March 06, 2010

Summit of North Mountain (aka The Dragon's Spine)

12.6 mi 

I've been training for the Blue Ridge Marathon.  It was another long run training day.  I decided to get out on the trail to break up the road running.  I've been wanting to hike North Mountain, which I've heard was part of the Appalachian Trail years ago.  Today, the AT runs up McAfee Knob.  I parked in the Dragon's Tooth parking lot and crossed 311 to the trailhead.  The trailhead actually has a nice bulletin board with map.  The trail is marked well by yellow diamonds, although it would be pretty hard to get lost figuring the trail runs the ridge line.  The trail begins with a steep ascent until you gain the ridge line.  Most casual hikers would probably not find the ascent worth the effort since there is no "spectacular" viewshed.  Although, if you want solitude this mountain will normally grant your request.  I was probably the first person on the trail in several months, at least in the beginning.  The ridgeline was still covered in snow.  It was kind of strange, because 5 feet to the right on the south slope of the mountain, the snow had melted.  It was not feasible to hike there though, so there I was trudging through the snow, a few inches in some places to drifts that were a few feet in depth.  There were no noticeable tracks in the snow, other than animals, so that is why I think I was the first person on the trail in awhile.  That was until 5 miles or so in, my solitude was interrupted by a strange sight.  Two runners blazing down the trail towards me.  We shared a few words.  "I thought I was the only one up here," I said.   "A group of friends get together to run, you'll see more later on."  And then they were gone.  I'd get the opportunity to meet a few more runner later on, but first, I had a bit further to gain the summit of North Mountain.  So onward I went.  The summit is not very noticable.  Most people would mistake it for one of the ridgeline bumps.  I had my GPS, so I knew where it was.  Just a few feet higher than some of the other bumps.  But there I was and in fact there is a rather nice view at the summit, at least in winter.  There is a small opening through the trees, which exposes a nice view of the North Mountain ridgeline.  After the summit, I also noticed that I could go about another 1/3 of a mile and reach the corners of Botetourt-Craig-Roanoke Co.  The area was covered in snow.  I saw a pile of rocks in the vicinity that could have been the marker, but it also might have just been a small firepit.  So, I turned around and headed back.  Along came some more runners.  Three fellows were not going nearly as fast as the first two.  They were walking the uphills and jogging the down.  I stayed with them for a bit.  They were nice and I was able to find out more about why they were up on the mountain.  They were a group of ultramarathoners out on an unofficial race, more like a group of friends running 35 miles or so.  The "race" was called the Catawba Challenge.  They were already 25 or so miles into the race out of 35.  The loop took then up McAfee Knob over to Tinker Cliffs around North Mountain up Dragon's Tooth and back to the start, 9000 feet of elevation gain.  Crazy.  Eventually, I made my way back to the parking lot and found one of the aid stations to the "race."  I chatted a bit, met a few more runners.  They graciously offered me a few snacks.  And then I was on my way.  The ultramarathon has always intrigued me, it was neat to meet a few of the runners.  Who knows, maybe one day I'll try a 50k race.