My buddy, Coop, was a couple of months from joining the brotherhood of fatherhood. To celebrate (and because it’d probably be a while before we’d be able to go out again) we plotted a course for Apple Orchards Falls; a destination that would keep him close to home, but far enough away from civilization.
Our two day, 14-mile trip would start at the North Creek Campground in Arcadia, VA where we’d car camp the first night and near the Cornelius Creek Shelter off the Appalachian Trail (AT) on the second night. From the shelter we’d hike the AT towards North Creek and then east to the parking lot.
I packed my 48L Kestrel, wore hiking boots, and brought along my hammock. My pack weight was around 32 pounds partially thanks to the amount of water I was bringing along (based on the hot and humid forecast).
We arrived at North Creek Campground around 6PM, unloaded, set up camp, and cooked a very filling brat, corn, and potato dinner. The campground was mostly quiet with the exception of the occasional hunting dog that would bark as it was apparently bear hunting season. Wait, what?
Day 1 (8.75 miles | +2,881′ gain | -1,427′ loss | 69°F/84°F and 100% humidity)
The next morning I woke at 8AM covered in sweat. Not sticky, glistening sweat, but heavy, saturating sweat. I had sweat rolling out of every pore including the crevice in my lower hemisphere. FTLOG! I’d been awake for less than a minute and I was already miserable. Thankfully, I still had ~9 miles and nearly 3,000′ of ascent before we’d reach our next campsite. Thankfully.
Around 9AM we made the short 10-minute drive from the campground to the trailhead parking lot. From there we began the hour-long uphill climb to our first stop, Apple Orchard Falls.
At the falls I snagged a seat on a bench. When I got up, I glanced over at the pool of sweat I had left behind. I tried, unsuccessfully, to tighten my spigot but the conditions wouldn’t allow it.
As I walked, the situation grew worse. Sweat filled shorts, my socks, and then my boots. Within two miles I could feel the skin pulling away from my heel. By the time we reached the AT intersection I was wearing a full-on grimace.
Coop looked at me as if to say, “Pull your pants up Nancy” but it came out “Dude, you good?” Not wanting to stop (especially with this being Coop’s last trip before fatherhood) I pushed myself up the trail to the summit whereupon I paused to cover my heels with Vaseline, duct tape, and bandages, and pop some aspirin.
Feeling a little better, I got back to my feet and returned to the trail. A few minutes later we came upon some apple trees. Naturally, we chomped on a few of the tree’s fruits and discussed our next move. Coop was hoping to reach the station at the summit, but neither of us knew exactly how far it was from our current location and I was feeling extra wimpy. Ultimately we turned our attention back towards the downhill and the AT below.
The downhill wasn’t too bad and the pain medicine was beginning to take effect. Then another unfortunate event took place. At the AT-Apple Orchard intersection, I slipped and fell down a short flight of stairs landing flat on my back; bruising my pride and my arse, and snapping one of my trekking poles in half. Could my hike get any worse? I hoped not.
From the stairs we had four miles to go before we reached the shelter. Grudgingly, I persisted and tried my best to keep my inner thoughts from reaching the thick air. We passed the time talking and not talking. Stopping to look at things and moving to avoid things. We commented on the AT hikers who had come before us, the heat, life, new kids, and a strange hole in the ground.
ME: Did you see that?
ME: That hole in the ground.
COOP: No, why?
ME: It was filled with bees.
COOP: I’m glad I didn’t.
Following the bee horror we found a spur trail that led to a pretty awesome view. We stopped, had a snack, checked the map, and shot a few photos.
After our break we continued on towards the shelter. On the way I found a branch I thought might make a great replacement for the broken piece of my trekking pole. Not long after, we arrived at the Cornelius Creek Shelter, a mere four and a half hours after leaving the parking lot.
Just shy of the shelter was a creek, at the shelter there were 5 hikers, just beyond the shelter was the commode. We opted to stay near the latter. With our site chosen I removed my pack, took off my shoes, checked my heels, and then walked shoeless with Coop to the creek to fill up.
Back at camp, I broke out my knife and proceeded to whittle the stick I had picked up earlier. A perfect fit!
Then there was the commode. It’s not often that you get to use one in the woods. With a hint of skepticism I opened the door fully expecting to see a disastrous truck-stop-esque toilet. What I found was something quite different. It was clean! I was blown away and utterly impressed by the care taken by my fellow hikers and the AT volunteers that maintain the shelter. Thanks guys!
With bladders filled and emptied, we enjoyed dehydrated dinners, a roaring fire, and a few cigars. As we talked, we discussed the next day’s route.
Originally we were to take the AT to North Creek where we’d head east and back to the car. Given the lack of skin on my heels, Coop came up with a Plan B that rerouted us back the way we came and then on to Apple Orchards National Recreation Trail. A route that was more downhill than up. Yippee!
Day 2 (4.4 miles | +390′ of elevation gain | -1,883′ of elevation loss | 61°F/84°F and 74% humidity)
I rolled out of my hammock around 7AM, broke camp, and made coffee and oatmeal. As I drank my coffee I noticed something different about the morning. It was cooler and much less humid. This realization coupled with the knowledge that our hike back would be mostly downhill helped set my mindset to a much more positive one than 24 hours ago.
After Coop finished eating we packed up and headed down to the creek where we topped off our bottles. On our return trip I stopped to show Coop the bee’s nest. He commented how we, or anyone, could easily step into the nest and turn a great hike into an unforgettable, tortuous one. <– he wasn’t wrong
Not long after pointing out the murderous bee colony we hung a left at Apple Orchards Nat’l Rec Trail (about a mile from the shelter) and it was literally all downhill from there (to the tune of 1,700′ of descent).
We were happy and giddy the whole way. With the help of gravity and 30 pounds of gear we flew down the hill. We stopped only to take in the views provided by the creek that flowed alongside the trail, when my wooden replacement snapped, and when we reached the parking lot (an hour and forty-one minutes after starting). Overall, the trip was successful.
If you get a chance to visit Apple Orchards it’s worth it. The waterfall is cool, apples were delicious, and the commode is impeccable.