Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The narrow passage entering the Channels

Today I went on a hike 400 million years in the making! During the last ice age snow melt and water erosion formed the impressive sandstone maze now known as the Great Channels of Virginia. The channels are a new park considering they were purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 2008, and the remote location of these have kept them in pristine condition over the years, it's at least a three mile hike in any direction you approach the mountain top boulders.

the maze known as the Channels from above
I was happy to get outdoors with my friend Steve, we share a similar sense of humor which is somewhat scary, but it makes the hike time seem like minutes rather than hours. We left my house in Gray, around 10am and it was about an hour drive up Interstate 81 to the Meadowview exit above Abingdon. From there, VA 80 meanders through some beautiful farm country and if I hadn't studied the map carefully, I would swear we were heading in the wrong direction, but the signs of elevation loomed in the distance after five miles of driving through the valley. VA 80 turns steep in a hurry, at some points as you wind up the narrow mountain road you can look back and see the road five different places. Guardrails are an afterthought, and after five miles of winding road you arrive at the Washington County/Russell County line at the top of the mountain. There is a small parking area to the left and a gated forest road says "foot travel only to Channels" from the gate it's about three miles to the fire tower at Hayter's Gap.
would you hike with this man?

Steve and I set a blistering pace, our conversation distracted us from the uphill climb and within a hour we were at the remains of Hayter's Cabin and the fire tower. The lower rung of steps is missing to climb the tower but with some teamwork I hoisted Steve up to the next set of steps but he didn't make it far before the wind turned him back. It was only in the fifties and the wind made it seem much cooler at the top of the mountain. While I was helping Steve down, another hiker approached from the opposite side of the mountain. He was friendly, and acted as surprised as we were to see someone else.
remains of a cabin at Hayter's Gap
fire tower, built in 1939
Steve being Steve
top of the Channels
looking toward Holston Mountain, Mt. Mitchell, NC faint in the distance
From the base of the fire tower, a sign indicates the entrance for the channels, you descend down the mountain and can climb on top of the boulders that make up the channels and it gives you long distance views in all directions. Like the clumsy person I am, I tripped on my own hiking stick and broke it in two as I was jumping between rocks, I guess I shouldn't be mad considering I could have fell to my death. After a few minutes of rock hopping we continued down the trail and into the narrow passage way into the channels. Steve was like a kid in a prehistoric play land, he ran around boulders and through passages and I had to warn him that we could get lost in this maze to slow down. We found a nice place to have lunch and rested as the forty foot tall boulders surrounded us. Here's a photo tour of the impressive Channels.

The photos may seem excessive but it's hard to tell a 400 million year old story. The Channels are majestic and I found it difficult to motivate myself to leave, literally everywhere you look there is a beautiful photo op. The high walls of the boulders provided a welcome wind break from the chilly weather. The ability to climb over around, through, and under the boulders brings out the youthful side in even the seasoned hiker. I personally love the channels and will be back numerous times, I believe Steve did as well considering he already asked what I working Sunday so that we could come again. As we left, we found a beautiful roadside waterfall near the town of Lindell which is between Meadowview and Rosedale. Hopefully, you have enjoyed this blog as much as I have in sharing the story with you, until next time...happy trails.

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