Weekend Double Header: Hike at Wildcat Mountain Natural Area

The title of this post is about as sports-oriented as I get. My friend April has been keeping me apprised of the excitement surrounding all of the football games in anticipation of the Superbowl, and I just nod and smile. Instead, with the unseasonably warm weather, I set myself up for a double header, hiking on both Saturday and Sunday, and I, uh, hit the ball out of the park? Scored a touchdown? Mixed metaphors?

Anyway, Sunday morning at about 10:30 April and I drove out I-66 in Virginia and went about six miles off of exit 28 to get to Wildcat Mountain Natural Area, which is maintained by The Nature Conservancy. We’d hiked here once before on a 98 degree day in July and had not seen any other visitors.

When we arrived at the small parking lot on Sunday, the entire lot was full, with cars even parked abutting the ditch for a spot. Whaaaaat?! The Hiking Upward website had assigned this hike its highest rating (6) for solitude. This was craziness. I guess the pleasant temperature of about 60 degrees drew people from their homes despite the heavy fog.

No matter. April parked by the ditch. We laced our boots, donned our packs – mine weighted to 32 pounds, and went on our merry way.

The first half mile of the trail proved the steepest, climbing 400 feet in elevation with several switchbacks attempting to ease the burden. The ascent ended at an old stone wall, after which we hit the main loop trail and turned left.

As we continued on, we passed a couple of small, muddy streams and strolled through several more forgiving descents and ascents.

The route recommended on Hiking Upward would have taken us onto unmarked trail, so we instead stuck to the main route, following the 2.1 mile loop. We eventually approached the Spring House, which is a centuries-old home and food storage loft – origins unknown. Here we took a break for a snack, at which point I noticed the utter silence. The day before at Ashby Hollow the birds had been chirping, streams flowing, squirrels foraging. At Wildcat Mountain, nothing stirred except the occasional passing hiker.

Just up the hill from the Spring House, we came across the Smith House. Thoroughly spooked by the eerie facade, we moved on.

Not 100 feet ahead, we passed a “lake” on our left. In reality, it was a small spit of muddy water, but I could swear it was a lush swampy lake when we hiked here last summer.

We eventually made our way back to the intersection at the stone fence. Turning left would have taken us back from whence we came to the parking lot; turning right would have drawn us into repeating the loop trail. I left the decision to April. We turned right.

By the time we made it back to the car, only four of the dozen and a half cars were still in the lot. I’m not entirely sure they were there in the first place. They might have been shadow cars belonging to ghosts visiting the Smith House. Luckily for us, they kept to themselves.

Overall, we’d hiked five miles in two and a half hours. If you plug my weight into the Hiking Upward calories-burned calculator for that hike, you know what you get? Enough calories to justify frozen yogurt, that’s what.

Meandering on,