Solo Autumn Overnight

A view from the top of The Priest, Virginia

Solo Autumn Overnight

The Priest. Yes, The Priest will do. And maybe Spy Rock. I had slated the final weekend in October for a solo trip of some kind. I had been bouncing back and forth between a repeat of my Triple Crown loop or some kind of overnighter with the specific purpose of enjoying some of the fall colors. Speed hike or relaxed trip with no agenda? With the craziness of the past few months, I opted to for the latter. I needed a mental RAM dump. Something to reset all those internal processes back to zero. A speed hike would be fun and I was definitely trained up for it, having some of my fitness from the Blue Ridge Relay and the Star City Gran Fondo still in my legs and lungs. But my brain needed the kind of hard refresh that only autumn miles on the trail can provide.

The Priest Wilderness boundary sign.
Ascending The Priest through dense tree cover.

I set off a little bit later than usual because of dad duties. Arriving at the trailhead around 1:00, I could immediately see that my idea of enjoying the fall colors was not entirely original. The parking lot was full and I had to park across the street in the small gravel overflow lot. I started at the trailhead where the A.T. crosses Crabtree Falls Highway, or VA Rt. 56. The trail immediately begins to scale the entire mountain without relenting until the very top. After about 2 miles of climbing, my initial brainstorm of making an attempt at going all the way out to Spy Rock began to fade. I resigned myself to simply summiting The Priest instead of pushing on to Spy Rock.

Leaves changing colors at high elevations.
Almost at the top!
View from the top looking down into Tye River valley.

After some leaf peeping and photo snapping, I headed back over to the campsite for some dinner and a small fire. Sunset came quickly and before I knew it, the stars were out. Time to head back up to the overlook and attempt to capture some photos of the Milky Way. The air was crystal clear and there was no moon so the Milky Way could be seen with the naked eye. After an hour or so I headed back down to the tent for some shut eye.

MSR Hubba.
Leaves on the ground.
Yellow leaves changing color.
Dried ferns were beautiful in the sunset light.
Prepping the wood for a fire.
Dinner time!
Warm fire glow.
City glow of what is probably Lexington, VA.
Attempt at the Milky Way.

My alarm went off at 6:00. My brain slowly booted up and I began to break camp down as I groggily got myself together for the day. I stepped out of the tent and headed back up to the lookout to capture some sunrise images. The ridge ran east to west so I wasn’t at the best angle to capture the sun but the colors were vivid nonetheless. After snapping some photos, I made myself some Kuju Coffee then fully broke camp. I was on the trail headed back down to the car the way I had come.

Kuju Coffee and MSR Reactor.
Kuju Coffee.
Sunrise view from The Priest.
Heading back down the mountain.

As it always turns out and with every trip, this autumn jaunt up a mountain is exactly what I needed. The Priest never disappoints, especially when the leaves are turning. It’s a challenging climb to the top with some of the most rewarding views in the area.

Almost back to the car.