Cold Mountain, Appalachian Trail, Vesuvius, VA 24483
Distance: 6-mile loop (approximately 2 miles to summit)
Elevation: 4020 feet (approximately 1500 elevation change hike)
Worth it: Yes (4 stars)
5AM is plenty early to make it in time for a sunrise hike. It’s a little chilly outside and everything’s still dark. Only some people get up this early for work.
A snoozed alarm and then it’s 6AM, 7AM, 8AM, 10. That’s what happens when you’re awake beyond 2.
“If you get up now, we can still hike today!” Noah said.
So I got up now. Grabbed a jacket. Ate something quick. Hopped in the car. It was 10:20. We swung by the store in order to grab a lunch. It was 10:45. We ate an apple each on the drive—it’d be about an hour to go. I did the calculations in my head, and if we only hiked for three hours, then he’d be back in time for his work at 4:30. That’s plenty of time.
The drive really was pretty. Red, orange, yellow, and green trees fill up our horizon. We talked about all the walking and biking paths throughout the mountains and all the scenic views they twist around.
“I wanna see all of them,” Noah said. “Can we do that one day?”
I said I wanted to, too, and that we will, but not today because we had other things to see. “What’s so cool about Cole Mountain?” I asked.
He smiled and said, “You’ll hafta wait and see.”
I don’t usually like climbing the same hikes twice unless they’re worthwhile, so the fact that I’ve been to Cole Mountain twice in the same season should portray something about it.
I had planned on going for a sunrise hike months before with a few friends, but half our hiking party overslept, and the sunrise was long missed. So, the official first time I went (also a failed sunrise hike attempt), Noah wouldn’t let me know where we were headed. The gravel road leading up to the trail’s genesis is bumpy and difficult, so take a car that can handle a lot of ups and downs. The parking lot is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. We were told to park by “the fence” so that’s what we kept an eye out for and that’s where we found some parking spaces.
The hike is relatively easy—just a lot of uphill, as is common amongst mountains. The first time we went it was broad daylight, nearing lunch time. (The second time we went it was 10PM, we had camping gear, food for the morrow, and the heebie-jeebies as we crawled through the frozen dark. Lightness or darkness, the trail is manageable—though, it’s highly recommended that you bring a headlamp for dark.)
On our first visit, what stood out the most is the clearings and valleys. Noah ran up the apex to a self-serenaded Rocky-theme (as is alike with the norm), and there the panoramic views began. You’re not allowed to camp in the mowed pathways, but we picnicked on The Rock (pictured above) with our Walmart sandwiches and slurped water out of his camelback. (We sat on the same Rock on our second visit and ate more Walmart sandwiches while we froze watching the stars, then again in the morning while we watched the sunrise.)
It’s clear there where Nature and Man collide. Paths we’ve carved into the earth disturb grass and earth, but somehow the view is flawless. We couldn’t get enough.
As previously mentioned, the second time Noah and I went, we camped overnight by The Rock and simply watched the ice cold sunrise in the morning. The first time, however, he was interested in hiking the Cole (Cold) Mountain “loop.” It’s about 2 miles to the mountain summit, but if you keep going rather then turning back, you’ll wrap around the mountain for some new views and fresh scenery–and it’s only another 3-4 miles back to the parking lot.
The above photos were captured along this loop. The walk is mostly downhill, rocky and woodsy. Pets could easily accompany, but this loop is much more difficult then the direct hike to the summit.
Now, one thing you’ll pick up on if you ever choose to travel: You’ll learn from other people’s mistakes–and if you don’t get a chance to learn from their mistakes, then you’ll learn from your own. So here’s an opportunity for you to learn from my mistake!
While hiking The Loop, you’ll soon come across a parting in the paths. Don’t simply assume that you ought to continue on the White Trail, or you’ll end up like Noah and I, down, down, down the mountain, nearly to the highway, pulling out Google Maps and realizing you’ve hiked approximately 5 miles in the wrong direction–downhill. When the path parts, if you would like to continue along the Appalachian, you absolutely may! But if you hope to return to your car (like we did) because you have a shift at work starting in approxametly an hour and a half (like Noah did) you’ll want to go ahead and follow the gap trail back (like Noah and I didn’t).
You live and you learn! Noah ended up calling his workplace and letting them know he’d be missing his shift (by a long shot) and I texted my dinner-plans and let them know I’d be running on the later side of early. We ended up climbing back up the mountain, retracing our steps and mocking ourselves. When we came to the sign that marks the split, we decided to just hike right back up to the summit because it’d be quicker to get to the car then if we actually hiked The Loop.
By the time we reached the car, we’d hiked over 13 miles in the span of 4.5-5 hours. It wasn’t what we’d planned, but you live and you learn. I want to bring all my friends here for a picnic. Maybe play some frisbee. Maybe eat some more Walmart sandwiches.
Along the hike back to our vehicle on the camping trip, Noah and I discovered the coolest hair-thin icicles along the pathways. Stay tuned while I research it and let you know how it forms.