The weather has been crazy in Virginia: We’ve had some of the coldest and warmest temperatures on record these winter months.
It’s a lot to take in.
This is why people often say Virginia cannot make up her mind. That’s also what I love about this state though. It is never “always cold” or “perpetually raining” or “eternally one season.” There’s variation, variety. I appreciate that.
I tell you this story because this temperature fluctuation can be seen in a recent hike with Andy to Big Schloss. First though, details on George Washington National Forest’s mountain:
- Five-point-four miles
- 1,035-foot elevation gain
- Rated Two of Five difficulty
Back to the temperature change story: The farther we drove into the mountains, the more snow covered the ground and temperatures dropped below freezing.
This means we bundled up — hats, gloves, scarves, fleece, down vest, layers.
Yet, the steepest portion of this orange blaze Mill Mountain Trail is in the beginning so we warmed quickly and shed clothing — hats were tucked into packs, scarves were wrapped around backs and fleeces around hips, gloves were placed back into pockets. Then, when we reached the top of the mountain, the wind returned with a fierce chill so layers were pulled out once more. However, on the way back down, the trees provided protection from the wind so once more items of clothing were packed away.
We were confused, the same way Virginia’s weather is normally confused.
But that’s life here. And the unexpected can be exciting.
Speaking of exciting, it always surprises me how different each mountain is from the next. Take Big Schloss’s sister hike, Tibbet Knob, which we completed earlier. It has a slow climb with two rock scrambles at the end before the summit. Big Schloss, though, is the opposite: It receives ten times more hikers than neighboring Tibbet Knob, and you can see here the large amount of foot traffic.This increase is because Big Schloss does not have rock scrambles, making it family-friendly so not only more people and kids hike but more dogs are seen too. (In fact, I truly don’t know if we found even one person or group without a dog.) I say all of this to make a point: If you’re interested in this hike, see Big Schloss in the winter when less people take to the trails; otherwise, you’re going to be on a packed vista you may even have to wait in a line to get to the summit.
As we continued up the mountain in the snow-laden tracks of other hikers . . .
the ridgeline of Mill Mountain slowly became more clear.
With the ridgeline beside us, we followed the winding white blaze Big Schloss trail . . .
All the twists and turns brought us to this beautiful sight . . .
This view was next to the main summit, and it was amazing how many people overlooked it for that reason. Regardless, after awhile we continued too towards a bridge which connected the stacked-rock peaks.
After crossing the bridge, we twisted by and through layers rocks . . . until we reached the main summit, which was gorgeous.
Clearing a patch of snow from one of the top rocks, we sat on my thick scarf and had lunch. This was our first snow hike, and I cannot imagine one more impressive. If it wasn’t for the biting wind sending shivers down me, I would have wanted to stay and watch the sunset and sunrise as many times as I could count.
But we had to move on. Groups of people came through, no where to stand, so we gave up our cleared bit and returned down the trail. When we arrived to the car, my boots leather were soaked, but my feet were still warm and toasty.
Full — in every since of the word — we drove home, admiring the landscape and feeling appreciative to have winding trails and mountains like this one we can climb.