Saturday, January 2, 2016

There and Back Again (An Appalachian Experience)

The morning of New Year’s Day 2015, some friends and I were enjoying a late brunch together at one of our friend’s houses. While we were preparing the meal, we were discussing what we should do with the rest of our Christmas break. And so it transpired, in the midst of the bacon, eggs, and pancakes, that we hatched a crazy idea. What about a predawn hike up Sharp Top Mountain in Bedford, VA to see the sunrise? Fully convinced of the excellence of this plan, we set the date for the very next day. New Year’s Day itself wasn’t over yet, however, and three of us decided to drive an hour and a half to the Dip Dog roadside restaurant in Marion, Virginia for dinner before heading to bed early in preparation for the next morning.

A lazy New Year's Day.
On January 2nd, our contingent, initially consisting of three friends and myself, assembled in the parking lot at Baptist Collegiate Ministries in Blacksburg, VA at 4:00 AM. The temperature that morning was hovering somewhere around 34 degrees Fahrenheit. We had all come prepared, however, with quite a few layers of clothing, coats, hats, gloves, flashlights, liquids, and snacks. Once everyone arrived, we all loaded into my car and began our journey to the mountain, which took about an hour and a half. Along the way, we picked up another friend, bringing the number of hikers in our cohort to five. We arrived at the base of the mountain around 5:30 AM, ready to begin our trek.

It was slow going in the dark, as we picked our way up the mountain. We quickly discovered the difficulty of climbing over rocks with a flashlight in one hand, and we had to make frequent stops to catch our breath in the cold air. The snow that was still on the ground from the last snowfall also made the mountainside slippery. As we neared the top, I feared that we might miss the sunrise. As it turned out, we had nothing to fear.

We made it!
The sun begins to peek out.
We arrived at the peak of the mountain a little before 7:00 AM, but the sun wasn’t scheduled to rise until about 7:30 AM that morning. At first, we sat around waiting on the exposed summit, but the biting wind and bitter cold soon drove us into a stone cabin built on the top of the mountain for shelter. Before I took cover, however, I set up a video camera in order to capture time-lapse imagery of the sunrise. We waited until five minutes or so before the sun was supposed to rise before braving the cold again. We were not disappointed, as the sun rose and transformed the sky into beautiful shades of red, orange, pink, and blue. The howling wind, however, may have slightly tempered our enthusiasm for the scenery.

The sun rises in the east.

Now we weren't quite as miserable.
The next order of business was to get down off of the mountain before any of the members of our fellowship lost an extremity to frostbite. We were able to hike down the mountain much quicker than up it, considering that we could now actually see the trail without a flashlight. We arrived at the bottom of the mountain without incident and decided to take the Blue Ridge Parkway route on the drive to Roanoke, since we weren’t in any particular hurry to get back. On the way back to Blacksburg, we stopped at a Taco Bell for breakfast, which felt strange, considering we had already been awake for more than five hours.

All things considered, I would recommend this journey to others, but probably not in January or any other month when the temperature might be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, if this would be your first time hiking Sharp Top, it would probably be best to try it in the daylight first!