Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Last month was a bitter disappointment for me. I was sick my entire vacation and when I wasn't feeling bad, it was raining and kept me pinned inside the house. Usually I dread this time of year, the holidays are a stressful and busy time at work and my hiking time is thinned considerably. However, since I've felt better recently and my energy is back, things don't seem so bad, even while I'm at work.
Coming and going. In the bend, heading to the Channels.
Fall hanging around.

This past Sunday presented an opportunity for some hiking redemption when my friend Halley brought a rowdy crew of adventurers from North Carolina to my home state of Virginia for a trip up to the Channels. I can't put into words how wonderful the Channels are, Amber doesn't even like hiking and she agreed to go...for the fifth time!
Cabin and Fire Tower near the Channels.
Evening view from the Channels.
Channels surfing.

Sunday morning Amber and I left Gray and stopped by Bristol to pick up our hiking buddy, John Forbes. John was eager to get out on the trails again and I was glad to have him since we haven't hiked together since tackling Dick Creek Falls in Erwin, Tennessee just before I fell ill. Halley agreed to meet us at the Virginia welcome center off of Interstate 81 and showed up with some familiar faces as well as a few new recruits to our ranks. She bounced out of her car happily greeting and introducing everyone, soon her attention was focused on the giant 'LOVE' sign in the parking lot and we had to pose for a series of pictures before departing for the 30 minute drive to the trail head.
Rest Stop Love. Photo Courtesy of Halley's Gopro.
Inside the Channels with our group. Pictured, front Halley, Lincoln seated behind her, Samantha in purple, Amber with blue head band, Candi in pink, Hugo navy blue, and John in the back. I'm the tall guy.

I wasn't sure how my legs would handle the three mile uphill climb to the top of the mountain but soon after we exited the truck I was in the front of the pack with John and things were right back to normal. Halley had assembled quite the crew to join our hike. Candi has quickly became a regular on the trails with us, her energy and enthusiasm are always welcome and she can hold her own with any trail she tackles. Hugo joined us for only the second trip but between his hilarious impressions and non stop jokes the first time, I was hoping I had enough breath in my body to climb the mountain while laughing the whole way. Samantha was new to hiking with us, but kept pace with everyone and seemed to take up with Amber talking about various foods and of course, all things dogs. And then there was Lincoln, who is a body builder but had found himself talked into becoming a hiker that day, I assume by some of Halley's charming tactics. 
Entering the Channels.
Deeper in the maze of boulders.

Great light.

Everyone mixed and mingled as we churned up the mountain. Conversation filled the air and Hugo had everyone laughing despite having to carry half the girls packs.  At one point, Halley and Candi decided they didn't need the weight of their boots and hiked bare foot!  I was amazed at how much the trail has evolved since I first started hiking there a few years ago. There are numerous signs and mile markers as you make your way up the mountain. The Channels are featured on Virginia's tourism website as one of the top 25 hikes in the state and the worn logging road really showed the increase in foot traffic. I was a little bummed the majority of the leaves were gone for the season, only occasional swatches of orange and yellows could be seen in the low lying valleys as we continued up the mountain. After passing the mile 2 marker just off the left of the trail, the real leg burning climbing begins. I feel safe in saying everyone suffered through this section as soon we were all sprawled in the middle of the trail taking a break. The short break really helped me and it wasn't long until we were back on our feet and starting to see some of the large flat rocks that start appearing in the logging road just short of the top of the mountain. John, Hugo, and I were first to spot the old fire tower and as reached the spur trail to the Channels I was surprised to see the trail was lined in snow!
Lincoln is around 6'4" so this gives you an idea of the size of these rocks.
John isn't very tall but he looks like an ant in here!
Amber and Cash surrounded by light.
Candi passing through.

When we reached the abandoned cabin everyone scattered exploring and taking pictures. A large rock behind the cabin is a perfect spot to view distant ridges and the rock John and I call the Pinnacle. Our plan was to find a way out to the rock and see if we could climb it as we had never seen any pictures from there but we had a lot of play time in the Channels ahead of us. The fire tower nearby has the bottom rung of steps removed but our troop wasn't deterred by this. Candi was the first up and soon John and Hugo were in the tower as well. Amber even joined in on the climbing and had me boost her up onto the platform around the height of my head. Halley was right behind her and Lincoln too, Samantha and I stayed behind. I was on dog sitting duty with Cash and she was enjoying some lunch under the tower. As everyone came down to hike over to the top of the Channels, I chose to hike alone into the maze to play with camera settings and redeem myself for years of crappy photography there. I shot in manual which helped control the amount of light entering the lens and helping light the narrow passages that rarely see the sun. It was nice to have the entire place to myself and I took time to climb into some precariously stacked boulders and pose for some shots using my Gopro. I was thrilled with what I was seeing on my LCD screen on the camera and it wasn't long before the others joined me in the labyrinth. I only captured glimpses of everyone as they zipped between the boulders and I could tell they were all having a great time. It's always interesting to me see people's reactions to the Channels and seeing four newbies take it in was a real treat. For over an hour we played in the boulder field and I hardly noticed how cold it was as I continued to take photos like crazy. Amber however noticed the cold and was bundling up both her and poor scrawny Cash. I knew it would take us a while to hike out so I reluctantly packed my gear for the three mile trip down the mountain.
Hugo and Halley.
Laurel in the Channels.

The cold of the Channels driving us out.
A shameless selfie with the Trio. It's been a great year!
Hiking out we stopped by the hidden set of Channels and lured an old hiking friend out of the shrubs for a short visit. It was good to see John Lane and pose for a quick picture Captain Morgan style!
This thing was huge. I may have to take up rock climbing.
I'm gonna call this the Guardian. It stands guard over the forest below.

On the way out, everyone remained in good spirits and hiking plans for future outings were discussed making the time pass even more quickly. About a mile back down the mountain a large monolith looms over the forest a short but steep hike off the trail. Every time I've passed it I've wanted to get a closer look but always chose to keep hiking, but being with John I knew he would be game to hike up the steep grade. He and I started off up through the fallen leaves and were joined by Halley and Candi in hot pursuit. The length between the rock and the trail was deceptively long and the fallen leaves made footing a challenge. When we got to the base of the rock it towered some 70ft above us and after examining the perimeter we found there to be no way up without a rope. It was still a cool experience to be one of the few people to stand in the shadow of the monster and we posed for a few pictures before rejoining the rest of our group for the hike out.

Another successful trip to the Channels was just what the doctor ordered and still having energy after arriving back at the trail head was the ultimate sign that I was better. It was a great day with old and new hiking friends. In a year that keeps getting better, its tough to top a good day on Brumley Mountain. As I write this I've just received my new hiking boots and waterproof socks, so more trail days are calling. Until then, happy trails!

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