tinker Cliffs. That’s a shame. I find Sinking Creek Mountain to be every bit as fulfilling as the other destinations.

As you climb the mountain, you do pass through a rocky section with lovely views of the surrounding mountains and once you are at the Continental Divide at the top, you are walking on ridgeline with opportunities to take in scenery in all directions. I had the added bonus of hiking when the leaves were long gone, so my views were amplified. I could glimpse ridges that would be obscured in the coming months.

Sinking Creek Mountain - Dawn from the AT
View at Dawn (within the first mile of the hike)

Sinking Creek Mountain - View To the West
Looking Westbound from the Top

Sinking Creek Mountain - Sample of Slanty Rocks
Sample of the Rock Faces at Top

Sinking Creek Mountain - Jimmie Looks at View
Jimmie Enjoys Eastbound View

I was hiking the day after St. Patrick’s Day. Even though our mountaineous area hadn’t fully embraced the notion of spring, nature was color coordinated for the holiday. Evergreens such as pines, rhododendrons and mountain laurels gave me a consistent dosage of green. Ferns, lichen and moss joined in that effort.

Sinking Creek Mountain - Pine Needles and View
Green at the Top

Sinking Creek Mountain - Pine Needles
Pine Needles

Sinking Creek Mountain - Rock Beats Scissors, Moss Beats Rock
Comfy Green Moss

Sinking Creek Mountain - Lichen Coexisting
Mountain Laurel Supports Two Types of Lichen

Other colors made it into the mix as well. I was particular struck by some bright yellow fungus I saw growing on the tree barks. It was so bright, it looked like someone had spray painted it.

Sinking Creek Mountain - Yellow Fungi
Bright Yellow Fungus

Sinking Creek Mountain - Lone Leaf
Lone Orange Leaf Dangles

Sinking Creek Mountain - Mushrooms
Beautifully Textured Mushrooms

The trees at the top of Sinking Creek Mountain are particularly subject to the elements. Just like the Red Oaks on Apple Orchard Mountain and the Icicles near Mann’s Bog, the effects of the environment are documented in the trees’ postures.

Sinking Creek Mountain - Wind Mangled Tree (Heading Northbound)
Twisted Tree at Top of Sinking Creek Mountain

There were some other oddities as well. I loved how this tree’s burl forced a smaller tree to bend out of the way.

Sinking Creek Mountain - MOVE!!!!
Tree Tumor Makes a Sapling Move

This branch, I thought looked like an inch worm.

Sinking Creek Mountain - Inch Worm Tree
Tree Inch Worm

I found Sinking Creek Mountain to be a beautiful hike as always. It was an excellent way to usher in my 33rd year.

More pictures of my 2008 Birthday Hike are available on my Flickr site.

Appalachian Trail: Sinking Creek Mountain

Length: ~10 Miles Round Trip

Elevation Gain: 2000 Feet

Directions from Blacksburg, Virginia

1) Take 460 West

2) Turn right on Craig’s Creek Road (VA-621). The Pandapas Pond Turnoff will be on the left hand side of the road.

3) Craig’s Creek Road will turn to gravel, pass Caldwell Fields (worth a stop!) and then eventually turn back to pavement. Once it does, the AT crossing will be within a couple of miles. There will be a camping and parking area on the left side of the road.

March 18, 2009 at 5:00 am 3 comments

Project Runway and Nature!

I’ve missed quite a number of episodes this season, but tonight I will be catching the new episode of Project Runway!  This one I have been eyeing for a while:

Nature Calls
Drawing inspiration from nature, the remaining designers head to the great outdoors to design an outfit of their choosing. Airs October 1, 9-10 PM ET/PT

I’ve seen the inspiration challenges from past seasons and have always thought it would be interesting to see what the designers would come up with on a hike.  And actually, I do have to admit, there have been a couple of occassions where I saw something on the Appalachian Trail and yes, I did think about Project Runway.  I have one such occassion documented on Flickr!  Here’s a screenshot of one of the photos from my birthday hike on Sinking Creek Mountain:

Of course, I can’t sew!  But supposedly the remaining designers can!  Hopefully they will find the outdoors as inspirational as I… and come up with something brilliant.


October 1, 2008 at 6:50 pm Leave a comment

Season Compare: Sinking Creek Valley

Two years ago, I took Penn out to see the Keffer Oak. Afterwards, we strolled a little further north on the AT and snapped this shot of Jimmie:

Sinking Creek Valley – April 2, 2006

On my 2nd Most Expensive Hike, I did try to snag the same scenery:

April 15, 2008

I’m not sure how accurate “Season Compare” is for this pair– because one shot was taken on April 2 and the other April 15, but there are definitely differences in the leaves.

And even though the later shot was explicitly intended for a season compare, my framing was off. Do you know what that means? This week, I more accurately matched a stranger’s shots than my own. 🙂

April 19, 2008 at 9:15 am 3 comments

2nd Most Expensive Hike – Keffer Oak

What’s the best way to celebrate Jimmie’s 11th Birthday? Why, a hike of course! So on Tuesday, Sean and I took both Jimmie and Henry for an after-work outing– Keffer Oak on the Appalachian Trail. It was a short, easy stroll of about 1.8 miles. Nothing to brag about on the athletic front, but boy, it was a great day to be out and about.

The long branches of Keffer Oak

Blazed sign and in the background a blazed stile

The Keffer Oak is another example of a hungry tree— in its long life, it has absorbed barbed wire

Birthday pup finding the outing…uh… relieving

Unfortunately, on my way home from this hike, I managed to secure myself a speeding ticket. I haven’t had the heart to calculate the actual payment amount, but I know enough to believe this will be my second most expensive hike.

The most expensive would be Sinking Creek Mountain in 2004. After an 11.3 mile day hike with both dogs, I managed to skid on a gravel road and hit a tree. That damage ran around $1100.

Aftermath of my most expensive hike

Sinking Creek Mountain may hold the “Most Expensive” title for some time to come (at least, I hope so), but this tiny Keffer Oak hike has a decent chance of overtaking the “Cost Per Mile” category.

Sinking Creek Mountain Hike – 2004
$1100 car damage / 11.3 miles = $97.35 per mile

If my Tuesday speeding infraction ends up costing more than $175.03… then victory is sealed.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the incumbent…the underdog.

P.S. PassionPhish and his family are going to be spreadsheeting the financial and environmental cost of a backpacking trip shortly. Hopefully, they won’t have to add a column for “moving violations” or “body work”. 🙂

April 18, 2008 at 12:06 am 7 comments

Sinking Creek Mountain Pictures on Flickr

So Tuesday I turned 33.  As is the case when I do not have stupid strep throat, I went on a birthday hike.  Unfortunately, I don’t have time to tell you about said hike at the moment as I’ll be driving to my parents today to help with an ambitious painting endeavor.  But the pictures are up at Flickr and you can take a look.

Sinking Creek Mountain Hike Pictures

And other Flickr users–
Here is your chance (well, sort of) to effect THIS blog.  There have been a couple of occassions where a picture I don’t think this is all that great, solicits comments on Flickr that qualifies it for “blog-inclusion”.  So if you see a picture you like, comment and maybe, just maybe, a picture YOU liked will be highlighted on MY birthday hike post. 

That’s right!   Out of 203 pictures, 55 pictures got uploaded to Flickr.  And if I don’t veto, ignore or totally trivialize your opinion, YOU could determine what handful of pictures of that 55 get posted on the blog.

Now, who can resist that?  🙂

Anyway, I got to get going.  I have a long drive ahead of me.

March 20, 2008 at 8:43 am 3 comments

Caldwell Fields: If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?

Kurt Vonnegut talks about his Uncle Alex in numerous writings and speeches.  In particular, Vonnegut applauds his uncle’s habit of noticing and vocalizing the simple pleasures of life.  I know it’s mentioned in Timequake; God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian; Vonnegut’s Commencement Address to Syracuse; and a PBS Interview.  Here’s an excerpt from God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian:

My late Uncle Alex Vonnegut, my father’s kid brother, a Harvard-educated life insurance agent in Indianapolis who was well read and wise, was a humanist like all the rest of the family. What Uncle Alex found particularly objectionable about human beings in general was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy.

He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

I myself say that out loud at times of easy, natural bliss: “If this isn’t nice, what is?” Perhaps others can also make use of that heirloom from Uncle Alex. I find it really cheers me up to keep score out loud that way.

Yesterday, I worked on-site at Roanoke.  I left the city at 5:30, drove 50 minutes home and I still had enough daylight to take the dogs out on an adventure.  I got home, changed clothes, made a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich and headed out to Caldwell Fields.

Driving down Craig Creek Road, reaping the benefits of Daylight Savings Time, surrounded by lush green mountains (Sinking Creek Mountain to the left, Brush Mountain on the right), enjoying fresh spring air with my windows rolled down, and listening to Gwen Stefani’s Sweet Escape on XM Radio,  I was happy.

“If this isn’t nice, what is?” I said to the dogs. 

They didn’t reply (maybe they couldn’t hear me over Akon and Stefani), but I suspect they agreed.

And it only got better!  Caldwell Fields was gorgeous.  Though, admittedly, we spent more time exploring the nearby creek and admiring the rock faces. 


Addison CaldwellCaldwell Fields are named for three brothers who lived in the area in the 1800’s.  The most notable is Addison Caldwell.  In 1872, he was the very first student to enroll in the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College.  That college later became Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which is more commonly known as Virginia Tech (or as annoying ESPN announcers insist on saying, “Vah-Tech”).  So Addison Caldwell was my alma mater’s first student.

From Caldwell Fields you can see remains of the largest known landslide in eastern North America which occurred 10,000 – 25,000 years ago.  Even though one of the slides is 3 miles long, they are difficult to identify with all vegetation that resides on Sinking Creek Mountain.  I couldn’t see it yesterday, but I didn’t look too hard.  This article by the U.S. Geologic Survey explains more.

Our Adventure

We spent about an hour there until it got too dark.  Here are some pictures of our outing:

Creek at Caldwell Fields
Craig Creek has some interesting rock faces

Leaves at Caldwell Fields at Dusk
Some leaves at dusk

View at Caldwell Fields
View from the parking lot 

Wildflowers at Caldwell Fields
Wildflowers at Caldwell Fields

Dried Weed at Caldwell Fields
Dried vegetation at Caldwell Fields

Jimmie at Caldwell Fields
Jimmie enjoys the fields (that fit canine is 10 years old!)

Rock face at Caldwell Fields
Rock face and layered creek bed

As you can see, there were a lot of moments that would have made Alex Vonnegut (and perhaps his nephew) proud!  It was a nice evening and all the simple pleasures did not go unnoticed.

Additional Links
My Caldwell Fields Pictures on Flickr
The Mountain That Moved article by USGS
Virginia Tech History: Addison Caldwell, Virginia Tech’s First Student

Caldwell Geocacheb

May 15, 2007 at 10:08 pm 3 comments

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