Ramble On

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kennedy Peak: A Moderate GWNF Day Hike

(Photos are corrected now - added 2/18/11)
Last Friday I got into town a little bit earlier than usual, and I went directly to the Food Lion for some supplies. Before going in, I checked the iPhone and found that that my friends at Appalachian Outdoors Adventures had planned a hike at Kennedy Peak for Saturday – also known as Stephens Trail. Then, as I was checking out, CFM walked into the Food Lion…it was sort of like an omen, so I felt compelled to join them.

Now, Hiking Upward has this hike as being at its best in the early spring, before the leaves start to bloom. However, on a number of these summit hikes in the GWNF it’s a good idea to knock them out early in the year, not just because of the views. You want to get them in before the weather heats up too much because of all the critters that will likely be sunning themselves on the rocky summits.

We began our hike by meeting at the store at 10:30 – I arrived a few minutes early, only to find everybody already there and ready to go. Gary, Howard and CFM had made the plan, with me as the straggling fourth, and the dogs would be joining us on the trail as well. I’ve got a photo here of the three of them at an icy patch on the ascent, and then photos of the dogs as well. The one of Howard and the girls is at the summit.

Referring again to Hiking Upward, they have the trail at 8.5 miles, while we have the route as 9.2 miles...I don't have a way to reconcile the difference at this point, so I will go with Gary's and Howard's measure. I rushed out this time without my altimeter watch, so I couldn’t verify the altitude gain, but it’s listed at 1,390 feet. The trail is a big loop that ascends gently through one of the valleys in the GWNF before turning to climb along the ridge. As you approach the peak, the trail steepens until you are working up to the summit, where there is an observation platform with a little shelter built into it. The panorama, shown above, is 360 degrees and includes beautiful views of Page Valley.

I learned a few things on this hike – in some cases, it was info passed along by the AOA guys, but in others, it was just assimilating hiking experience. For example, they showed me an alternate parking area that provides shorter access to the summit, making an out-and-back of about 6.5 miles. And in another case, while I knew that during the winter, the leaf litter in GWNF accumulates in the trail footpaths on north-facing areas, I didn’t understand that these areas are the last to melt after snows, and can be filled with hard-frozen ice hidden under the leaves long after the precipitation has fallen.

There weren’t that many icy patches to deal with in any cases, and most of the climbs were long, gentle stretches – sometimes a couple of miles long, in fact. I have a couple of views looking at Fort Valley here, taking during one of these climbs. The last stretch to the summit was probably steepest, and then a mile or so in the shadow of the mountain was the iciest. But, there were no falls, although there were some close calls.

We took a break near the top, and everyone broke out their lunches. Gary had his backpacking stove there and fixed up a hot meal – read the gear review on his blog at: http://runtechinthevalley.blogspot.com/2011/02/kennedy-peak-loop-gsi-telescoping-spoon.html. One of the highlights of this stop was the peanut butter and raisin sammiches that CFM shared. Just one more little thing I learned on this pleasant walk.

Near the top, there were traces of a fire from the summer – I’ve done some follow-up research on this and will have a post tomorrow. And then you reach the summit with the observation platform and those views; here’s photo here of me up there.

The AOA team maintains a solid pace on these hikes, and we did the 9.2 miles in about 6 hours, about 1.5 miles an hour. That’s quicker than my usual team does these routes, we plan for a mile per hour. I think I learned a few things that will help us with the pace, which in turn will give us more planning flexibility for the summer hikes ahead.

I have wanted to do this hike a long time – Kennedy Peak simply dominates the Page Valley view, and so it’s been a destination for me since I started coming here. Now I’ve got it checked off (and the neighboring Duncan Knob, last photo), and I’m looking forward to getting a few more folks out there with me.

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